I started not one, but two, “writing challenge” boot camps to get me started writing again. Each day I will receive two emails that encourage me to write in some way, with writing prompts or other tips. Hopefully it is the kick in the pants that I need to develop the habit again.
The habit to keep a journal has come naturally to me. When I was in second grade I remember getting a cream-colored diary with a lock and key as a birthday gift from one of my classmates. And 8-year-old me actually wrote in it, at least for awhile. The habit really took off in middle school, when I brought my sixth grade journal to school with me so I could write down my sad, me-against-the-world thoughts. I continued writing through high school; I recently came across the journal entry from the day I turned 17. I have journals from most of my 20s, detailing the emotions of my work and dating travails. The journals were all either regular spiral notebooks or composition books; I was too cheap to spring for the kind with a lock or that had a fancy cover to designate it as a journal. When I moved across the country in February I filled half of a large cardboard box with all my old journals. As far as I know I’m the only who has ever read them.
I also have had three blogs. I got onto Blogger in 2001, which I’m kind of proud to say because I was a relatively early user of the service, in the days when blogs were a trend. The first blog I had was quite personal, so much so I finally took it down. The second blog was less personal in that I didn’t spill all my guts but still revolved mainly around personal stories. The third blog was supposed to be a project based on a list of 30 things to accomplish before my 30th birthday. I wrote a few things on it but it fizzled because by that point I didn’t have the energy to maintain a regular blog (or accomplish the things on the list).
In the past year or so I’ve written sporadically in my journals but stopped writing on my blogs altogether. I would go months without writing in my journal, and even then it was a few paragraphs or sentences, scribbled down in bed before I passed out due to exhaustion. And some big, important, emotionally crazy things like getting engaged were happening, and I didn’t write about them, which would be unthinkable before.
I was “too busy” to write, yes, but frankly, I also started being dismissive of the habit. I figured journal writing and personal blogging are just a bit of self-indulgence, like carrying a blankie around. It’s low-stakes writing that very few are going to see. It’s a waste of time that could be spent doing more important things. Especially the way I’ve written in the past, writing has been less of a detailed chronicle of my daily doings for posterity and more an unfiltered spilling of whatever emotions I’m experiencing at the moment. Good for me to possibly reflect on later, but of little use to anyone else.
But there are a few things I’ve read recently that have made me reevaluate personal writing:
– I reread “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott. What a great book on writing. Anne Lamott as your personal writing coach, what more could you ask for to get you motivated?
– I read a New York Times article that talked about the benefits of writing about personal experiences: “Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory. Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.”
– The ever-amazing Maria Popova wrote a blog post about some famous authors who kept diaries: “This, perhaps, is the greatest gift of the diary — its capacity to stand as a living monument to our own fluidity.”
– Just saw this today and haven’t read it but it’s an intriguing question: “In her third book that continues to define the contours of the contemporary essay, Sarah Manguso confronts a meticulous diary that she has kept for twenty-five years.”
So maybe it’s not so ridiculous and time-wasting to do some personal writing. When I get the itch to write (and the time), this is the style of writing that feels most familiar to me. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I also feel like I should branch out and look for opportunities to write things that aren’t so intensely personal and that more eyes will see.
Anyway, so here is my reentry into writing.