If You See Your Blog as Your Journal, You're Doing it Wrong.
You can call it a journal, just don't treat it like one.
I love reading the published diaries and journals of famous writers and artists. My interest in how they think and create borders on the obsessive. I want to know how they did it so I can do it that way, too. But here’s the thing about journals: Unless it’s from Virginia Woolf or Joan Didion or John Steinbeck or Dave Barry, a real-world journal is nothing more than a workbook.
Don’t kid yourself: Those writers above knew full well their journals would be published some day. Nobody writes journals like that unless they’re in Famous Writer mode. Or in Wannabe Famous Writer mode.
I see journaling as the private warm-up exercise, the word salad meanderings, the lazy throwing out of thoughts that come before the good stuff starts to happen. Coming from those of us without a soaring talent or a juicy public life, they’re—I’m sorry—just so much junk.
To the outside world nothing could be more boring than the day-to-day word-wander of the unknown journal-keeper. One of two things happens when a journal becomes food for a blog:
Either the writer is so wrapped up in writing it down fast before any thought leaves her head, she forgets that other people will be reading it slowly, thinking there must be something worthwhile in there when there almost never is.
Or the writer writes to an audience, in which case it’s not really a day-to-day journal but a pushy attempt to interest readers in a whole mess of words that in the end don’t amount to much beyond ‘what I want to do’, ‘what I have to do’, ‘why I didn’t do anything’, ‘why I hate myself’, or ‘damn, I’m good!’
They’re missing the best part of keeping a journal: the loosey-goosey joy of writing down any damn thing that comes into our heads without having to worry about who might end up reading it.
Nobody will read it unless you want them to.
And you shouldn’t ever want them to.
I’m a believer in keeping writing journals. I have a couple dozen spiral-bound books filled with the everyday things I’ve recorded over the years about writing and other writers and the writing life in general. These journals often move into the moody stuff—joys and triumphs, for sure, but also crying over rank failures or self-imposed embarrassments or grudges I plan on holding forever. They’re not meant for prying eyes. They would hold no interest for anyone else, and when I write in them I don’t think of myself as a writer but as a person in the throes of writing something down that I either don’t want to forget or I’m hoping will inspire me.
As I said…boring.
Natalie Goldberg started me on my journal-keeping, and if I could thank her in person, I surely would. In her excellent book, “Writing Down the Bones”, she told me a journal was an essential tool for any writer, and even told me why. (Practice, practice, practice.)
But, more important, she warned me against trying to fill a fancy, blank journal with my everyday thoughts on writing. Fancy is as fancy does. If you buy a fancy journal you’ll think you have to fill it with fancy words. Thus the cheap spiral-bound notebooks. They work just fine. Probably better, since they lay flat and don’t get in the way.
Here’s another tip: (It could be this came from Natalie, too. I don’t remember.) Only write on one side of the page. Keep the other side blank for filling in when you’ve forgotten something or when you want to add something later. It’s not a book, it’s a journal. Keep it loose.
I keep a travel journal in the car and fill it with things I don’t want to forget: road conditions, gas prices, good and bad motels and restaurants, the sighting of roadside oddities like The Creation Museum. Things like that. It’s simply record-keeping without worrying about who’s looking over my shoulder.
I keep notebooks in my purse and in my pocket and if I can’t find paper when a thought jumps out, I suppose I could make myself bleed and use the blood to make notes on my arm.
(Oh, I’m kidding!)
But what I never want to do is muddy up my blog with out-of-the-gate random thoughts without benefit of editing. I want my public work to ooze perfection. (Remembering that my idea of perfection probably isn’t the same as yours. Hell, my idea of perfection today probably isn’t the same as it will be a week from now—which is why I reserve the right to change anything I’ve written here at any time, no matter what. That’s the beauty of a blog: Freedom! Independence! It’s also the ruination of some I will not mention.)
I’ll probably keep talking about that idea of perfection, since it’s one of those wiggly things that pretends it’s something it’s not, thus making it endlessly perplexing and fascinating. But for now I just want to beg you not to use your blog as a journal. You can call it a Journal if you wish. (And who am I to stop you?) Just don’t treat it like one.
Treat your blog like a finely-honed public work and remember that it’s not just for you, it’s for those other people who come in, sit down, and want to be enlightened or entertained. They’re the reason you push the “Publish” button in the first place.
They deserve to know you’ve noticed they’re there.
I can’t tell you how glad I am you’re here! I hope you’ll want to come back. You can always find me and support my work by becoming a free or paid subscriber. Just click on that ‘Subscribe’ button below.