Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Dear Diary


We’re having snow today, a decent storm that may or may not close schools. I haven’t ventured outside yet, but it looks to be around four inches or so. A plow just came down our street, which now looks pretty clear, as does the main road. So, although five districts in our county are currently closed, and two are on a two-hour delay, I think we’ll be ‘business as usual’ today.
It’s been a week of snow, a little each day. There’s an old phrase we learned as kids, “March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb.” It seems pretty accurate in a general way. Or, rather, it did when I lived downstate. Up here, where we’ve been for ten years now (holy crap, where did the time go?), March starts later and lasts longer. Lion weather doesn’t usually start up here until the middle of the month, and lamb weather begins closer to the end of April, even the beginning of May. And even though Punxsatawny Phil claims spring should be starting right about now, things don’t work quite the same way in central New York.
Didn’t everyone have one of these?
Lately, I’ve been kicking myself over not keeping a journal. I don’t know if this is something all kids go through, or if it was a particular fad back in the *harrumph* when I was a kid, but I recall a time when diaries were the ‘in’ thing. My brother, my sister and I all got diaries one Christmas, and it WAS SO COOL!  You know the kind: faux leather cover, ‘My Diary’ stamped on the front in gold, little leather strap, flimsy lock, flimsier key attached with a red string. Inside, lined pages (undated, I think) waiting to be filled with important thoughts, observations, or…nothing. As a seven or eight-year-old, or whatever I was, I lacked the drive and discipline to keep a diary. I vaguely remember making brotherly attempts to break into my sister’s diary, but I don’t think we succeeded. I think we successfully stole it once or twice, but never actually broke into it. Maybe we had too much respect for her. I’d like to believe that, though it’s more likely we feared the wrath of Mom, should she get involved.
Somewhere along the line, diaries became things for girls. Guys didn’t keep diaries. There was something…unmanly…about it. Diaries were out, but journals? Those were okay. Don’t ask me why. The word implies something more clinical, less personal. Journals are about recording observations and facts, not feelings. Lewis and Clark kept journals. Theodore Roosevelt kept a journal. Many of the great scientists kept journals. Journals were okay, for guys. Diaries were out.
I’ve made a few stabs over the years at keeping journals; it appeals to the part of me that admires the great naturalist-artist of the 18thcentury, men like Audubon and Fuertes and Darwin. I never keep up with it, though. I’ll get a day or two into it, and then forget. I started again last week, with a short paragraph noting the weather. Snow and cold. Fifteen wild turkeys in the field. That sort of thing. It can be handy if you keep up with it. Some years down the road, when I’m old and cranky and want to prove definitively that, “This winter ain’t nothing! You ought to have been around back in ’15!” I’ll be able to find the journal and go through it and see what the winter of ’15 was really like. And who knows? Maybe it can be something that can help write a book.

Do you keep a journal or diary? Have you ever used it in your writing?
Big congratulations to Carrie Butler, whose new, New Adult novel, Strength, hit the streets yesterday!

And, on the whole diary/journal thing, here’s a fun bit from the old show, Making Fiends. Enjoy!

15 Responses

  1. Yeah, I used to keep a written journal and it will be interesting when I'm dead and my kids read it. I kept a digital one for two years but wasn't careful enough with the backups, so I lost it. Big dang there. I will need to go and collect the stuff I've posted on my personal blog and some stuff from FB and see if I can get it someone where safe. I got into this writing thing in the first place for my personal history–that stuff may help to job memories if I ever quit having so much fun with my fictional characters.

  2. I tried the diary thing when I was young, but took weeks or months between entries! So I switched to a notebook, where the gaps weren't noticeable (plus, I could write more than the little page allowed). Don't know WHERE those notebooks are now, though, so not sure what the purpose of them are. I do know I stopped writing in them altogether once I got married.

    Now I like to think my blog is kind of my journal.

  3. When I was a kid, I kind of thought journals were diaries kept by boys – like that was the definition. Diaries = girl writing, Journal = boy writing. It took me years to figure out that wasn't it. 🙂 (And I definitely lack the discipline to keep one – I can barely blog on schedule!)

  4. I did have one of those diaries as a kid. I think we must be about the same age. I see "journal" notebooks for sale in the stores now. I guess it's an important distinction. 🙂

    I never could keep a daily journal, though. I don't think enough interesting things happen in my life to merit a full sentence. But I view my blog as a journal of sorts. It's interesting to look over the last two years worth of posts and remember where I was or what I was thinking when I wrote a particular article.

  5. I used to only write diaries when I went on holiday. My life didn't seem interesting enough to keep one all the time. I definitely think it is something that kids should do, to keep them interested in writing, and it's also interesting to consider how much things have changed with online journals and blogs – something that was once considered so private is now done in public, so does that change how we write it and ultimately how we process our life? Hmmm…

  6. I kept a few diaries as a kid, but I was never consistent. In fact, if it weren't for the community/social aspects, I probably wouldn't blog regularly, either. I'm easily distracted. 😉

    Thanks for the shout-out, Jeff!

  7. I almost started writing in a journal, but the potential yet constant threat of my brother finding it and reading it aloud made me more than a little wary. I just couldn't take the chance…

    In terms of a writing journal, however, I did have a couple of spiral notebooks to jot stories down. In retrospect they were probably filled with garbage (though I'm sure a lot of people feel the same way about past works/old shames), but I was savvy enough to hide them in the one place my brother would never look: around stacks of school papers. So when I was "studying", I was actually free to write about flying cars and swords and air guitars.

    Everybody wins!

  8. I can't figure out how that whole diary/journal thing came to be. Funny, isn't it? As for the blog schedule, you're kind of busy, so it's understandable.

  9. Yeah, it can be kind of fun to look back and remember. It can also be sort of disconcerting to look back and say, "Wait, that's not how I remember it!"

    It's funny that so many people think their lives aren't interesting enough to document. It's probably a lot more interesting than you think.

  10. Ah, the joy of siblings!

    Looking back on old stuff can be a source of great amusement–or embarrassment. I found my 'first' written story from when I was about 11. It was HORRRRRRRRible. But kind of fun, too.

  11. I remember those diaries…I got one for Christmas. I was so excited, just like you. I started off good, but then wrote less and less. Finally, I found I was only writing when I was really mad, and it was all negative, so I quit.

  12. What did I just watch?! Must see more 😀

    I've tried with diaries and journals in the past… but they just never appealed to me. I wasn't dedicated enough. Blogging is probably the closest thing I've done for a long period of time, and I definitely think it could help with my writing. If I was into journals and diaries, they'd probably help out too.

    So good luck with your journal keeping, and have fun with the snow (Summer won't leave us alone down here…). Also, you were the winner of the competition thingy on my blog, so pick a prize and let me know 🙂

  13. Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction when my daughter showed us Making Fiends for the first time. She does pretty good impersonations of Charlotte and Vendetta, too.

    Blogging, journals, diaries–all of it helps, if you pay attention to what you're doing. I feel kind of sloppy on this blog sometimes, but I think it helps.

    Oh, and I'll take the million dollars, thanks.

  14. I've kept a journal since I was 12, and am so happy for it; in going back and reading the old entries I've recalled important moments from my adolescence that would have otherwise slipped into oblivion.

    Seeing how the tone of the journals changed as I advanced into my twenties has been neat, too. It lets me know that I've actually developed as a person.

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