A Writers' Journal

Every year, when I was a child, my mother gave me a diary for Christmas. Perhaps she thought if I spent some time writing about my daily life, I would experience some sort of epiphany and change into a better person.

I always loved my new diary. I would stroke its cover and lift it to my nose. Mmm. I'd close my eyes and think of all the wonderful, exciting things I would do during the coming year, and how I would record them in my diary. And of course the knowledge that no one else would read it made it even more promising.

Every year, my diary started out with, "It's Christmas! Today I got . . . " and a list of all my Christmas presents. Sometimes I made it to New Year's day, or even a few days beyond. Usually my diary ended on about the 27th of December.

I think one of the reasons for my repeated failure in the World of The Diary, was the thought that diaries had to be a record, a very full record, of my entire day. And of course, that was impossible. I spent far too much time climbing trees, rushing to finish my homework (that was in the days when I still did homework) so that I could go and play, avoiding my parents wrath over the latest misdemeanor, and going for long walks with my dog in the monkey-infested bush near our home.

Childhood was great, full of adventures, mainly of the made-up kind. There wasn't time to write in a diary. That felt too much like homework.

I grew up and stopped getting diaries. I knew I wouldn't write in them. There wasn't enough time in the day.Then I got cancer. I had so many things I needed to remember, I got myself another diary. Only this was bigger, and had the times listed down the side.

In an attempt to get away from the picture of long hours of filling in my day's events, which I knew I wouldn't do, I decided to call it my journal.  I started jotting down thoughts, events, and how I felt, next to the appropriate time. It was incredibly self-centred. Folk that have been through aggressive treatment for cancer know how your entire life concentrates on survival. And that's what my journal was. A survival manual.

There are countless different ways of journaling, but if you're a writer you do need to keep records somehow. Here are a few simple thoughts.

  • Get yourself a large page-a-day diary with slots for each hour.
  • Don't even try to write your life's story—unless you have visions of publishing a trilogy on your life. And beware! Bribing family members to read it could be a costly business. 
  • Keep it short and to the point. Jot down an event you want to remember, preferably soon after it's happened. How did it make you feel? Any particular memory? The smell?
  • Miss out days if nothing happens. Trust me, the world WILL continue to turn.
  • I find the blank pages really useful when I need to suddenly brainstorm an article that won't fit in my day's page. I just scrawl down "See Jan 12" and flip to that blank page and fill it up with my thoughts.
  • As a writer, if you think of something inspiring that you want to write more about, draw a block around it so that you won't lose track of it. 
  • Don't try to write well. Just get it down. You'll be surprised how often you can use those memories which you would have forgotten if it wasn't for your dia . . .        journal.
I didn't know it at the time, but my "survival manual" became my main resource when I started to write about my experiences during cancer. Out of that journal has come more devotional messages than I can say, several articles, and a book about to be published. 

How about you? Have you used a journal to help you write? Do you keep a journal or daily diary?

SHIRLEY CORDER lives in South Africa with her husband Rob, a hyperactive budgie called Sparky, and an ever expanding family of tropical fish. Hundreds of her inspirational and life-enrichment articles have been published internationally. She is contributing author to nine books to date and her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer is due to be released in America by Revell Publishers in October.  You can contact Shirley through her writing website, her Rise and Soar site for encouraging those on the cancer journey, or follow her on Twitter


Kathleen Moulton said...

Shirley, thank you for sharing your tips - they are very helpful!

I had a diary, too. I remember writing in it the day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon!

Best Wishes,

T. Forehand said...

I had a diary and today still have several journals that I jot things down in. I included places in The Cancer Prayer Book for the reader to jot down feelings while going through the cancer journey. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think journaling and diaries are fun but I am a notepad junkie. I love cute papers and notebooks, sticky notes to match, etc.
Have a blessed day.

NancyCL said...

Shirley, Thanks for your suggestions! I seem to go gung ho starting a diary, but never really get into it. I guess my life is too boring!

Magdalena Ball said...

I think journaling is an excellent habit Shirley and enjoyed reading about your experiences. When I was a child I kept a diary and wrote in it every day with extreme (and sometimes overwrought) ardour, until it was read by someone and I suffered consequences. Since then, though I've tried many times, I don't seem to be able to keep to the habit of writing in one.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

That' probbly why we journal! Eventually we get beyond "For Christmas I got... ." (-: Thanks for this. Love it.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Excited about the new edition (expanded! updated! even more helpful for writers!) of The Frugal Book Promoter, now a USA Book News award-winner in its own right (www.budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo)

Heidiwriter said...

I'm afraid I add my name to that list of Christmas diaries that never went beyond January!

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Oh dear, Shirley, another diary dropout here. But I did do a lot of journaling for a couple of years and it helped me immeasurably.

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