Monday, November 28, 2016

Dear Diary

RHYS BOWEN: A couple of weeks ago Hank posted a very funny comment. We were discussing Halloween costumes and she said she had once written in her diary that she had met a cute guy at a party but had written in her diary "Why would he call me? He's only seen me dressed as a teabag!""

That got me thinking about diaries. Do you keep a diary? Have you ever kept one? I have not. When I was a child I was given a shiny new diary for Christmas, complete with lock and key. On January first I started to write. "Nothing much happened today. Raining. Shepherd's pie for dinner."
Then on January 2 I wrote, "Still raining. Go back to school in three days."
By about January 10 nothing worth noting had happened so I gave up.

The only time I have actually kept a diary has been when I've been traveling. And then it's purely factual and usually food-centered. "Went to the art museum in Vienna today. Had open-faced egg sandwich for lunch. Had pork cutlets and red cabbage for dinner. Good."  Nothing about what paintings impressed me, what I felt. Reading those pages you'd never believe that I might grow up to be a writer!

Over the years I have tried several times to pour out my innermost feelings onto the pages of journals, but I simply can't do it. I cannot put my feelings onto paper. When I've attended workshops where I am asked to relive a time of sadness or anger I find it almost impossible to put down the words. I suppose I'm a private person and I don't want to share my feelings.

This maybe why I write fiction. My characters can express feelings that I really mine, but sufficiently removed that they do not upset or embarrass me.  My kids, on the other hand, are all big on journaling. They fill journal after journal with deep innermost thoughts. Not that I've ever read them. I wouldn't snoop. Maybe if I'd grown up with a sister I would have snooped in her diary, but alas I only had a brother, seven years younger than me.

So now I'm curious, Reds. Did you keep a diary when you were growing up? Do you now?

LUCY BURDETTE: I'm with you Rhys, not a diary or journal writer--and for many of the same reasons--the few times I tried it was beyond tedious. As a young teen, my family took a 6 week trip across the country and my father induced all four of us kids to keep journals. I still have that one--with postcards affixed to very dull stories with absolutely no insight into my inner life. I can't put my hands on it right now or I'd show you a picture. During grad school in clinical psychology and for several years after I spent many hours in therapy. Which was a wonderful, growth-inducing process. But my gosh, after yammering about my feelings and my life in great detail, I certainly wasn't interested in writing it all down too!

My sister, on the other hand, has kept journals for years. And they are invaluable as she writes essays and memoir. I'm envious that I don't have my own memories captured...

HALLIE EPHRON: I'm so jealous of anyone who did keep a diary. I remember starting diaries I got for Christmas and within a few days giving up. My husband is a terrific journaler--we have a travel journal that he's been keeping since 1969. We've kept journals on both of our kids. Here's part of my first entry from when my firstborn was 10 weeks old: "Last night Molly slept from 10 pm feeding until 6 am. A truly historic event! She's all smiley now and finds her thumb all the time. She loves to be sung to and loves it when we blow in he face or whistle." I don't know why Molly (the now grown-up) doesn't find this fascinating but she does not.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yeah, I kept a diary for a while, in the 80's. That's how we know about the teabag.  I am telling you, it is..painful. Painfully boring. No philosophy, no nuance, nothing thoughtful. I think there must be a skill to journalling. Some sort of a way, if you learn how to do it,  to plumb your brain and emotions. And learn something. But wow. If you try to write just before you fall asleep, which is the obvious time, sleep is so much more attractive. My diary entries, for the most part, are like...lists. Which brings up another thought--my to-do lists are more like diaries.  And WAY more interesting. I really think I simply don't know how to do it.  I know there are so many things I forget,  and diaries are good for that. One word, even, in my calendar, would be worthwhile.  And often, i do that. But really, in the end, would anyone care?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I don't know, Hank. Samuel Pepys may have thought the same thing about his diaries, and look how that turned out. Like the rest of you, I'm not a diarist except for special occasions. I also got the little book with lock and key like Rhys, wrote in it four or five times, and gave up. Let's face it, if you're having a happy childhood, there's not much to write about.

When we lived in Germany, my mother made me journal during our trips around Europe. Thanks, Mom! And when I went to school in London, a journal was required - and again, I'm so thankful, because mine has so many events and jokes and feelings I would have forgotten otherwise. Then, when my late father-in-law took me and Ross on safari in sub-Saharan Africa, I kept a journal. There was almost TOO much to write about every evening!

But day-to-day? Get up, write, clean, cook, walk the dog, play Mah Jong online. And so to bed.

HANK: I did keep a journal, ish, on my first and second book tours. Scribbles, writing as fast as I could. But very valuable, looking back now. It seemed like something I didn't want to forget. I made myself write during takeoff. And you know, that was a good idea.

RHYS  :I've been thinking about famous diaries. Anne Frank's, for example. We'd never have known about her shining spirit if she hadn't. And I've just realized something: we all blog. That is keeping a diary in a way, isn't it? So dear readers, have you ever kept a diary? Do you now? Any tips on good journal writing?


  1. Alas, I’ve no wise journaling tips to offer since I am not at all good at keeping a diary or a journal. Nor could I manage to do it when I was a child.
    Sad to say, I even forget to jot things down in my calendar . . . I guess that makes me pretty hopeless in the eyes of the diarists . . . .

  2. I have kept diaries since I was 9, however, I have not kept the diaries! Never wrote on a daily basis, whenever I tried, the results were too boring, but big events, or things I was working through, or wasn't ready to share. yep they all made it to the page. I haven't kept a journal now for oh, seven or eight years. I've started many, but they are lost in the mists of disinterest. This year I have resolved to try again and I dug out my lovely Claire Fontaine clothbound, the one I started in 2013 that has four entries...the last in December of 2014. My goal this time is story ideas. Although I know from experience, they are hard to search so I'm working on a color coding system that I can mark on the top of the page.

  3. No, I did not write a diary or journal on a regular basis as a child, or as an adult.

    However, I do write a detailed travel journal. I seem to be able to do this since those trips last only a few weeks, as opposed to a diary or journal that you are supposed to write in all the time. I like to document what happens during these various mystery conventions. I go to both Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime most years. It's good to document/write down the various places/sites I visited, and of course, the food I ate during these trips!

  4. I never wrote in those little books as a child/teen either. The only time I wrote every night was on our trip to AK by car. We emailed our friends and family every with pictures and words of the day. Great fun to look back on.

  5. I don't keep a journal now, but I filled an entire locked diary in the year of 1969. Lots of very interesting things were happening in the world that year, no? Wouldn't have known it from my diary! I was 16 and it was all about boys, school, girl scouts, the beach. One brief mention of the moon landing. Zip about race, war, flower power, assassinations, or any of the rest of it. I am glad I have it look back on, though.

  6. As the past disappears into a big black hole, I am so grateful that my husband kept a travel diary for all our trips. Especially nice for remembering the food.

  7. I truly admire people who have to discipline to keep a diary. I have boxes of journals, from handmade to Moleskine, all virgin. sigh

    When I was a nursing director/hospice administrator, I kept one of those week at a glance things, with all my appointments written down. No, this was neither a diary nor a journal, but I started a new one each year, keeping the old. They are around somewhere. It is interesting to look back at my work life, at the odd notes I made after those meetings. At one time I used them in the legal sense, to document an event, who I had spoken to about it, how it all played out. Our legal team was impressed that I could call up all that stuff from years back.

    Now it's all digital, and the prevalence of blogs would seem to chronicle lives more than ever before.

    If the computer doesn't crash.

    1. The above entry is mine. Signature fail

  8. Yes, Facebook is kind of like a diary. IN a very public way. SO yes, a chronicle of activities. But a diary is supposed to be much more personal.

    Wait, Kait--what happened to the diaries?

    Ad I so agree-my calendars are fascinating to me--and only to me :-)--but I have years' worth of them. That's the benefit of paper week-at-a-glance things, right a?l

  9. I have boxes of journals that I don't know what to do with. I tend to journal more when I am discontent and do find writing my thoughts down helps me sort things through. But later when I've tried reading them, all I can think of us is, dear god, woman get over yourself. Although, I do enjoy reading my old travel journals.

    But I think Hank is on to something with lists. I threw away twenty years worth of notebooks that contained my daily "to do" lists back when I was downsizing (I hate to admit this, but the project goes on and on, but that's a whole other topic). Now, there is some honest journaling. When you write "Buy post-funeral food," or "Lose weight for wedding," there's no editing, wondering what someone might think if they read your list. Pure and unfiltered tags about where you are in life. An unsentimental chronicle. Wish I hadn't thrown them out now and had tossed the journals.

  10. In high school and college, I kept diaries/journals on and off. Like Edith's, though, they contain nothing about the state of the world at that time. They are mostly about boys, boys, and more silly boys. Geez, I was so shallow back then!

    I do keep a writing journal and have for quite a while, but I am by no means faithful to it. Mostly I use it to hash out plot lines and whine when things aren't going the way I want them to. I also will add some things that are going on in my personal life, but not really any world problems or social issues, or at least none that I can think of. No Donald Trump or Hillary. Thank God!

  11. Not as a child, but in my late teens--it was a writing journal--a space to 'doodle' and write out anything--details of the day, my feelings at the moment, my anguish over a crush who didn't notice me--anything to get words on the page--and then let the poetry come. In fits and starts. And with many actual doodled drawings. Throughout therapy, in my later years--(exercises set by my therapist, Lucy)--and never fancy--just a three-ring binder with lots of paper--a new one every year. Dreams recorded, story ideas. Long letters written to people--some never mailed on second and third thoughts ;-)

  12. When I was a young girl, I kept a diary regularly. I turned that into journals as a young woman & now keep a dream diary for special dreams. I have them all & wonder if I will leave or destroy them before my death. I don't know if it's appropriate for anyone to read inner thoughts without context or linear changes.

  13. My aunt used to give me lovely diaries, beautiful with fancy covers and end paper. I think I used it once. Twice? Like all of you, I didn't find my life and thoughts all that interesting the first time around. I sure didn't want to write about it. And yes, my entries would have all been the same: get up, go to school, do homework, go to bed. Rinse, repeat.

    I did write a letter to each of my children on their first birthdays. I'll give it to them when they leave the house.

    Travel journal? I use pictures for that.

  14. Michele and Manning, yes, holding on to diaries of years ago is another topic. Would we want our heirs to know what we were thinking or doing? I'm remembering Mama Mia when daughter reads Mom's diary and sees "What a night! Sam and I went down to the beach and ....."
    I have a big diary book my mother kept for years. It's not every day but every happening, and..... It's very boring. "Bought a new coat."


  15. Kati, I have to admit that I am very attracted to lovely looking journals, tooled leather, cloth bound, hand made... And I realize that for anyone who has had a somewhat public life a future biographer would be so annoyed to find no diaries. Hank, have you still got the teabag one?

  16. Sounds like millions of trees have died in the service of teenage diaries, and all for naught! Guilty as charged here, too.

    I used to write down my adolescent angst in shorthand notebooks--remember those? They're still my favorite, since the spiral is on the top. My mother pitched some that I left at her house after my own marriage, when she remarried in the mid-70's. I still wish I had them, if only to remember those boys' names!

    For a long time I used my calendar as a diary, and I've saved them for decades. Have I gone back to look at any of them? Well, no. I thought my travel blog would be great for remembering trips, but it took me two and a half years to finish the entries for our trip to Tanzania, and I still haven't finished the one from my trip to Europe this past spring. Hallie, how lovely that Jerry wrote those for you.

    Are you sensing a theme here? Maybe a deadline is the key.

  17. Oh, those beautiful journals. So hard to resist, but does anyone ever write in them? They always seem like one of those things you get as a gift, and they're too pretty and expensive to drop off at Goodwill despite the fact you never use it.

    I swear, I collected at least three stamped-leather journals from my late father-in-law's apartment when we were cleaning it out. Do I still have them? Yes. Have I ever written in one? No. Will my children clean them out of my house when I go toes up? Probably.

  18. I love journals themselves--there's nothing more enticing than a lovely bound book full of empty pages just waiting to be filled. I have several of them, still waiting to be filled. I kept diaries growing up but they are painful to read now. I wasn't a happy child and all of my angst went into those entries. College was even worse. I kept them all but don't like to read them because even now those words have power over me.

    That said, the most successful journal I ever kept was a blog I wrote during a ten day trip to Japan. The memories I recorded would not be nearly as vivid to me now if I hadn't written it. I did the same thing when we traveled to Peru a couple of years ago and while I didn't keep quite as detailed a record, I'm glad to have it.

    So on balance, journaling is a good thing. And now that I have a healthier mental state (and write fiction regularly) those experiences I do record aren't nearly so angst-filled.

  19. Zilch on the teenage diaries. If I ever wrote anything, I threw them away on rereading. Mortifying. Now I'd love to have a glimpse of my fifteen-year-old self, and my first little attempts to express myself on paper.

    I've had many, many failed journals as an adult, too, but I'm still fascinated by the idea. At the moment I'm obsessed with "illustrated journals." I bought a little Canon photo printer so that I could add photos, and I've been drawing and painting, but didn't make nearly as much progress on my recent trip to the UK as I'd hoped. The nice thing about doing an illustrated journal is that it doesn't have to be linear, so that you don't feel like you've "failed" when there are gaps.

    When I have managed to keep a novel journal, it's been very helpful, so I'm determined to keep it up with the new book.

    For day to day, the last few years I've used a "week at a glance". I make all sorts of notes in them, including food and movies and daily events as well as business stuff. I use the same brand of journal every year, the Minster from Quo Vadis, and I love looking back through them.

  20. Questions for Rhys:

    You mentioned shepherd's pie and school in your diary. Did they cook the shepherd's pie in a Aga stove or a different stove? oven? Did you write a recipe for the shepherd's pie? Was the school a boarding school or near your home so you could walk to school daily?

    Was it during winter or summer when they cooked shepherd's pie?


  21. Michele--"get over yourself woman!"--that seems to be a theme here:)

    Flora, so interesting that your therapist had you writing. I bet it was helpful in moving the process along...

    Blogging about trips has helped me remember them more vividly, in fact blogging here in general is like a giant group diary, isn't it? Both from Reds and Red readers...

  22. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I have kept a diary since I was fourteen when my aunt gave me one for Christmas - navy blue leather binding with silver stars embossed on it and a ribbon to mark my place. I haven't always been consistent - looking back there are stretches of months where I didn't journal at all, but I've noticed that I journal the most when I'm in times of extreme emotion - boyfriend breakups, death of pets, getting married, birth of my sons, etc. I think the journals gave me a place to put all the angry, happy, sad stuff - to contain it perhaps. It's alarming to go back and visit sixteen-year-old me but it's equally amazing to go back and visit new mom me. There was so much in my day to day life that I would have forgotten. I am ever grateful to my Aunt Nancy and that very first journal.

  23. Like most others here I have never kept a daily diary, but I have used a journal at various points in my life. And as someone else already commented, it tends to be a little heavily weighted to times of unhappiness and periods of navel-gazing. So I would hate for anyone to judge my life based on those!

    But there was a practice I kept going for quite a few years that I like. (And can't quite figure out how or why I gave it up.) At the end of each month, as part of my regular discipline of changing the calendar, etc., I would review the month's activity and write up a little summary of what I accomplished and what was important in my life that month. That was back when I used the Franklin Day Planner, and those monthly summaries are stored right in the binders with the calendar pages for those years. Hmmm...I might just try to revive that practice!

  24. Yes, Michele, I love my lists. It's touching, and nostalgic, to see htem. ANd alsao amazing howm uch we all do!

    And yes, that;s the question, isn't it Manning--what do do with them when you wont be around. Ah. Let's not think about it.

    Mary, that is lovely! xxo

  25. I'm a journaler, but not as consistently as when I was young. I understand now that writing through my thoughts (yes, painful!) helped me process the world. As an adult, I went through a "morning pages" phase from THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron. Anyone else done that? These days? I keep a journal for each novel -- brainstorming and venting. :-) I also have a therapy journal, where I keep notes and thoughts from therapy sessions (on and off my whole adult life--I love therapy!). I'm a copious travel journaler too.

    Journaling is definitely part of my mental balancing act. During the election process I was so stressed out, I started the "morning pages" routine again for the first time in years. It helped!

  26. Diana: I regret we didn't have an aga when I was growing up. They became fashionable among upper class with country houses after I ,over away from England. The shepherds pie was cooked in the oven. I'll post a recipe this Sunday if you like.

    And those lovely journals I've been given.... I use them for notes and research on future books

  27. Jenn and Lisa, I'm I pressed and a little jealous that you have journaled consistently all your lives. Your biographers will thank you. Another thing I regret is that I delete emails. There will never be the collected letters between Rhys Bowen and her contemporaries!

  28. Well, that was me above with the bad typos...I hit send before I proofread. Sigh. xoo Hank

  29. I made a few attempts to write in a diary when I was growing up, but I would always get bored and abandon it. Shortly after college, I did an exchange program run by Boston University and lived and worked in London for six months, and I did keep a journal of my work experience. I assume I was required to do so (how else to explain the significant page count?) but it's interesting to read back through it. Although it was focused on my work internship, a lot of commentary about living abroad and being an American abroad crept on to the pages, which makes for more interesting reading.

    Deborah, my curiosity was piqued by your mention of a novel journal. I would love to keep a journal while I'm in the process of writing a book, but I find the last thing I want to do at the end of the work day is write more! Do you struggle with that at all? I mostly would like to be able to look back and reassure myself that the moment where I think I'm completely stuck and will never have another good idea has happened before, and I survived it! I know my husband would like for me to keep track of those moments so he could retire the comment, "you feel this way every time!"

    Do others of you have tips for project/novel journals?

  30. Susan, I love your summary idea!

    And Lisa, I've done morning pages, too, but not recently. That's an idea of the illustrated journal, too.

    I've also kept a gratitude journal off and on over the years. I get busy and I stop doing it, and then whenever I start again I'm always amazed at how much it helps my daily outlook.

    I think now would be a really good time to take that up again...

  31. Hah. Like Deb mentioned: mortifying! Rhys, I'll probably burn them all before I die; no biographer (if any) will see them. :-)

    Correspondence via email doesn't have the same literary flair as correspondence of old, does it?

  32. Lisa,

    Yes, I read THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron. That's a great idea about writing something in the morning. For me, it is like drawing. some days I am inspired to draw or write.


  33. Ingrid, I so agree - I have so little perspective when I'm hopelessly lost in a plot hole or have written myself into a cul de sac, it would be nice to know I've been there before. But a keeping a novel diary would be a bridge too far. Though it's giving me an idea for a meta-novel...

  34. I've wanted to keep a gratitude journal, and a novel journal, but alas....
    But it is interesting to look through the notebooks on novels I've written and see the time line and characters change as I get to know them better. I found the first page of Her Royal Spyness written in an old notebook about five years before I started to write the book. Toying with the idea at that stage but the first page exactly as it appears in print.

  35. When you look up sporadic in the dictionary it will point you to my name, where the entry will read Master of sporadic in diary/journal keeping, famous for starts and then nothing. I did have one of those lock-and-key diaries growing up, but the entries are few and far-between in that five-year keepsake. It is interesting to read a couple of entries about how much family events meant to me, something that is still a treasured part of my life. Travel journaling for me results in writing the first day or maybe two, no more.

    Rhys, I like how you compared blogging to keeping a journal. I am actually quite faithful about visiting the blog here every day and expressing my thoughts on something. And, FB does seem to be a dariy of sorts, too. Debs, I love the idea of an illustrated journal, but, alas, I fear it would only be one more lovely unused journal for me.

    I do lament the loss of the written word, in letters and journals, to chronicle our history and the lives of people who both notable and ordinary. I know that it's much easier to type on the computer than write out something longhand, and, thus, I am partly to blame for the demise of written records, too.

  36. Hi Diana, I'm not a drawer (I wish!), but I imagine that an morning drawing session would provide the same benefit. Cheers!

    (Sporadic? You and me both, Kathy!)

  37. Tried so hard to faithfully keep a diary in high school...what I wrote was mainly fiction: how I wanted my days and nights to be. At various times since I have "written my life" in calendars, journals, loose leaf notebooks; being faithful to daily writing for about a week at a time. However, 15 years ago, on retreat, one of leaders spoke of writing her prayers when those prayers seemed too complex to keep in heart and mind. I've missed very few mornings of writing my prayers ever since...sometimes the prayers turn into poems or to do lists...probably some days the writing looks like a gratitude journal.
    Except for the journals written around my parents' deaths, I've tossed them without reading about every 2 or 3 years. (Feeling guilty about filling the dump rather than recycling!)
    I doubt that I will read the ones about my parents' deaths, but I need them near.

    Thank you all for the good company with my afternoon latte.

  38. Oh Hank, some were lost in my parents' moves and others when my ex refused to return anything. The rest managed to get lost in a move or two, but I have a full set from 1992 on, sporadic though they might be.

  39. Dear Rhys, not Diana, but yes, please. I would love a good shepherd's pie recipe. But I admit, no lamb for me, I replace it with buffalo!

  40. It's funny because I decided to re-read Deb's books in preparation for Garden of Lamentations. I've wanted to do that for a while, since I originally read them out of order. I think the perspective will be different in the right order and also (hopefully!) closer together than the first time.

    Anyway, I'm on the second book, All Shall Be Well, and in it, the victim (a friend and neighbor of Duncan's) had kept journals since she was quite young. Duncan reads them to try to figure out what happened to her. In the part I'm reading today, he doesn't want to continue because he reflects what a private person she was and how much she would dislike someone reading them.(I'm paraphrasing here as I don't have the book in front of me.) It just seemed so apropos with what we're talking about today!