The Writing Life: On Keeping a Diary for Going on 58 Years
A born worrier, I was worrying recently that my lifelong habit of keeping a diary might be a waste of “real” writing time, that I could get more published if I weren’t taking time each day to dump my vague impressions into a notebook no one reads.
About the same time, I put my name into a search engine and found online a reference to a diary passage I had written at age 20. There I was, in print, going on about the value of a diary. When I was 30, an editor had anthologized those words. When I was 40, someone else quoted that passage in yet another book on diaries, which then, in my 60s, I had stumbled upon for the first time.
It is true that my diaries rid me of a lot of mental static before I begin other writing. They help me get my worrying down and out so I can get on to writing without worry. They’re a way of warming up, the way a pianist warms up by running scales and a dancer by folding down into plies. And if the dancer is left with more readied muscles, I am left with a record, an account of myself to myself, in addition to my readiness.
I was stunned by the wisdom of that young diarist who was a self I barely recognize, as I tend to remember the mistakes she made and the opportunities she missed. There were reasons for those, and she knew it and cut herself from slack, laughed and learned. Wordsworth was right: the child is father to the man (and mother to the woman.) And life is short but writing is long.
Long enough to come back to us and teach us what we need to learn again.