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In the Business of Writing (and Forgetting?)

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The Curious Cat Blog is all about writing, for writers, by a writer.


In the Business of Writing (and Forgetting?)

Carina Sitkus

I recently read a piece in Poets & Writers magazine that shared three authors' views on keeping journals. All three writers agreed that they took comfort from writing in their journals for years - and then destroying them. 

I'm flabbergasted!

Joan Didion once said, "So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking." 

I get that. I know some writers don't want to be defined by a message they can't control, especially if their diaries are released after their death. But what message can you control, really? 

You already know how I feel about keeping (and going back to) a diary.  I wish I had more diaries to go back to, not less.   In addition to amusing oneself, diaries and journals allow you to record snippets of thought without feeling the obsessive need to tie those thoughts together as part of a cohesive story. The results can be stunning.

Take The Unabridged Journals of Silvia Plath for instance. We can read her disjointed thoughts on love. Rejection. On college life. Even her regular days she paints in poetic prose:

Thursday morning: February 17: Moments snatched, & wildly snatched, between duty & duty. Outside, across the blunted pyramid of the red tile roof next to our windows great flakes of snow drift, out into which I trudge, momently, to my 9 o’clock class, another play still to read & outline, The Duchess of Malfi barely done by 1 am, and me sleepless, dreaming all the brief five hour morning, porcupine quills in the pillow, of counting beast and bird images and listing them on a never-filled sheet.

Have you ever wondered what someone was thinking on this day, in this moment on November 3 of 1822? In just their regular people moments?

Imagine what we could learn if we had more journals like Silvia Plath's. Gems like hers drill down into the essence of life and freeze frame history in tiny chunks of authenticity you can't get from reading timelines about wars in textbooks.  

Humans have always lived life the same: simply on the majority of days, with a few momentous occasions and accomplishments sprinkled here and there for décor. Take nowadays, for instance. Most people share their best selves on social media, so we see a smattering of smiles on Facebook- marriages, birthdays, promotions- and only the best pictures on Instagram. History won't see the nights we spend Netflix binge watching, the mornings we can't motivate ourselves to leave bed, or the embarrassing stuff we Google. Ok, actually it seems like that last one is already documented for history to read...

Anyway, those are the places from where our best writing comes. The loneliness. The sadness. The daily happiness that comes from watching the first snow of the year fall outside the window. We may not share them with the world, but those moments happen. And they're often a part of the narrative we share with our diaries. 

These moments are what matter. I don't know how you can be in the business of writing when you're in the business of forgetting. 

What do you think?

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