Writing from Journals

It snowed most of Saturday and I blew the driveway once. It’s winter in Iowa. That’s what we expect. I’m waiting for three days in a row of below freezing ambient temperatures. Once that happens, I’ll prune trees for the year, especially the fruit trees. I expected to have finished that winter work, yet with a warming climate, who knows if it will even happen this year.

I’ve been posting a few poems and hope readers enjoy them. I don’t know the person who wrote some of them almost 50 years ago. Most of what I wrote as poetry wasn’t the best. A few of them seem serviceable. The rest reside in my journals and papers. Prose has been my main thing since the beginning.

I’m at a transition point in my autobiography beginning after university graduation in 1974. Before then, I did not keep a diary or journal, and the paper trail of my life was scant. After that, beginning with my trip to Europe that autumn, there is a nest of supporting documents. The paper context of my life increased dramatically each year after 1974.

The first ten sections of the work in progress were written from memory and research into the historical record. The next 20 or so sections will benefit from journals and other papers yet to be rediscovered. These are different kinds of writing and I’m having to adjust.

I don’t want to simply print my journal. I also don’t want multiple long, sequential excerpts. The debate I have with myself is whether and how to modify old journal writing to support the current narrative. With 92,262 words and 355 double-spaced pages written one might think I’d have figured that out. I’m used to the type of writing I did in the first third, so it came easier than what’s ahead. I didn’t really think about changing how I write until I got to this point in the chronological narrative.

The next four-year section of the book is about military service. In addition to a journal, I have file folders on all the military operations I was in while stationed at Lee Barracks in Mainz-Gonsenheim, Germany. There is a whole banker’s box full of those. I also used a camera to take photos. Just in those three categories there is a lot to read, understand and assimilate. I also have artifacts like clothing, plaques, and dishes. I have a piece of a sign brought back from the West-East Germany border. It gets complicated.

Most journals are edited into the book. I can’t bear the thought of overuse of the words “that,” “the,” and “many.” Likewise, some of the sentence construction is beginner-style writing. I use the phrase “lightly edited” to describe what I’m doing when I change the source document. If the narrative is strong enough, readers will join for the journey, I believe.

My main interest in life has been in being a writer. I eschewed a university course of study that would get me a job. I didn’t know what it meant to be a creative, yet that’s what I wanted. Society falls short of offering paid work like that. Over the years, especially during my transportation career, the writer side of me was suppressed from time to time. It has always been present.

Some writers do very well. Some scratch out a living. Some work for someone else and do their writing on the side. Now that I’m living on a pension, I can focus my efforts on finishing this book and identifying the next project. As a septuagenarian, there are only so many projects that will fit in.

One reply on “Writing from Journals”

It’s good you saved lots of things to serve as source material. My autobiography would be a sort of Cliff’s Notes size. Plenty of interesting stuff. But, lacking in details to flesh out the story.
Good luck making progress with your story.

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