Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dangers of the Diary

Virginia Woolf kept a diary. In 1954, her husband, Leonard Woolf released the portions of her diary that involved her writing and her process. This meant that he had to wade through -- wait for it -- 26 book-length volumes of a loosely kept diary in order to find all those nuggets.

Now, I know many of you are familiar with Julia Cameron's Morning Pages philosophy (For those of you who are not: you write down three pages, every morning, to get all the gunk out of your brain --it's supposed to free you up creatively). Basically, these diaries are Woolf's Morning Pages, even though she wrote them whenever.

I've done Morning Pages and, let me tell you, the gunk in my brain is downright hurtful. If my husband or friends read the stuff I'd written (I don't keep Morning Pages anymore) they would've been less than forgiving. And judging from the pieces that Leonard Woolf pulled out, if these are the ones fit for public consumption, then there's probably some painful stuff in the rest of the diaries.

But L.W. was a mature gentleman who understood his wife. "At the best and even unexpurgated, diaries give a distorted or one-sided portrait of the writer, becasue, as Virginia Woolf herself remarks somewhere in these diaries, on gets into the habit of recording one particular kind of mood--irritation or misery, say--and of not writing one's diary when one is feeling the opposite. The portrait is therefore from the start unbalanced, and, if someone then deliberately removes another characteristic, it may well become a mere caricature." (L. Woolf from the Preface of A Writer's Diary)

So I picture L.W. going through V.'s diaries, reading unflattering things about himself and their friends, and understanding--maybe sometimes understanding too much--that what he's seeing is one-sided and not judging what he finds.

But, if diaries and Morning Pages and journals (blogs?) are things that writers do--and knowing that these things could be possibly hurtful--why do writers write them?

My mother once said that I should never write down something that I did not want people to read. Because people eavesdrop. And it is inevitable: the people you do not want reading your diary wind up doing so.

Well, Virginia Woolf answers that too. She says (in her diary) that her diary "loosens the ligaments." I read that as "getting the gunk out" and "practice." Both of which a writer needs to do. So, I think that these diary-things (or journals or blogs or whatever you randomly jot stuff down in) are a necessary evil in a writer's life.

Perhaps we should just preface our diaries/journals with something like:
Don't take the shit I write down here personally. I was probably in a bad mood. Remember: I love you, I do like the pets, and I tolerate your mother.

Okay, maybe not that last bit. =)

Do you guys keep diaries/journals? Are they helpful? Do you find your "ligaments loosened"?

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