Journals: A Writer’s Resource

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Journals: A Writer's Resource

I grew up surrounded by books.

The soundtrack to my life was a typewriter. The keys clicking steadily, then quickening, depending on what was happening in any given story. I first typed around the age of 6 months –dad would hold me on his lap and allow me to type. This continued as I slowly learned to spell. He taught me how to type my name before I could even write it by hand.

Books surrounded us in the living room, his office, our bedrooms, stacked on most available surfaces until mom would give a party and then the dining room table and a few end tables in the living room would get cleaned up. Briefly. Novels, Non-fiction, history, science, math, biography, autobiography, volumes of letters, Civil war correspondence, and journals. Journals are a first hand resource and invaluable to the author wanting authenticity.

We lived in bookstores.

Dad did autographings when we were on trips, and books were our babysitters. We would wander the store, find a book and sit down to read while dad met fan after fan for hours.

We used the library as students sometimes, more often we used our own home library. As family members Dad was so excited to have the money to be able to buy us books that he did without question or pause. Days were spent reading, lying on the living room carpet, in our beds, outside in the treehouse, on a bench, at a table in a restaurant, we were always reading.

Part of Dad’s extensive library were diaries.

People of history who kept journals were from all walks of life, all backgrounds, men and women. They kept more mundane diaries, weather, crops, baking, but they also held news, and how people thought for when they put down something more personal it was usually deep and thoughtful.

The Diary of Anne Frank, assigned reading for my kids, is one such famous diary. The innermost thoughts of a girl hiding from the Nazi’s. But there are as many journals out there from famous people, presidents and generals, as there are from people just living their lives. Writing their way out of their fear, loneliness or writing their way in to discover who they really were. Just like we do today.

Dad read a lot of journals.

These allowed him to see how the everyman (or woman lived). Years ago I read And The World Rushed In, about the gold rush and the move west. Much of the information about the personal lives on the trip west was found in journals and letters kept by the people doing the traveling. First hand accounts such as journals are a resource that let you in to what people hoped and dreamed and feared. Many of the diaries used in that book and others about the move west are at the Huntington Library, here in California.

June’s newsletter will have an exercise or two about journals and how they can enlighten your writing. The mere act of keeping one for yourself can change your writing but there are other ways to use them as well. If you haven’t already done so, go sign up on my website here:

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