The second Discussion Thread took place on Substack, on Friday 25th February. The next one will be Friday 25th March.
as it’s the last Friday of February, I’m sticking my head out again – from behind the pages of the Diary – to see how you’re doing, and hear what you’re thinking.
This month, I’d like to start up a discussion thread about diary writing. Not just this diary. Not just my writing. Any diary (or journal), and any writing.
Do you keep a diary, journal, daybook or blog? Has your approach to it changed over the years? Who is your favourite diarist? What are the best things about writing that has been set down day-to-day, without much redrafting?
I’ll be here from 4pm onwards, but feel free to post questions straight away.
I can’t be around at 4, but would like to add a comment-question anyway.
Firstly to say I’ve really been enjoying receiving these thought-parcels in my inbox every day, thanks.
As for journal-keeping – I’ve kept a journal (I currently swear by the Leuchtturm 1917 Jottbook Medium (A5) – nice enough to take care of, not so nice you can’t mess it up a bit) since 2002. I treasure it as a space in which I can write anything, no matter how ridiculous – it is a sandpit in which I can do whatever I want / try out new things or record nonsensical thoughts. Often the joy is in writing out the nonsensical thought – though I think I used to hold back from writing such things because I thought everything I wrote had to be ‘for’ ‘something’.
Do you use your journal to try out new / ridiculous things? And has the process of publishing A Writer’s Diary, changed the way you interract with your journal at all – do you feel in some ways like you are performing? Or maybe you feel like writing in a journal is always a performance?
thanks for your questions. Your phrase ‘thought-parcels’ is great for a lot of the Diary entries. It makes me think of sweet pastries (perhaps because I had a very delicious one in Russell Square this afternoon).
Yes, it’s exactly for new things that I use my diary. There’s a certain amount of average grumbling that goes on, in my own grab-bag days. (Such a release.) But very often I’ll be thinking of a new way of paying attention to something. There will be a subject I know I haven’t mentioned in a while, or ever.
I’m probably not as formally playful as in A Writer’s Diary. A few of the upcoming Fundays (on Sundays) are in very complex forms. All, however, were written within a couple of hours. I haven’t included anything that took days, just to try and pass it off as a first draft.
Since starting A Writer’s Diary, I’ve been more free in what I’ve put down on the page. In fact, I’ve started keeping two separate diaries. One of them is like my old diary, the other one is much more like AWD. And maybe, as you suggest, the second is more performative – more aware of potential readers, even if only imaginary.
I have been repeatedly tempted by Lechtturm notebooks, but I find them a bit intimidating. They seem to have lots of useful lines on the opening pages that I have no cause to use. Their general air is technical. Is that one of the reasons you like them?
Hi, also can’t be here at 4 but wanted to add how much I am enjoying your diary. I’ve also kept a journal for the past decade. I like very plain brown notebooks, nothing aesthetic to distract or shape my thoughts, rather like Bourges who only ate white bread and plain food when he was writing so his senses could focus on the page. Do you also write by hand Toby? I find hand-writing very different as a process to using a keyboard particularly in terms of editing.
glad to have you along, in both the future and the past. I’m delighted to hear you’re enjoying the entries.
Are those the Muji brown notebooks? I’ve used them for a few things. I wrote How to Tell a Story to Save the World (which went up on the Writers Rebel website) in a pair of those.
For a long time, I thought a journal would be better than a diary for me. That was for the obvious reasons: uneventful days need not be included (and wouldn’t waste paper); eventful days could go on for much longer than a single page. However, I’ve stuck with physical, handwritten diaries. The very first one came from South Africa, and has pictures of wildebeest and lions in. The next few years came from WH Smiths in Bedford. These were various colours. Finally, I switched to Moleskine page-a-day diaries, which I’ve used for quite a few years. They now make up a fairly solid horizontal black line on two shelves.
And, yes, I write almost everything by hand. There are some entries coming up about pens (as well as pencils, pencil-sharpeners, desk-dust). Looking back through my diaries, it’s possible to see the change in handwriting being just as significant as what’s being said. For years, my handwriting sloped forwards. Now it’s very upright. I know that graphology says, when it’s simplistically applied, that forward-sloping is optimistic. So when I’m feeling I need to accentuate the positive, I start to force my handwriting to lean into the future. But when I lose concentration, it goes back to standing up straight. I am still trying to work out what this means.
I didn’t know about Borges diet. Maybe I should try that. The most I do is not eat at all – write hungry – which is what Hemingway advises is A Moveable Feast. Mostly it’s unwillingness to leave the desk and do something that might involve washing up.
I echo that your diary has been an enjoyable slice of my day. Thank you! It’s given me food for thought on a number of occasions.
On the question of journal-keeping, I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was a teenager, when I typed up my deepest darkest thoughts on the deepest darkest web (LiveJournal). Ever since then, writing things by hand has felt too slow for me. My thoughts happen too fast for my writing hand to capture, but my fingertips are pretty fleet on the laptop keypad. I’ve consistently kept a journal on my personal DropBox for the past six months, which is more regular than I have done for years. Because it’s no longer intended to be read by anyone but me, I can be freer about what I write, and also less ruthless about editing out the minutiae of daily life that absolutely no one but me would be interested in. I had originally intended my journal, back in September, to say a lot more about cultural stuff, like books I was reading, or movies and TV programmes. I do write about that too, and even, sometimes, about your diary. But I actually spend more time philosophising about why I do things a certain way and talking about my feelings. In other words, my journal has become a form of therapy. It’s the time in my day when I get to block out the crowd of responsibilities that usually weighs me down and actually think about the things I want to think about. The only other time comparable to this is during Pilates, when I’m in too much pain to think about anything at all. That Pilates teacher is a killer!
that’s really interesting. I have thought about keeping a typed journal, of just the sort you’re describing. My typing is faster than my handwriting (though a lot less accurate), and I’d be interested to see what came out if I allowed myself to rush a bit more.
The one time I did write a whole novel on a laptop, it was because the main character was keeping a journal on a laptop. That was Finding Myself. Part of the plot was the people being written about finding what Victorian About (the narrator and journal-keeper) was saying about them. I bought myself a cool laptop and imagined myself writing outside cafes. However, when it came to it, I was terrified someone would cycle past and swipe the work-in-progress, so the laptop only rarely left the house. There’s one scene in the novel I remember liking. Victoria takes her laptop out to the beach and sits there, typing in the dark. She’s braver than I am with her tech. I’d never to that. I’d be thinking about sand getting into the ports.
You definitely don’t want sand in your ports! I like that Victoria was living your ideal imagined situation. It’s almost like a compensation for the shittiness of life.
that’s all for this week. Thanks for the great questions and comments about diaries. Midway through answering I had to run for a train.
See you next last Friday of the month.
I’ll leave this up for a few days before archiving on my other blog.
There will be very exciting news soon about book publication of A Writer’s Diary. It is happening.
And next month, I will say a bit more about the mentoring I’ll be offering for one paid subscriber.
Apologies for not being able to join you on Friday. I’m uneasy with the label, ‘Diary’, the implicated commitment and the risk of unconsciously sliding unspeakable words onto the reality page, a thought stain. Fiction seems safer, less inhibitive, a safeguard. So while I began following your entries out of honest respect, rather than to inform my stalking habits, I’m enjoying that glimpse of inner thoughts, a real writer, unfiltered without being too unhinged. It’s touching. Feels real. Perhaps a thought balancer midst a storm of to-be-dones? And, I suppose, I’m looking at my notebook, my habitat when the words come, unblinkered. And I’m thinking, Fuck it! Jump! (Between naps, obviously.) Thank you. Look forward to more posts.
If you’d like to subscribe to A Writer’s Diary, it’s still – for the moment – free forever. Here.