Monday, June 20, 2011

Diary Writing and What it Can Teach You

How many of you were diary writers as kids? I know a few people who kept diaries but I wonder out of the writers I've met what percentage kept a diary and for how long? The reason I'm asking these questions was because I recently did an interview on Deb Marshall's blog and one of the questions she asked me was what advice I would give to young (and young as in 8-13 years old) writers. The first thing that immediately popped into my head was writing in a diary.

I used to keep a diary from about 11 years old until I was maybe, thirteen or so. Then I kept a diary all through my late twenties until I began writing fiction. I still have those diaries. I remember when I was in Grade 7 I wrote - whether I wanted to or not - in that diary every night for months. I often wonder whether that was the inception of my later discipline for writing regularly? What I am sure of is that it was the development of not only a good habit but it was also the early stirrings of developing craft.

Diary or journal entries allow us to describe our inner feelings, our daily activities, our friends and families, the events in our lives. Basically, it helps you to write character, emotion and plot. Kind of essential skills for a writer. I know it's hard (for some kids) to create a story out of thin air but they can all describe what happened to them on a given day. They can all describe how they felt at a particular moment or how someone looked when they dropped ice cream all over their new shirt. Diary writing skills are not self indulgent, navel gazing that is a waste of time. Diaries can tell us a lot about ourselves and our world. And, for this writer anyway, writing a diary was the start of a long, long love affair with the written word...

I guess I'm still writing a diary all these years later. We just call them 'blogs' now! :) How about you? Did you or do you still keep a diary? And what has it taught you?


  1. I was a serial diary starter when I was a kid. I loved the idea of a diary, but after a few days, actually writing stuff down got boring. It was so much more fun to read a good book.

    Blogging is the closest I've ever come to keeping any sort of consistent journal. Not sure why it works better for me -- probably the feedback. Hmm. Performance writing? Yeah, I suppose that appeals to the actress in me. ;)

  2. Hi Linda: Very interesting insight about blogging - you're right. With diary writing (which you're supposed to keep secret) you never get any feedback, right? And that's the only way you get better as a writer.

  3. I think this is such great advice for young writers! I was a sporadic journaler when I was young. Like Linda, I think my day-to-day life paled in comparison to the books I was reading and so it felt very boring to chronicle doing the same thing, over and over. Of course now when I reread them I wish I had detailed more of that "boring" stuff.

  4. I did keep a diary from when I was 11 until I was 16. And then when I moved into my first apartment, I threw it out!!! What I wouldn't do to see my old diary now!

    My advice to young writers is: Don't throw out your early writing, especially your teenage diary!

    -- Barb (Owl from Verla's, boreal_owl from LJ)

  5. Hi Jenn: Yes, I hear you! A few of my diary entries seemed to be saying nothing but "I'm bored. Nothing to do today." But the ones that chronicled a drama with a friend or how mad I was at my mom or something like that? Pure hilarity! (from many years later viewing, that is!)

    Hi Barb: OMG! You threw it out?! Oh, that is so sad.

    While it's embarrassing to show the old stuff now, of course, I realize I will have to decide whether I'm going to destroy more personal 'for my eyes only entries' that I wrote later. A public blog, well, is public so if the internet stays forever, my grandchildren will get to read a little of what I was thinking/feeling here. But a diary? How public should your diary be after a certain number of years have passed? Especially if you are suddenly incapacitated and can't make those decisions. Hmmm, must go re-read some of my old stuff and edit... :)

  6. Great to read further thoughts on keeping diary! And never really kept one until older, and then it was more something like Natalie Goldberg's morning pages. My mom get a daily journal--and what a remembrance of days past all in the little details. You have me thinking...

  7. Hi Deb! Thanks again for hosting an interview with me on your blog. It was a blast! And I wish my mom would have kept a diary - course it would have been written in Portuguese and it would take me ages to read it. Still. Just reading the day to day things in her life sixty years ago would fascinate me.

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