Writing Journals

Woman Writing Letter

Writing autobiography is an American endeavor. I studied under Albert E. Stone who was my first advisor in graduate school. He edited an edition of J. Hector de Crèvecoeur’s Letters from an American Farmer.

We Americans, especially in this century, often seem completely self-absorbed. There is a native impulse to write or tell a single, brief narrative of our life. More accurately, it is a combination of essential, defining moments and multiple, broader narratives. At the root of autobiography, we must answer the question Crèvecoeur did, “What then, is the American, this new man?”

This new man, when it comes to journaling, was typified as a woman in the 1970s when I wrote,

Traditionally, it is the girl or female of the family who writes in journals. Sometimes it seemed nothing more than a way to keep a girl busy until she gets old enough, reaches the age of child-bearing, then her true work begins.

Personal Journal, Mainz-Gonsenheim, West Germany, Dec. 12, 1976.

This tradition of female-based diary or journal writing was something I was taught in high school. All I can say in 2023 is, OMG!

Journal writing has a purpose instead of marking time. It gets the writer seated behind a desk or table with pen or keyboard in hand. In such a posture one cannot help but write something. It may be gibberish, yet once in a while it may be profound. It is only through practice one becomes a better writer. Journaling serves this purpose.

Journal writing is a form of therapy in that its performance resembles use of an addictive drug — we take it when ill and continue its use until we are well. In some diarist’s cases the illness never left. My condition of restlessness and loneliness has been with me a long time. Journal writing helps me cope.

A foundational part of autobiography is journal writing. As I work through the timeline of my current book, I find the stories I want to tell were written before, many times over, during the last 50 years. They were often written in a journal, or since 1999, in an email or since 2007 in a blog post. In living life we find certain people, places and things stand out. Those are the narratives that can find their way into a journal. The more we write these stories, the better they can become. They become part of us. In the end, who are we but the stories we tell about ourselves living in society?

I am pleased to report the draft of my book passed 100,000 words today. The journals I kept, beginning in 1974, have been especially helpful in getting this far. Writing emails and blog posts served a similar usefulness. I have been mining them both. The lesson from this story is journaling is important to being a writer. It helps us cope and provides a record in case one is needed. From time to time we must rediscover who was are. Writing in a journal helps us do that.