May 5, 2009

Journaling for Posterity – 10 Tips for Writers

Writers journal for many reasons. One of the best is for posterity. The simple observations you write today could become history lessons for the next generation. Wonderful whispered secrets lie between the covers of old journals, hidden bits of life tucked away waiting to be rediscovered.

While researching a writing assignment, I stumbled across a diary that Laura Ingalls Wilder kept during the summer of 1894. She and her young family were traveling by wagon from South Dakota to Missouri, and Laura wrote with pencil in a tiny five-cent memory book. She recorded simple details of their 650-mile journey, the rough roads, small towns, and people they met along the way. She wasn’t thinking of publication, instead she was writing just to write – to give her thoughts substance and sustainability. Years later, Laura’s daughter, Rose, edited the journal, and in 1962 it was published as an historical account of life on the pioneer trail. You might know it as Laura Ingalls Wilder's book, On the Way Home.

The writing desk Laura Ingalls Wilder used, made by her husband, Almanzo

Each spring, when the daffodils and tulips bloom, I pull out my copy of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. As I browse the pages, I remember that its author, Edith Holden, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, never planned for her diary to be published. Its pages were merely the canvas on which she recorded notes and paintings about nature. In fact, her journal wasn’t discovered until 1977, decades after her death. Most likely, Edith Holden would be surprised to know that her simple musings had become a best-selling book and a respected historical guide for naturalists.

©Henry Holt & Co (August 1977)

With these two examples in mind, think about journaling not only for yourself, but also for future generations. Plan to write about your life as if it will be read 100 years from now.

Here are ten tips to get you started:

1. Don’t worry about journaling every day. If something tugs at your heart, catches your interest, or makes you laugh, pick up your notebook or laptop and write about it.

2. Try not to sugarcoat your words. Write truthfully about your heartaches and frustrations.

3. Write about your family, friends, and the strangers you meet. Include facts, events, details, and dates.

4. Write about what you love and what you find interesting. Don’t worry about it being boring. What seems like the most ordinary thought today might be of great interest decades, or even a century, from now.

5. Write about the world. What is happening socially and politically? How do you feel about it?

6. Imagine your journal being passed from generation to generation. What would you like future generations to know? What ideas and values would you share with them? What advice would you give?

7. Don’t revise, rewrite, or be concerned about punctuation and spelling. Record your thoughts or observations, and then move on.

8. Let your words flow. Don’t worry about writing too much or too little. Write from the heart and let your gut tell you when enough is enough.

9. Include sketches, photographs, and other keepsakes. Although this isn’t a scrapbook, there’s no reason not to tuck little treasures among its pages.

10. Preserve what you write. Don’t keep your journal such a secret that it can’t be found. Keep it in a safe place. Tell your children about it. Some writers I know have willed their journals to their children with the request that they be kept in the family and passed down through the generations.

Who knows? Maybe someday yours will be among other famous published journals, like
The Diary of Anne Frank, The Journals of Lewis and Clark, or Caroline Henderson’s Letters From the Dust Bowl. If not, the outcome will be just as gratifying. You will have preserved your personal history and given your children and grandchildren the wonderful gift of their family legacy.


Lora said...

That's just plain, good advice for writers.

Writing freely can lead to a polished story in the end as well - without waiting a century or two (and I don't have that kind of time.)

Angie Ruark said...

Great tips! I have fairly recently begun blogging weekly to make myself not give up. I email it to friends to make me have just enough pressure to get it done but not so much that its stressful. Maybe it's a modern version of journaling - sort of! :) Enjoyed looking through your blog- very nice!

Ohme said...

I followed your photo of Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady from a Google Search and am so glad that I did. I enjoyed your blog post and 10 Tips for keeping a journal. I was looking for a photo of Edith Holden to use on my Squidoo Lens about her book that inspired my kitchen.