Looking to other writers

imagesJournals and diaries have been in and out of my life since I was a little girl. I thought they were cool. I longed to be a writer who carried a journal with them everywhere – maybe a small one tucked into a pocket or a leather – bound notebook with a nice pen. I remember watching my older sister write in a small diary with a key. Oh, how I wanted one of those.

As I got a bit older I finally got a small red flowered diary with a key. I think, to be honest, at that point I was really more interested in the little key and how it worked. Now that I had this writing space I had no idea what to put in it. I wrote a few words and then was off to play outside, dig in the dirt or take off on my bike. I was not a child who images.jpgsat still or contemplated the world around me and then turn it into words. I needed to move and be in that world. I was a great observer of small things – bugs, flowers, leaves, looking under rocks, watching what was floating by in a local creek. I did not take the time to write about what I saw. I didn’t know that was allow.

There was part of my problem.

  •  One I had trouble sitting still.
  • Two I was a lousy speller and I was afraid of making mistakes.
  • Three I had in my head (still do at times) that there were rules for diaries and journals. There were/are specific things that you could write in a journal. I couldn’t state these rules out loud but I was sure they were there.

These issues kept me from writing.

For years I have carried a notebook or had one by the side of my bed. I would write every few months or when I am really worried about something. I tended to write a short paragraph about what is wrong at the moment and then lines and lines of positive statements to get me out of the dark place I had crawled into. The other writing would be a quick comment about the weather and a few statement about the day. At the time of writing it all seemed boring and stupid. Who would care? So I would quit.

It did mean that notebooks lasted a long time.

My head tells me that this type of writing is not journal/diary writing. Stating daily activities, the weather, or disappointments just didn’t fit into THE rules. I somehow thought/think I need to write a wise and thoughtful statement each time I put pen to paper.

Now as I age and have more time I wish I had had patience and the acceptance to have written more often. It would have been nice to know and believe that the daily events are ok, the complaining is ok, the observations of the frogs, flowers and bees are ok. I would love to have those journals to go back to now so I can remember when things happened – when did my kid break his arm, when did my daughter learn to ride her bike or when did we take that family vacation?

Since I never think I am writing the right thing I turned to published writers recently to see what they have written about. What do their journals look like? What does the journal of a older woman look and sound like? I picked up a copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s letters and diaries from our local libary. She has several books that contain her dairies and letters but I was interested in the writing of an older woman. I am reading Against Wind & Tide. This is a collection of her writings from letters and personal journals from 1947 to 1986.

Clearly, Anne M Lindbergh had a more exciting life than I am living but her journal contains the frustrations of a mother with 5 kids, a husband who was strong and controlling and often gone from the home. She records her day to day struggles and highlights. She shares her thoughts of the news and politics of the time. Once in a while her writing hits a deep and thoughtful moment but there are many entries of the daily events a moment in time when here children are ill or she was fearful of an illness herself. As I read I realize it is not the day to day writing but the work as a whole that makes a difference. Moment by moment her diary doesn’t sound all that different from my early writings but the fact that she wrote often and widely about her life, her children and the world she was a part of makes for a fascinating read. Day by day a story of a woman living in the 40’s, 50’s and on comes to life.

She was more on the extreme side of documenting her life. She journaled almost daily and she saved copies of all her letters and papers. She made three copies when writing a letter to friends or her husband. She would place that old purple transfer paper in between the papers of her writing tablet as she sat down to write. She made copies of postcards she send to her children while at camp. She recorded by hand and kept almost everything. All this personal writing was above and beyond her professional writing – the articles and books she shared with the world. It is all amazing to me.

Now as my life opens up to more time and my body doesn’t feel the need to be running around the neighborhood as much I am returning to my half empty notebooks. I am recording a short paragraph about the day – what happened on this day in my life (boring or not) – the small moments. Then if the spirit moves me I continue to write about what ever pops up – news, creating drawings, garden thoughts or personal frustrations. I am working to let the rules slip away and learn to free write. It was something I tried to teach my students but realize I was never good at it myself. I could model it in a notebook for students but when I returned to my own personal notebooks at home I did not manage to let go of my self – imposed rules.

If one can’t let go of rules when you are in the late 60’s when can you!

So here is a toast to free writing and drawing, and to writing often and consistently!

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About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in journals, Reflection, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Looking to other writers

  1. I hit POST too early!! I think your ideas about the rules are SO spot on for many, many writers. We believe that there are rules that we aren’t sure how to follow, and therefore, we don’t. It takes bravery to just write, even when it’s about the everyday stuff and observations, for sure!

  2. lmazinas says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have had a similar inner critic in my own head during my free writing. Kudos to you for forging ahead anyway and also to looking to other authors. There are MANY authors who have kept what seems like mundane writings (David Sedaris,, to name one), which as you pointed out, add up to an interesting account of a person’s life. Cheers to you and to your consistent writing. 🙂

  3. Adrienne says:

    I have also had trouble keeping a journal. I wanted to write deep thoughts AND have it look wonderfully creative. I failed every time. Last year, I bought a small Moleskine journal with a week spread over a two page spread. It isn’t pretty or deep, but I have written consistently since January 1, 2017. I am thinking about getting a full page a day journal for next year (or one without dates) but I might very well just stick with my tried and true style.

  4. 2Guys1Book says:

    This is an incredibly beautiful article that articulates how I’ve felt about writing for years! I spend too much time critiquing as I’m writing that I lose my train of thought. It’s hard to sit still through the “boring” parts… we share the exact same feelings!

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