A creative journal

SAMSUNG CSCA diary is hope, measured in blank pages.  It is all the possibilities of the year, waiting to be recorded.  Whether the most exquisite notebook or the simplest planner, it is all the anniversaries yet to be celebrated, all the friends to be met, the meals to be eaten, the holidays to be taken.  It is all the things that might happen as well as the things that must.

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My reading this year has been illuminated by the minutiae of other women’s days.  Susan Wittig Albert’s explorations of writing, place and climate change; Alice Walker’s memories of The Color Purple; Valerie Davies’ sensual descriptions of life and landscape; Joyce Carol Oates’ philosophical musings on writing.  Through their journals, I have peered into their lives, if only for a moment.  I have always loved reading diaries, generally those of women and preferably accounts, not of great achievement (though the women may be highly accomplished), but of the more prosaic events of their lives.  Through fiction, we can experience a thousand imaginary lives, but through journals, we can glimpse the truths of those lives.

SAMSUNG CSCWhile a new diary is full of hope, a completed diary is life with all its joys and disappointments.  It is a snapshot of who we are at that time, because we don’t know any better.  Whereas memoir has the benefit of hindsight, a diary just is.  There may still be an element of self-censorship or invention, particularly in those that go on to be published.  But a journal is perhaps the truest of our writing about ourselves.  It lays bare our darkest thoughts, our bitterest comments, our silliest fantasies.

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I have kept a diary for as long as I can remember.  Sometimes diligently, sometimes sporadically.  There have been times, in recent years, where I have made only a handful of entries.  I love buying that new notebook for the year, love the potential of those blank pages.  My younger diaries faithfully recorded the events of each day, as well as hopes and dreams and lists of things I wanted to do in the future.  My more recent journals are less concerned with transcribing events, and more about my view of life as it happens.

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Sometimes, I find my journals disappointing.  Filled with uneventful days and things not achieved.  Sometimes, they delight me, with the quality of the writing or memories I had forgotten.  Diaries are a record of life, so whether they disappoint or delight is dependent on how that year was lived.  Recently, I tried to re-read my teenage diaries but had to give up, because I cringed at the things I had documented.  Yet the person who wrote those diaries is the person I used to be.  If I wrote my life story, I could edit out the bits I no longer wanted to read.  With a diary, I can’t do that – I must accept myself as I was.  In this past year, blogging has become a journal of sorts.  There must be a temptation for some to publish online all the thoughts they might once have written in a diary – I’m glad that temptation didn’t exist when I recorded the immature concerns of my younger self.

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There are as many kinds of journals as there are reasons for writing them.  This year, I have taken a different approach to journaling.  I began just after Halloween, at the turn of the ancient year.  This year, I am not diarising my life, but my creativity, focussing on the cycles of nature and how these influence the way I create.  The events of my life will come into it, of course, like the times of stress that curtail inspiration, or those joyful creative maelstroms.  Already, I am more aware of the patterns of my creativity and am clearer about my creative goals.  The pages of this diary are not filled with hope, but with certainty that the stories not yet written and the pictures not yet painted will be born before another journal is complete.

60 thoughts on “A creative journal

  1. This is a lovely positive post, Andrea! I love that you are certain that your new stories will be complete before the year is out – I wish I could be as optimistic about my own work. I used to keep a diary almost religiously, right up till the time I became a parent. Time then seemed to fly by as never one’s own and the diary writing dwindled. I too cringe when I read over my teenage years – but would I have changed them? Probably not.

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    • Thanks Jenny. I seem to be flying ahead with short stories at the moment, since I decided that one week I’d concentrate on my blog and one week on my fiction, so I’m confident I’ll have something I’m happy with at the end of the year! I know what you mean about time flying, my diaries definitely became less used the older I got – not so much free time to sit and write them 🙂

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  2. “There must be a temptation for some to publish online all the thoughts they might once have written in a diary” – Yikes, I agree with you. I worry for my children growing up in the digital era as all their errors may be captured forever online. Lucky for us, we can keep them tucked away and expose them only if we feel the need, perhaps in our writing. I did keep a journal all throughout my backpacking days and I’m so grateful to have it now. The specifics of places we visited, things I noticed, small memories, people we met – things I would have forgotten if it wasn’t for that journal.

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    • Yes, there’s already so much published online that seems so personal. I’m not sure I would have had the confidence as a teenager to actually publish it, but I’m just glad the temptation wasn’t there. Maybe that’s an old-fashioned view, or maybe just a view you can only have when you have that distance.

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  3. I don’t keep a journal, partly because I don’t have the patience (I want to devote my writing time to my fiction) but probably mostly because I don’t want someone finding it after I’m gone! Such a private person I am. 🙂

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  4. I kept diaries through college, but as I approached 30, I did what some might consider heretical—I destroyed them. There were no dark secrets I wanted to hide forever. I just viewed them as irrelevancies taking up too much space. Now, I wish I still had the one from my junior high years (10-12 years). I had transcribed a number of pieces I’d written for my creative writing classes in it, and I would love to see those early attempts again. But I’ll have to make do with fragmented memories of bits and pieces of them.

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    • I don’t think I could bring myself to destroy any, even though I might cringe to read them, but I know what you mean about not having things you’ve created in the past. I wish I had some of my old drawings – my mother was clearing out the loft a few years ago and came across two pieces I’d done at school – at that point I told her just to get rid of them, but now I really regret it – not because they were particularly good, just because they were part of my history.

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  5. Oh how this post resonates with me! Your description of the allure of a blank book (‘hope, measured in pages’) is exquisite. And your idea of charting your creativity is a fascinating one. I am increasingly aware of, and at ease with, the fact that my creativity surges and wanes in accordance with my own physical cycles; and I know that several of my artist friends recognise the same thing. If we work with this rhythm rather than trying to override it, it can make for a much more satisfying and rich creative experience.

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  6. Beautifully written. You reminded me of the joy of simply recording the simple, daily moments. I fell in love with the personal essay when my teenage self found a book in our school library by Gladys Tabor. She recorded the passages of her life on Stillmeadow Farm and shared the beauty of ordinary things.

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  7. Yes, I can definitely relate to your description of reading some of your early personal writings and not wanting to relive some of the narrative — and, like you say, I’ve found it important to treat all my past journal writings as sacred and leave them unedited (or at least use a magazine-style “Ed.” when I make a later comment).

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  8. I like that you’ve been recording in your journals or diaries for years, Andrea. I’ve just started in recent years and sporadic at that. But, here lately, I’m getting more regular in journaling and even miss it when I skip a day.

    Maybe, there’s still hope for me, yet, though I don’t have all the years to review and compare like you. It is fun. 🙂

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    • Well, I was always an introspective teenager, so I guess that’s why I began so young! It’s interesting to see that it’s not only what I’ve recorded that’s changed, but also how I record it. I hope you have many happy journaling years ahead!

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      • It’s good that you started early and have something to compare in your writing and growth. I find sometimes when I journal I’m writing words but they’re not coming from my head. It’s kind of cool. Probably something you’ve already discovered long ago.

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  9. Another beautifully written post Andrea. I am very encouraged for you in reading the last paragraph that your writing and painting goals are coming to fruition and within a time frame, that’s wonderful! I am trying desperately to do the same, as you know. I used to keep a diary when a teenager and had reams of angst-riddled writing about a boyfriend I had at the time. I would love to read it now but I threw it out! As you say, just as well that blogging wasn’t around back then, can you imagine what we might be tempted to write online and then not be able to take it back without deleting entire blogs!!
    I wish you every success as you plough ahead with your writing, and I do so look forward to your very creative and evocative blog posts 🙂

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    • Thank you Sherri for your kind words, as always. I’m very positive about my creative goals this year, though I have been struggling with my most recent story – it’s really frustrating me! I hate to think that I would have written on a blog some of the things I wrote in diaries, but it’s so much the norm now for young people to post online that I don’t know many of them would have any qualms about it – or think about the long-term implications.

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      • I agree totally Andrea, I don’t think that long-term implications even come into it these days. It’s all about the now, to heck with the consequences.
        Sorry about your frustrations with your story, hopefully you will be able to write past that and continue on with your goals, painting and writing! Hope you are having a lovely weekend and keeping dry 🙂

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  10. This is a beautiful post, Andrea. I love the line, “A diary is hope, measured in blank pages.” That’s how I feel about my journal, but I have never been able to express it in such a beautiful way.
    I’ve gotten away from simply transcribing the events of the day or week. I think it reveals so much more, especially when we go back and read past entries.
    I love shopping for journals and have several stock piled. 🙂

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    • Thanks Jill. There’s nothing like a blank notebook – I also have a few stockpiled – I’m always a little reluctant to use them – so I always hope that what I’ll record in them will be something special 🙂

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  11. Yes!..Valérie Davies and the Sound of Water..beautiful, beautiful!!
    I had a few diaries in my teenage years but to be honest I wasn’t really committed to it. I literally took more ‘snapshots’ of my life’s journey. Letting photography telling the story..it still is, only now I’ve found the joy of adding a few words 😉 A couple of years ago I suddenly found the urge to write, but more in a way of having flashes of ‘automatic writing’ about life insights and personal matters. I sometimes still do have those moments and I guess that’s what my personal journal would look like today.

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    • It took me a little while reading Valerie’s blog to realise she’d written that book and I ordered it straight away – just as lovely as the writing on her blog. So you have a photographic journal – just as evocative as writing things down! I’m very glad you got the urge to write so that I can enjoy reading your posts as well as enjoying your photos!

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  12. I am terrible with journals. I can keep them for a few months but then I stop. Some parts of my life are detailed forever in notepads and then there are years where nothing is captured. I find journals fascinating to read though. 🙂

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    • I’ve given up worrying about keeping a journal regularly- it was something I thought I should do once upon a time, now I just go with the flow – it’s not about capturing what happens every day so if some years there are a few entries, so be it.

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  13. Wonderful post, Andrea. I appreciate your insights about the journaling/diary experience. I have to laugh at a junior high school friend who decided she would “illustrate” her older sister’s diary as a graduation present. She presented it at a party and WOW! She had misinterpreted some of her sister’s accounts, and her sister was embarrassed…and furious. Not everything we think, dream or do should be made public!

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    • Oh dear, the best of intentions maybe but with the worst of outcomes! Yes, that’s the beauty of a private diary – we’re the only ones who ever need to know what’s written in it, as long as it never gets found!

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  14. I love all the possibilities of those blank pages too. Diaries help us understand ourselves. I should probably try keeping one again because I still haven’t fully figured myself out yet. 🙂 But I still have that fear that someone will read them. We need more of those diaries with the lock and key, even though my brother always got around those anyway.

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  15. I can honestly say that journal writing has never been for me. The closest I have come to a successful journal would be my blog posts, a lot of reading between the lines, for the last few years…especially since my stroke to about this past September. I love the sharing with people and the telling of my life story in the blogging format with the comment/reply area working well.
    I am glad you write as you do since it has allowed me to see what a wonderful person you are.
    Scott

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  16. I didn’t know Frieda Kahlo kept a diary. How could I not know this?! I must go read it at once. Is it illustrated as well?

    Reading the notes in my books sometimes feels like reading a diary of sorts. how lovely that you keep a diary.

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  17. I used to keep diaries, but rereading them brought me too much pain. I threw out a few that were especially sad, from angst-ridden adolescence. I think blogging is my journaling venue without the nitty-gritty personal stuff. (Saving that for my autobiography. 😉 )

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