Tag Archives: writing process

Why you should never read someone else’s journal

In the long hiatus between my mother’s death on October 19th and her funeral last Friday, I wasn’t able to focus on work much at all, and that felt OK and appropriate. I slept a lot, dreamt a lot, read non-fiction books and wrote in my journal.

I was working through some of the exercises in Change Your Story, Change Your Life: Using Shamanic and Jungian Tools to Achieve Personal Transformation by Carl Greer one morning, when it occurred to me that anyone reading my journal after I died might not understand, as I do in the writing, that it’s an experiment, and not a report.

Slow start warning: I nearly gave up on this book after the first chapter, which felt like puff and waffle. Glad I didn't.
Slow start warning: I nearly gave up on this book after the first chapter, which felt like puff and waffle. A few chapters in, I’m glad I didn’t.

Actually, my whole journal is a perpetual work-in-progress. Every page I write is part of a creative exploration. It isn’t me – it’s a kaleidoscope of all the possibilities of me, and I’m aware of that when I’m writing in it in much the same way as when I’m gathering notes for a work of fiction, knowing all the time that many of my ideas won’t fit the story and will have to be discarded.

A journal or diary is a first encounter with ideas and events, before you’ve had a chance to ponder and decide what you think of them. To get a true sense of a person’s life, I guess you’d need to read their autobiography, because there you have a completed work. Where a journal is a mess of notes, often contradictory or inconsequential, an autobiography is an expression of the writer’s identity, his or her choice of what’s important and how they understand what’s happened.

I was struck by something in Natalie Goldberg’s book on memoir-writing Old Friend from Far Away last week; she says we shouldn’t think we have to be old before we can write a memoir. We don’t need the whole story all in one go, at the end. We can write memoirs from time to time throughout a long life, and each one will be the most complete expression of who we are and how we understand our lives up to that point.

In that sense, I guess autobiography could be seen as a work-in-progress too, but the difference is that in autobiography we are writing what we know about ourselves and our life, whereas in journalling we are feeling our way along the borders of our knowledge, and what we find must be judged as me or not-me, accepted or discarded, as part of the process of becoming.

If you read someone’s journal – as well as the obvious problem that it is private writing and they did not intend it to be read – you will not find the person there, and thinking that you will could give you every which kind of wrong impression, like listening to someone’s dreams and believing you can interpret them. A good dream therapist will simply hold the dream so that the dreamer can look at it from different angles, because only the dreamer can find out what it means.

I love my journals
I love my journals

I include all sorts of things in my journals – dreams, ideas, experiences, book reviews, quotations, drawings, writing exercises and creative experiments. I love them, just as I love my dreams, specifically because they don’t define me.

With both, there’s a feeling of infinite possibility, a continuously forming sense of direction, so that even at the end of a lifetime of journalling and dreaming, I’m sure there will be no conclusion, because the conclusion is always up ahead.


My children have strict instructions to burn my diaries without reading them when I die. What would you like to happen to yours?

Got 20 minutes a day? Get Writing!

Several months ago, I put a call-out via my newsletter for volunteers to test my new writing app and, having taken their feedback on board and made various adjustments, I’m happy to report that Get Writing! is now available in the Apple store. Woohoo!

The concept is simple. The app takes the traditional method of busting through writer’s block by writing for 20 minutes a day – which you may remember from a previous post Not everyone loves ‘morning pages’ I’m slightly equivocal about – but focuses it so that, after 28 days, instead of a heap of random jottings, you end up with a finished and redrafted story.

There are four sections, each consisting of seven sessions

  1. establishing a daily practice
  2. playing with ideas for characters and settings
  3. writing a short story
  4. crafting and redrafting it

When you have finished, you can go back to the beginning and start again, working your way right through towards a whole new story, or you can use the various sections to dip into as and when you need a nudge with getting going or finding ideas, starting a new story or redrafting one that’s already written.

First review in the Apple store
First review in the Apple store

Depending on sales and reviews, I’d love to develop further writing apps, because the process has been thoroughly enjoyable, and I think an app is a perfect device for delivering daily tasks. As there’s a text box within the app, you don’t even need to be near the computer or have a paper and pen on you – you can dip in any time and anywhere.

Got 20 minutes to spare? Any time, any where!
Any time, anywhere!

Huge thank-you again to all my testers and, if I do develop another one, I’ll be asking for testers via my newsletter again.