Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Traveling back

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

For years, long before I became an author, I kept a journal. Then, one day, also long before I came an author, I burned them. I had the horrible image of someone getting their hands on the journals if anything happened to me, and I wanted to make sure they'd never resurface. The things that went in those journals were intensely private, meant only for me: things I might think but never say, or wish for but never admit. The idea of anyone reading them or knowing my innermost thoughts - especially if I survived whatever calamity life threw my way and had to face said person/s (even worse if they'd been, ahem..."discussed" in one of the journals) - was too galling to contemplate.

Before I destroyed the books, I spent a couple of hours re-reading them and getting re-acquainted with my past. I haven't led the most riveting life by some people's standards, but I've done some pretty interesting things such as (in no particular order) learn to ski, learn to shoot, travel a bit, work for a radio station, relocate to a new country, move house (more times than I care to mention), buy my own house, get married and then divorced, become a landlord. It was actually quite fascinating reading, to me anyway. I'd forgotten a lot of the stuff and some of the people from my past. Sometimes, the running commentary about what we observe can be quite funny.

I recorded mundane things in the books, too, such as particular comments a person made, or I described an interesting outfit and what other people said about the person wearing it. I wrote about funny things I heard, or noted someone's kindness. A lot of the pages were filled with my reactions to some of the daily occurrences and the people in my life, which is primarily the reason I burned them.  

Looking back, years after I destroyed the journals, I somewhat regret that I didn't keep them. They were a record of the past, an account of things I'd witnessed other people say & do. I'd started writing them in the 80's (people & outfits were hugely fascinating in the 80's). Now that I'm an author, they'd have been a great resource for keeping track of an era gone by, record changes in a town or city, for developing characters based on real life observations, for humorous anecdotes, my memories of being 22, or 25, and looking back on things I survived that seemed so dreadful at the time and really weren't. If they were important enough for me to write down, they were important enough to remember.

Maybe I'll start keeping a journal again. They're a great thing to leave behind for future generations to read. I still hate the idea of such a confidential item winding up in someone else's hands, and if I can't write down my most honest and private thoughts and opinions, is there a point in keeping one at all?

Authors - do you keep a journal? How does it assist you in your writing? Do writers use journals differently than readers?


  1. The only time I've kept anything resembling a journal was when I traveled. I guess I'm such a private person that I don't even want to share my day-to-day thoughts with myself.

    Terry's Place

    1. The privacy thing is my issue, too, Terry. Can't beat the idea of someone else reading them, and if we can't write our most private thoughts in them, there seems little point.

  2. I've kept journals on and off. Like you, I did destroy one of them. The ones I have now are mostly describing dreams I have, and analyzing my goals, etc. BTW the only reason I have more than one journal is that I keep misplacing them, then someone buys me one as a present (everyone thinks us writers need journals, huh?) and I start on that one, then find the other one, etc. HA HA I sound pretty disorganized!

  3. Way back in the olden days, I kept a diary. Thing was, I always pictured someone else reading my words so I wrote TO them rather than FOR myself.

    The closest thing I've come to keeping a journal the last couple of years has been the exercise of writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness stuff every morning. (From THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron.) Some daily events got mixed in with things I was thinking about and brainstorming I wanted to do for my writing. It's been months since I wrote my Morning Pages and I miss them.

    Thanks for the nudge...

  4. I've tried writing a journal many times. Just not my think. Years ago, it used to be one of the belles lettres. Samuel Pepys in the 17th century, Boswell in the 18th. A lot of journals became the basis for autobiography - or biography itself.

    I admire those that do keep a journal. It may also be a matter of discipline - mental or physical.

    Journals may also reflect how a mind works. We don't write letters like we used to. Keats, for instance, or Kafka, tell us so much about the aesthetic from their letters. The correspondence of men and women! That was writing TO someone known, not anticipated - though, Peg, there's much to be said for letters to an imagined or implied audience.

    There may also be a question of time: do those who journal have time to write fiction?

    I may be having too many conversations in my head to get any one voice quiet enough long enough to write a journal, without someone else intruding.

    Poems and letters - now journals and blogposts.

    Now if I could only read my handwriting.

  5. Good comments, David. If you think your handwriting is bad.....

  6. Good post, Jenny! Reminds me of some journals I kept from my late teens and early 20s that I really should burn before my grown kids find them! LOL!

    1. It's a shame to burn them, Jodie, and I really did enjoy reading mine, but fear won out and I got rid.

    2. Think I'll do the same, Jenny! Don't want to shock my kids! LOL


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