Monday, June 17, 2013


The great Paris Review interview series instructs writers by example to keep a journal. Dutifully, I attempt to comply. Again and again, I strive for the daily entry, the recapitulation, the musing, all of it. Every time, the dailyness defeats me.

I do write every day, but I have never managed to put it in journal form for an extended period. No doubt this contributes to the sporadic frequency of posts to this blog. (And we all know what that means: few followers.)

Yet I have kept trying out of the belief that keeping a journal is central to the writing process.

During the writing of ABSENT, I began to find myself wondering what might have happened to Camille’s twin, swallowed up by the Holocaust, at that point. I have read numerous books on the concentration camps of Germany and Eastern Europe. I knew I couldn’t live inside one of these places for the three or four years it takes to write a novel. I would drown.

The story, however, kept pulling me toward itself. Scraps of narrative, dialogue, interior monologue kept arriving and I wrote them down. I picked one of these little black, book-size notebooks, the kind with a rubber band that can be used to hold your place. I carried it everywhere, scribbling bits into it when they came to me. No dates, no dailyness. If I thought of something and the notebook was temporarily unavailable, I wrote on whatever scrap of paper was handy--receipts, envelopes--and copied them into the notebook later. The process was completely random except for the fact that I used the pages in order. Voila: a journal.

It taught me that keeping a written repository of one’s thoughts is even more intensely personal than I’d suspected. The form, that is, as well as the content. As we know, blogs and social media tend to blur the boundary between personal and public. We’re encouraged to share the minutiae of our day, but regardless of how many people actually read what you write, all these posts must be written for the illimitable audience of strangers.

Thus, a blog is truly not a journal--not kept as a record of one’s undigested interior reflections. A blog is a piece of work for publication. A journal is source material.

I know that there are wonderful visual and tactile artworks created from journaling, too. In Santa Fe, an artist named Gail Rieke keeps journals of her travels, comprising numerous and varied objects and scraps. Her form of the journal varies with the experience, but eventually many of the objects she collects in this fashion find their way into compelling collages.  

When she teaches a journaling class, she shows her students how to let loose their preconceptions of what a journal can be. In the loosening of expectation, creativity has room to breathe. A lesson, there, for writers, too.

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