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Who keeps a diary?

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Adrian 29th December 2005 06:59 AM

 

It's been a quiet week at work, so I added up how many words I've written since April 1996: 1,112,387.

 

It was all typed into the 'puter so I just did a word count and added them up. And after all that, all I can figure out is that I appear to take notice of that day's weather.

 

Surely there must be other BGO members who keep a diary...

 

Deinonychus 29th December 2005 12:37 PM

 

As a kid, I kept a diary religiously for well over a decade - utterly bizarre when I look back at it all. Between January 1974 and August 1988 I think only a couple of years are incomplete.

 

I haven't kept one since, but around 1989 replaced the habit with copious notebooks of ideas/thoughts/memos etc - all my best ideas are scrawled into the things. Weird to look back (very) occasionally and see songs (I used to be in a number of bands), book ideas, doodles and cartoons rubbing shoulders with, for example, a breakfast order for three American girls I had staying with me in September 1989..!

 

Any writer worth his salt should keep some kind of notes/thoughts record, methinks...

 

Cathy 31st December 2005 06:04 PM

 

I find diaries impossible - who are you writing for? I can never quite get around that, and I suppose I find my life boring when having to go through it a second time to write it down. I do have lots of notebooks with things like To Do lists, favourite quotations and ideas in them - I used to make lists of new words and definitions - French at the front, English at the back.

 

Adrian 1st January 2006 08:20 AM

 

Cathy, that's what I've found myself doing more and more. I always wrote my diary to "myself" as in, "I'll tell you what happened today, you wouldn't believe it...", but latey I've been more keeping notes and quotes and links.

 

David 1st January 2006 12:20 PM

 

I kept a few sporadic diaries at school and then more systematically at university, but I never really approached it in the right way. I should have loosened up a lot more and just let rip with any number of thoughts and reflections, but it became more of a log, really. Then ultimately a slog, so I stopped.

 

Now, as seems to be common from the posts here, I keep notes and jottings of various ideas, which are mostly focused on creative writing. I don't expand on them, though; they tend to be memory joggers as much as anything else.

 

I also, for a time, kept a book of new words I had come across and their definitions. This was inspired particularly by Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before, in which I found myself rather shamefacedly turning to the dictionary almost every other page! I didn't keep that going for long, though.

 

Dr. Strangelove 1st January 2006 02:22 PM

 

I do cause you put out all your thoughts whirling around onto paper, and then if you read them and you can try and put them into some sense. For me it lays out stuff one by one rather than having a million things floating around in you head. But then sometimes I feel like a bit of a fool writing the things I think it always looks worse on paper...

 

Phoebus 1st January 2006 05:51 PM

 

Not since my mother found my last one when aged 9 !

 

David 1st January 2006 05:58 PM

 

Originally Posted by Phoebus

Not since my mother found my last one when aged 9 !

 

Mums are certainly getting younger and younger, eh?

Deinonychus 1st January 2006 06:26 PM

 

who are you writing for?

 

Well, 'yourself', obviously. As you should be with any creative writing.

David 1st January 2006 07:36 PM

Originally Posted by Deinonychus

As you should be with any creative writing.

 

That's a bit sweeping, isn't it? Diaries are clearly written for the self (though I wonder with some of the political diaries...), but unless you're just writing for pleasure and have no intention of being published then you really need to have your potential audience in mind. Obviously if you're not entertaining yourself with your writing then it's unlikely to be very good, so in that sense you are writing 'for yourself', but if that's all you are attempting to do then it's more than likely you'll produce something that will not interest publishers.

 

What about authors with a 'message'? Are they just trying to convince themselves?

 

Phoebus 1st January 2006 08:46 PM

Originally Posted by David

Mums are certainly getting younger and younger, eh?

 

Touché !

 

Deinonychus 2nd January 2006 11:58 AM

 

That's a bit sweeping, isn't it? Diaries are clearly written for the self (though I wonder with some of the political diaries...), but unless you're just writing for pleasure and have no intention of being published then you really need to have your potential audience in mind. Obviously if you're not entertaining yourself with your writing then it's unlikely to be very good, so in that sense you are writing 'for yourself', but if that's all you are attempting to do then it's more than likely you'll produce something that will not interest publishers.

 

I think what drives writing - and what ultimately makes a book succeed - is your own belief in it. If you place an audience's needs first then you're unlikely to reach the best stuff. (After all, you won't necessarily know who your audience is.)

 

Obviously if you're not entertaining yourself with your writing then it's unlikely to be very good

 

There you go. Why would anyone write something they themselves wouldn't choose to read? Given that the writer has (in most cases) had the initial inspiration and is the first to read his own work, he's primarily writing to satisfy himself. Of course, discipline and the ability to self-edit is essential as well, but that's definitely the best kick-off point - how would you ever get started otherwise? Worked for me, anyway.

 

What about authors with a 'message'? Are they just trying to convince themselves

 

Don't all authors have 'a message'?

 

David 2nd January 2006 12:39 PM

 

Originally Posted by Deinonychus

Don't all authors have 'a message'?

 

Maybe, though I'm not entirely convinced they do - certainly they don't all have intentional messages. But if they do, then surely the intention is to convey that message to an audience, i.e. you are writing something for someone else?

 

I wasn't trying to suggest that authors don't or shouldn't write for themselves, only that I thought the implication of your statement was that this was really all that mattered, that an author of fiction shouldn't be thinking about anything else. Perhaps it was the stress of 'any' that caught my attention. Children's fiction must be the most obvious example against that.

 

I think you've been very lucky, Deino (or perhaps you're just a superlative author, I don't know since I don't know who you are) if you've managed to secure publishing deals without having to give a pitch on the target audience - rightly or wrongly publishers seem very hung up on this.

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Flingo 2nd January 2006 05:36 PM

 

It's funny, reading this debate a number of quotes I have heard from authors in the last year spring to mind.

 

(My words, but their thoughts - I can't remember exactly how they phrased it! - taken from my notes.)

 

Michael Morpurgo - "I write for me - not children, adults or any one of you. I write the sorts of things I want to read. And it's great, because other people like it too."

 

David Almond - "I spent years writing books and the publishers never wanted them. My friends and family thought I was mad. Finally, they gathered together some of my short stories and published them in a book. A real book. After that my friends and family asked me what I was going to do next - "well", I replied, "write another book! What else?" They looked at me as if I was mad!"

 

Jasper Fforde - "First, I sent 'The Big Over Easy' to publishers (it was called 'The Humpty Dumpty Mystery' in those days) - none of them wanted it. I wasn't put off though - I was writing for me and that's where the pleasure was. 'The Eyre Affair' was never meant to be the first in a series, but after a publisher took it on, the contract was for a sequel too."

 

All three of these, openly admitted that they did not have an audience in mind, other than themselves - I recall David Almond, in particular, does not read other children's literature. However, surely any published author will subconsciously know who their audience is after their first success. This is one of the reasons that it can be so hard to break out of the "type-cast" many authors find they have become.

 

David 2nd January 2006 07:36 PM

 

Really interesting quotations, Flingo! Thanks for that. Perhaps I'm being too influenced both by the reading/course material I've been looking at the past year related to publishing, as well as to university studies into the relationship between writer and reader. Perhaps, also by a number of famous examples, like Dickens altering the end of Great Expectations because he knew the public wouldn't like his more downbeat original idea. Even the fact that Mills & Boon novels have to be written to a strict formula, because that's what the company believes works best in the marketplace.

 

Like all these things, there can be no absolute rule, which is really all I was trying to say. I don't think such a complex and infinitely varied practice such as creative writing can be successfully encapsulated in one principle. Different approaches work for different people.

 

It's always heartening when you read of dogged persistence like Fforde's that eventually pays off when a publisher decides to (as they would see it) take a chance. Makes you wonder how many more like him are out there with a pile of rejection slips!

 

I'm particularly encouraged by Almond. My own collection of short stories had some interesting feedback from agents, but on the whole, I gather, many publishers aren't keen on short stories. Hence turning to a novel, which, I should add, I'm writing as much as anything for my own enjoyment! But I have also made a number of decisions along the way that have been influenced by a perceived readership and what I am hoping might be more appealing to a publisher with potential sales (and so audience) in mind.

 

In an ideal world, it would be great if every author wrote solely for themselves and still received publishing deals. Unfortunately, though, publishing remains a business driven by money, not idealism.

 

Deinonychus 2nd January 2006 10:12 PM

I think you've been very lucky, Deino (or perhaps you're just a superlative author, I don't know since I don't know who you are) if you've managed to secure publishing deals without having to give a pitch on the target audience - rightly or wrongly publishers seem very hung up on this.

 

I've been 'lucky' in that I've managed to get my work published - which is very difficult in the first place. I pitched an idea that appealed to me, basically, and Penguin picked it up. I didn't start off by thinking 'what audience do I want to attract?'...

 

David 2nd January 2006 10:16 PM

Originally Posted by Deinonychus

I've been 'lucky' in that I've managed to get my work published - which is very difficult in the first place.

 

It certainly is! I'm always pleased to hear when someone gets a break, though. If you have any tips for those of us still trying I'd love to hear them!

Deinonychus 3rd January 2006 10:01 AM

Well, a couple of the things that have come up in this thread are, I think, hugely important. Keeping a diary/journal/notebook/PC file/blog/whatever will make writing easier in the long run, ones ideas, thoughts and style becoming more natural and cohesive: if a would-be writer becomes disillusioned or loses interest (and one or two on here have suggested at this over the past year), it'll never happen. To appeal to publishers - difficult, but if you write the book that you want to read this'll come across so much more: I genuinely believe 'writing for an audience' is something an author should only think about when and if specifically commissioned.

David 3rd January 2006 12:19 PM

Thanks for that!

Amanda Grange 3rd January 2006 12:29 PM

What kind of book are you writing, David? There are a number of ways you can improve your chances of breaking in. Making contacts is a good one. If your book is a historical, for example, you could join the Historical Novel Society and attend conferences. It would give you a chance to meet agents. They get hundreds, sometimes thousands, of submissions a year, and putting a face to a name makes the process more personal. It also gives you a chance to chat to them and talk about your book.

 

Why don't you give your book a plug, Deino? I'm always plugging mine. :D (Did I mention that Darcy's Diary is on its third printing? If anyone would like a chance to win a signed copy, enter the competition on http://www.regencyauthors.co.uk/ )

 

David 3rd January 2006 12:57 PM

 

Originally Posted by Amanda Grange

Did I mention that Darcy's Diary is on its third printing?

 

That's excellent news, Amanda! I'm glad it's been such a success.

 

My novel centres on an independent school; the only historical aspect is to do with the school's foundation in the Regency, although that is quite important to the twists of the plot. Only 35,000 words so far, so still a way to go! I'm booked on a writer's conference in March and will try to go to others; I think you're right - contacts must be hugely helpful in a world swamped by authors' submissions.

Amanda Grange 3rd January 2006 01:03 PM

Is it a thriller, literary fiction . . . ? And which writers' course are you going on?

Deinonychus 3rd January 2006 03:18 PM

Why don't you give your book a plug, Deino?

 

All in good time, Amanda!

 

David 4th January 2006 10:43 AM

 

Originally Posted by Amanda Grange

Is it a thriller, literary fiction . . . ? And which writers' course are you going on?

 

At heart it's a mystery, but there's a lot more going on besides, including a certain amount of humour - through character and narration rather than incident. Don't want to say too much about the details!

 

The conference is by the Arvon Foundation and includes Margaret Atwood, Joanna Trollope, Helen Dunmore, Monica Ali and Hari Kunzru. There's unlikely to be much opportunity for the networking you mention, I would have thought, but as I said, I intend to go to others and will look out for those that seem more likely to offer such chances.

 

Thanks for taking the interest!

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Cathy 4th January 2006 10:28 PM

 

Originally Posted by Deinonychus

I think you've been very lucky, Deino (or perhaps you're just a superlative author, I don't know since I don't know who you are) if you've managed to secure publishing deals without having to give a pitch on the target audience - rightly or wrongly publishers seem very hung up on this.

 

I've been 'lucky' in that I've managed to get my work published - which is very difficult in the first place. I pitched an idea that appealed to me, basically, and Penguin picked it up. I didn't start off by thinking 'what audience do I want to attract?'...

 

You're pitching those things as opposites and I don't think they are - writing with readers in mind is not the same thing as writing with some sort of fine tuned marketing strategy. Writing is a form of communication - surely you wish to communicate rather than not to? Are you not writing because there is something you want to say - to strike a chord or make people think? I mean, I don't know, I'm not a writer, yet...

 

Is this some sort of modernist thing? A friend of mine who is an artist, when asked why a certain piece of 'art' he'd made was art said 'because I'm an artist'... and that argument always ends up sending me round in circles. :thinking:

Deinonychus 4th January 2006 11:59 PM

I don't quite understand why this is so 'unfathomable'. It's just my opinion, but (as I've suggested in my last couple of posts) I believe writing for oneself - rather than aiming at some (as yet) non-existent readership - is the best way of finding a voice, that's all. My argument has nothing at all to do with 'not wanting to communicate' or the nebulous criticism of 'artiness' (why does that come up so often?) A decent writer would, or should, have enough discipline and self-knowledge to evade such indulgence anyway, or, at the very least, see it and use it for what it is.

 

If he/she doesn't have that facility, well, then it just ain't gonna happen. If the work is so marginal that it can only ever appeal to the writer, that's probably the moment where somebody kind needs to offer a little tactful advice. (There's always vanity publishing, I s'pose - though I think that individual might be better advised doing something else altogether...)

synogenes 31st January 2006 10:25 PM

When I write, I generally have some sort of reader in mind but as a sort of devil's advocate. Someone looking over my shoulder so I can judge the reaction. I often take no notice because writing is such an absorbing process that when you have a character saying something, you don't think too much about what people think. You just get on with it. Rewriting is a different matter though.

 

I sometimes imagine one of the other characters reading it, or at least hearing it. When I do that, I can get muddled because if it's important that the second character doesn't know what the first one says or thinks, the exercise spoils the viewpoint.

 

In case that sounds like I'm proficient at this, I should point out that I haven't even submitted anything for publication yet, but like everyone, I live in hope. :)

Arktos 4th December 2006 02:30 PM

When I was in Montreal in October, I dropped into a bookshop called Chapters. One of the displays featured messages from well-known writers offering advice to aspiring authors. One of them, and I can't for the life of me remember who, suggested: "Write for the sake of it, because you want to write and because you enjoy it. Everything else - acclamation, publication, success - is down to luck." I found it quite inspirational, and I still do.

 

On the subject of diaries, I've been keeping a blog for the past couple of years. It's useful for the usual diary sort of stuff, but also for keeping notes that I might like to use in an article or story later on. The other useful feature is, like this forum, people can respond to those postings I've made public.

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I've kept a diary for nearly 30 years now!! Scary to realise that fact. I used to write frequently, but now it can be once every three months. I find it therapeutic in times of need. It's more about the writing than the memories or the possibility - heaven forbid - of anyone else reading it.

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the possibility - heaven forbid - of anyone else reading it.

 

This is the main reason I'm too scared to keep a diary! Perhaps doing it online might be best for me, but I never seem to get round to it...

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I've kept a diary at least for a bit a year since I was about 9 haha. They used to just be about childish things like what I did during the day but I only write them now when I'm not feeling too happy cause it's better to let my feelings out in someway than on the people that I love. Plus I hate arguments so I just vent my anger in there mwahaha. I have one that I leave open for my boyfriend to read but there is anohter one, thats secret and tells the whole truth ... xox

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I have one that I leave open for my boyfriend to read but there is anohter one, thats secret and tells the whole truth ... xox

 

haha cunning!

 

Just wondering, do those who keep diaries feel that it helps them with their writing, and if so how? is it just the act of writing something on a regular basis helps tone-up the writing muscle, as it were? or is it that you use the experiences in the diary to provide direction for your writing?

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My English teacher at school told me to write something every day. I think it was a good piece of advice, and though I don't write creatively, I do think it the early diary writing helped me to explore the use of language to express feeling. I was always told I wrote great letters, in the days when we wrote letters! And one of my pupils recently said I should publish one of the stories I had written as a model, which was very flattering.

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Perhaps doing it online might be best for me, but I never seem to get round to it...

 

Article from today's Times about the rise of the blog which may be of interest to some of you!

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I did keep a diary for about 4 years when I was in my early teens. I still have it and when I read it now, I really think the person then was a complete idiot. It doesn't even seem to be related to me at all.

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2nd January 2006 07:36 PM

 

My own collection of short stories had some interesting feedback from agents, but on the whole, I gather, many publishers aren't keen on short stories. Hence turning to a novel, which, I should add, I'm writing as much as anything for my own enjoyment! But I have also made a number of decisions along the way that have been influenced by a perceived readership and what I am hoping might be more appealing to a publisher with potential sales (and so audience) in mind.

 

Was just flicking through the past posts in this thread... what happened to your novel David? Did you finish it? do tell!

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My life wasn't the most exciting either but it didn't stop me writing. I found it helped as a memory aid to my life..I rememebered things that had happened in my day that I would have just forgotten very easily.

But then things started going a bit whey-hey so I stopped writing!

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I haven't kept a diary for a few years now, though this thread has inspired me to do so again. It is important to remember what occurs in your everyday life, for though it may appear mundane at first, it can come in quite handy, and be a good read, in the future... The last time I tried to keep a diary was on a trip to New Zealand last year, but I failed hopelessly after the fourth day. Fortunately though my memory (and family!) served me well and I ended up writing up a long, comical take on our adventures through the South and North islands. :D

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I think I've been inspired to go back to diary keeping also. I used to do it on and off as a teenager and then when I spent the summer in America in 2000, but I haven't done it since then because, reading back on the stuff I'd written later, I really did think my life was boring.

 

I think it can help you puzzle out worrries, feelings and problems. I think I'm more mature now as well, so I think I'll give it another go.

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I've started writing again!! woot!

I decided not to write everything that had alreay happened in detail through fear of decending into that place I was a month ago..so i just did bullet points heehee

But it's all good something to keep me grounded until August! ;)

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I did try and keep a regular diary when I was younger, but I lacked the discipline. There'd be nothing until around May, where I'd write "I went to the beach today", and that was about it. I just couldn't do it.

 

I have, for the last year or so, kept a blog, and I find it much more useful. Firstly, I don't update it every day, and so I cut out the "I had pancakes for tea" entries, but I do update it after particular events, meaning I can look back and still have the memories. I also use it to chat about certain interests [and problems] I may have - not so much in the 'hardcore fandom', but I have some closed posts, some filtered and some open for all to see! It's great, I love it.

 

It is scary too look back on them though; I recently went back to th beginning of mine, and all I could think was "Good grief I sound stupid"! :)

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I used to keep a diary but never really wrote honestly about most things as I lived in fear that somebody would find it (even though it was ridiculously well hidden). In the last few years I had a go at writing a blog, just for my own use, but again found that I was partly writing for an audience rather than my true feelings. In the last year I found a really good diary software package which is very secure, allows you to write notes and plans alongside daily entries and helps keeps thoughts and ideas about work and personal things side by side, including photos, diagrams etc. Since then I have been writing very honestly and I find it a great tool for looking back at how certain things have progressed, how feelings have changed and goals met etc. Now I feel confident that it won't read by anyone else it has really given me the freedom to write honestly. When I am a famous international celebrity I may publish an abridged version, leaving all the embarrassing and condemning bits out. I’ll then allow the full diaries to be published upon my death!

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In the last few years I had a go at writing a blog, just for my own use, but again found that I was partly writing for an audience rather than my true feelings.

At a conference a year or two back, Margaret Atwood was talking about the way in which authors write with their audience in mind. Her observation was that even a personal diary is written for an 'audience'. To develop on her ideas, writing is an act of communication and so in the act of writing the brain implicitly understands the target for that writing, the end point, if you like, of that communication. Even if that end point is yourself, there is still a manner in which you shape that writing for that audience of one, though of course that then delves deeply into psychoanalytical territory and theories of the self. From a different angle, drawing from wonderboyo's comments about looking back, you are also writing for a future self, so that's another part of the implicit audience!

 

Interesting to consider that generally women are more likely to keep diaries than men (except in politics or any profession where you can make money out of them, of course). Is part of this because of women being more able/willing to discuss emotions with others, and therefore more able to have a dialogue with that implicit audience of themselves in the diary?

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Interesting to consider that generally women are more likely to keep diaries than men... Is part of this because of women being more able/willing to discuss emotions with others, and therefore more able to have a dialogue with that implicit audience of themselves in the diary?

Or, if they're anything like me, they keep a diary because they're not willing to discuss emotions with others. I use it to puzzle out my worries because I prefer not to talk to other people.

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Or, if they're anything like me, they keep a diary because they're not willing to discuss emotions with others. I use it to puzzle out my worries because I prefer not to talk to other people.

Yes, that's a fair point, though I wonder how many men do even that?

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