On writing a diary for an audience

You know those diaries that people keep under their bed? Maybe with a key? I’ve never been able to keep them. I’ve tried. Several times. I still have some of them. I can’t bear to reread them. And I’ve never been able to keep writing in them for more than a month.

I always get caught up in guilt complexes. First, I feel guilty if I don’t write in them. Second, I feel that I need to put everything in them. An emotional experience left unrecorded is almost as if I have lived a lie. And I always end up lying by omission to my secret journals. There’s always something that is too painful to form into a narrative that evening.

Of course, it always ends up taking forever to write in them too.

But, years ago, when my grandmother (who died nearly two years ago) finished writing her life story for us, she told me that there was one thing that had been very helpful, and that was keeping a diary. Or so I remember. Noone in the family seems to think she kept a diary of any form, except possibly an appointments book.

In any case, that was something to feel guilty about. I didn’t have a record of my life for myself when I got older, or when my grandchildren wanted to know.

I ended up keeping an online diary due to my growing appetite for them. I felt like if I was going to consume the details of people’s lives (and I really do like reading the daily details of people’s lives, it’s only television snobbery that keeps me away from reality TV, I’m sure) then I should write about mine.

And so I have, for nearly two years now. And I’ve really enjoyed it.

People wonder how I can stand writing a diary that is emotionally bland, or relatively so. The secret is: I can’t write for myself, I can only write for an audience. I have tried to write for myself; I’ve tried to keep diaries, I’ve tried to write essays, and I’ve tried to be a poet. But the only thing that keeps me writing is a feeling that I’m writing for other people.

I don’t really use my diary as an emotional outlet – not an unthrottled one anyway. Rather, I use my diary as a writing exercise, as a record of my day-to-day. Already, there’s memories that are only ever invoked by rereading my diary, events that I now think would be lost to me without the diary.

I use it to practice writing. I use it to tell my mother details of my life that she would never hear in our weekly phone conversations.

It helped me discover that writing is something I really enjoy, and that’s something that forcing myself to pour my fifteen year old heart out to paper journals I’ve never reread couldn’t do.