Journal keeping is such a weird practice when you examine it. I mean, who cares what I did today or how I felt about it?
Actually, I met with my editor for the first time this morning. I was nervous about it; she was lovely. She gave me the publishing schedule for my book. I gave her a jar of my End of Draft jam.
I recorded all this in my journal.
Why did I do this? No one else will read it. Mostly I can’t even bear to reread it myself.
It’s a habit: I’ve been keeping a journal for over twenty years now.
It’s a way of catching my thoughts, or capturing story ideas or dreams before they disappear. Sometimes, like when I can’t sleep at night, I use my journal to get rid of the kind of thoughts that buzz around my head like wasps trapped in a bottle.
I use it to make sense of whatever’s happening in my world. To let off steam. To practise writing when I don’t have an ongoing project, or as a safe place to try out things that I may end up using in a current project. Even to record events.
They say there’s a chip of ice in every writer’s heart. Sixteen months ago, in July 2007, my mother looked as though she was going to die. I sat every day for hours in her hospital room and wept as she refused food and struggled for breath. And I recorded it all in my notebook. Sometimes I sat by her side and took down her words like dictation as she spoke them.
It’s as though there are two parts of me that co-exist: the doer and the recorder. I watch myself as much as I watch everyone else (What’s she doing now? Why is she doing that?), only with myself I have access to my inner life – feelings, thoughts, dreams and memories – whereas with others I have only the externals. It's no wonder I was drawn to writing a memoir.
When would-be writers ask me for advice, I tell them to keep a journal. It’s not always what they want to hear and I often can’t explain what journal keeping gives you that’s so important to a writer, but I know I could never have written either of my novels without that habit of mine. And of course Alzheimer’s: A Love Story owes its entire existence to that pile of spiral-bound notebooks that document it all – my mother’s decline and my ongoing reactions to it, every painful, happy, sad, funny moment.