Dear Diary

April 16, 2015

By Sherri McIver

Dear Diary.

I’ve been rereading an old favourite the ‘Journal of Katherine Mansfield’ and it has reminded me of the importance of keeping a diary.

I often give it a red hot go but after a number of months my diary soon degenerates into lots of tedious ‘wah wah wah’s’ and list making. However I do accept that done well, it’s an invaluable aid to the writer.

In many ways the diary is the only form of writing that encourages total freedom of expression. It has remained immune to any formal rules of content, structure or style so can often reproduce how we really think and how our consciousness evolves.

“ The red geraniums have bought the garden over my head and taken possession. They are settled in, every leaf and flower unpacked and in its place and never do they mean to move again. Well – that I could bear. But why because I’ve let them in should they throw me out? They won’t let me lie on the grass without their shouting – Impudence! “

from the Journal of Katherine Mansfield

As well as recording the internal journey we can use a diary to explore the world around us and so discover the connection between the two. From her observation of the geraniums Mansfield went on to uncover feelings of being an outsider.

“Why should they ask me, every time I go near: ‘And what are you doing in a London garden?’ They burn with arrogance and pride . And I am the little Colonial walking here – allowed to look, perhaps, but not to linger”

Perhaps this sense of being ‘allowed to look but not to linger’ came to the surface through her observation of the geraniums. Perhaps it was the consistent experience of being treated as an interloper that lead the London dwelling Katherine Mansfield to focus her writing on memories of childhood and her New Zealand home.

So if we do it well, diary keeping can be very revealing. And we take those revelations into our writing, rounding our characters and deepening their experiences.

To avoid filling diary pages with superficial conversations with myself, I add strong visual components– drawings, collage, concert tickets stuck to the pages, old photos – whatever seems right at the time. But the words have to be there. Words and images can feel like fragments of myself lined up on opposite sides of the page. Sometime I know exactly what I’m going for, often it will make sense only when completed. It’s always a very satisfying creative process.

A diary doesn’t have to be a secret thing although there are many good reasons for keeping it private. The freedom to write fantasy as well as fact, a safe place to express feelings about someone close to you, the opportunity to write like a stoned fool – it’s easier if we know we’re keeping it all to ourselves.

Finally, there’s diary as sledgehammer. Swing it into your writers block. Sometimes a block occurs when you’re writing insincerely – attempting to avoid pressing issues – also when you’ve become overly self critical. Not only does keeping a diary force you to write on through, it could help you uncover what truly is preventing you finding the right words.

So for this and many other reasons, keeping a diary is a big part of this Boot Camp approach to our writing. Importantly, it will keep us writing regularly. It will also, if we pay attention, uncover more than we know. Start today. There will never be a better time.

Anais Nin, perhaps the greatest diary keeper of them all, found it ‘ the ultimate instrument for explorations of new forms of consciousness and ecstasy’.

I hope you’re not feeling any pressure.

Sherri McIver is a working writer and holds Hidden Writer workshops in Melbourne and Castlemaine.


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