Diary of the Writing Life

I recently came a cross a note I slipped into a novel file. Every now and then I pen a few lines about how the writing life is going, and this time it was after finishing a first draft of a novel. How strange to read a note from myself, twelve years younger, six books ago!

Now, I don’t keep a diary, exactly. But I do keep a big notebook for each novel. Sometimes, to start the writing day, I pen a few lines about how it’s going, my attitude, or a big event in my mundane life. Like “On plane home from Hawaii,” or “Just back from the funeral.”

From Kay’s Diary

Here is the note I found:

“Today I had an experience I’ve had four times before: Putting “the end” at the end of a novel! First draft of Rift, completed today, August 12, 1998. How much I’ve come to care for those characters, now at the end of their long journey. Each home in their own way. It’s been almost one year since the concept for this story first came to me. 450 pages later, it’s done. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a story with bigger themes. Relation to place, relation to others. Love, friendship and pardon. Spar is an inspired creation. Reeve is Matthew, of course, or how I imagine his interior world. Nerys is the bold woman I wish to be, iconoclastic and sometimes impetuous. Marie is the betraying mother, for what it’s worth. Loon is the eternal quest for self. The Orthong are the creatures we would be if we were truly in relation to the physical world. It’s all metaphor, I guess. A good story, too.”

I can’t remember writing that. I thought it was sweet of me express those sentiments, ones that these days, I am too “professional” or too jaded, perhaps, to feel. I also know what happened to that book, and so the lovely, optimistic note struck a minor chord. (Rift did not sell all that well. When you look at the cover, perhaps you’ll know why . . . but there is no figuring the marketplace out, of course. I still think it was a fantastic book.)

Reasons to Keep a Diary

All this reminds me how instructive it is to keep a diary of the writing life, whether an official electronic file or notes here and there. In the course of our writing lives, we go through many changes–shifts that, without a diary, lie forgotten. Here then, is my list of reasons for keeping a log:

  • We learn lessons about ourselves and our writing, but we forget we learned them.
  • Vivid reactions to the gifts of the written word become swamped by the negative. Record the best times.
  • We think we will never forget things about the novels we write, but the insights inevitably fade. A time will come in your writing life when you won’t even be able to remember the year you wrote a novel, or why you even wanted to write that one. I know this is hard to believe for those of you who may be working on the first one.
  • It is inspiring to think of the times one has overcome a bad patch in the career. It is instructive to remember that one didn’t die of disappointment!
  • It is instructive to remember how rapidly things turned around, both for good and ill. Ups and downs. We learn a modicum of detachment. This too shall pass.
  • You might just make a future biographer’s day. (“Oh my God, so-and-so kept a DIARY!”)

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