Write On- The Writer’s Diary

Photograph of the authors desk, susan sheldon nolenI have to confess, I have tried so many times and in so many forms to keep a diary with the ending result– unreadable pages. In the end I wrote with a fountain pen, simply because it forced me to slow down, and ended up with a somewhat positive result.  I could actually read what I had written some six months later. My handwriting was and still is atrocious.

Diaries are intimidating. I can’t believe what I have written in some entries. Was my thought process really like that? Egads, where is the match to burn them! But diaries or journals can be a useful tool for the writer. It’s good practice to try to find something in your day of interest and write about it.

I have massive diary intimidation. Back in the depth of my mind, that niggly little voice is comparing my writing to that of some outstanding writers. Mine is just not on that level. In a way, I wish I had not read the diary’s of Virginia Woolf, and Beatrix Potter. Potter even wrote hers in a secret code. With that to contend with, I have no hope!

Photo of British writer and illustrator, Beatr...

Photo of British writer and illustrator, Beatrix Potter and her dog Kep, 1913 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read those diaries early on, and that style formed in my mind of what a diary should be like, Pepys springs to mind also, I no longer keep a diary, but I keep notebooks, with ideas, story notes, and in my day to day diary, I just keep the days events structured like an appointment book. That often is enough to trigger a memory for me.

Portrait of Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882 –...

Portrait of Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882 – March 28, 1941) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Virginia Woolf writes in her diary:

The habit of writing for my eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.

Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay my hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. . . .


What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through.

I wish my diary read like hers.

They say that we don’t really remember things as they actually happened. Clear example would be eyewitnesses to a crime. One crime and five very different descriptions of the criminal. Our memories are creative ones. But, if you can manage to capture an episode of your life in words, then sometimes, years later, it will come as a pleasant surprise that you did indeed remember things as they were, or a shock. I really did that?

Some Diary’s are not meant for private eyes as was the case with A Writer’s Diary by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which was a monthly paid diary.

"Portrait of the Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsk...

“Portrait of the Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky”, Oil on canvas. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t really consider that a proper diary, as its intent was publication. Diaries to me are private affairs. A place where you can feel free to share you darkest thoughts and deepest dreams.

Is there a writer’s diary you admire?

Do you use a diary as a writing prompt? A memory trigger? Or?

I’d love to hear about  your experiences on using a diary for your writing.

About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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10 Responses to Write On- The Writer’s Diary

  1. I have always written diaries usually in more morose periods of my life as when one is happy you have better things to do. I find reading over old diaries very depressing and avoid it. Before I immigrated the first time, I destroyed all my diaries from age 12 to 25. Now I regret it, I’d like to read them now especially the diary of my first sexual experience 🙂 But some things are just too painful. I recently reread the diary I kept when I was very unhappy in my marriage and debating walking out. It was like an out of body experience – the more I read the more I felt such deep sympathy for this poor niave young woman going through such hell and torment. I also felt like shaking her and saying for God sakes woman – can you see what is going on here…stop protecting and defending him! That woman is of course me….it was truly liberating to read what I went through knowing it was ALL behind me. That that niave woman had mustered the courage to walk out and say , “Damn it, I deserve better!”

    • Hi Dani!
      It’s scary to go back and see the person we once were. I’d love to go back and say, hey…you’re okay kid just the way you are! And like you say, it’s a great way to look back and realise that person is gone! Sometimes though I think those little keys on diaries are there not to keep people from reading your writing, but for you to lose the key and never read those words again! 🙂

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    I’ve given up on ever keeping a diary. It’s just not for me. I will jot down things I find interesting in the event I want to incorporate them into a story or blog post, but I don’t do any formal journaling. I know as a writer I probably should, but when I have time to write, I want to put those words elsewhere.

    • Hi Carrie!
      I’m with you on this one. I just keep little moleskin notebooks with notes, story ideas, character comments. As for my daily life…I just hope it’s true that when you get really old, you remember things clearly in the past! ( well so they say! )

  3. Wordlander says:

    I’ve tried diaries on and off in my life – I always forget to write in them though. When I do, it’s usually when I’m down so you read them back and think I’m a right mardy cow! So I generally avoid. I think the diaries of writers from yesteryear tend to be better simply because there was less distraction and it was something people of a certain education were expected to do.

    • Hi Wordlander, you have a great point there. What did they have in the evenings or long afternoons to do without television or radio…their diaries to write in. ( well those with the money to have servants that is. ) There was indeed less distraction! Love that expression by the way..right mardy cow!

  4. LouWritesStuff says:

    I’ve never called mine a “diary,” it’s a “journal.” Just a case of semantics I suppose. One reason I like “journal” is because I can easily make it a verb: journaled. And I’ve journaled regularly for about 15 years now. I don’t journal daily, but I *never* leave home without a blank book and a working pen (because clearly I’m some kind of neurotic journaler person). Initially I journaled as a means to expunge the emotional pain I felt as I was going through a divorce. Writing it down allowed me to vent my anger, share my emotion, and stare my demons right in the eye, all in privacy. It’s become a form of mediation to me, even though I’m writing mundane things like what happened that day, what I notice around me, how I feel about one thing or another. I’ve kept all my journals, good bad and ugly, and plan to give them to my daughter when I’m gone. I imagine she’ll stack them all and make a lamp out of them.

    • Hi Lou! Thanks for stopping by. Sometimes I think a dairy is just a way to release what you need removed from your life, a clearing out book? I found a diary of mine from days of old, and wow…I wish I could go back and give her a hug! 🙂

      • LouWritesStuff says:

        Nicely put.I once was friends with a poet who said, “I write it down and then I don’t think about it any more.”

      • Brilliant! I’ve been told that once you’ve written your diary you should immediately lose the key or better still toss it in the nearest bonfire!

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