In reading an article on Woolf’s thoughts about keeping a diary, I found a few key observations that strongly resonated with my own experience. I have been keeping a daily diary and a dream journal since I was fourteen. I remember early on asking myself the same question as Woolf: “What sort of diary should I like mine to be?”
On the one hand, I was concerned with how my writing would sound to relatives who might read it in the future. This is not quite so egotistical as it might sound, considering that I was inspired to start writing by the volumes of diaries and memoirs that my grandfather left behind. Having lost him to cancer when I was only three, I loved pouring over his writings as a way to get to know him, and found his adventures and ponderings highly entertaining. I was very aware of the contrast between his eloquent, organized prose and neat handwriting versus my lazy scribbles and jumbled ramblings. For a while I tried to be funny, interesting and clear, pretending that I was writing to my future grandchildren. But after less than a year of this, I went back to my earlier entries and reached the same conclusion as Woolf:
“The main requisite, I think on re-reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time.”
I decided I would like it to be “something loose knit… so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind…some deep old desk…in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through.” While Woolf claims that this goal must still be balanced with a “fear of becoming slack and untidy,” I no longer bothered worrying myself over sloppiness at all. To this day I enjoy looking at scribbles, added notes and drawings in the margins of entries from years ago, retracing the ways in which my mind would wander and leap as I wrote stream of consciousness.
As someone whose self-critiques always slowed down the writing process, I also found this approach served me, like Woolf, as practice for other writing endeavors. I could write essays faster by getting them out on the page before going back to edit and organize, instead of agonizing over every sentence as I wrote. My enjoyment of my past entries also gave me confidence in creative writing, and inspired me to take classes in creative non-fiction, which I greatly enjoyed. While my style and purpose are naturally in many ways unlike the literally legend, it was somehow inspiring to find these similarities in something as intimate as a diary.