From the pages of a journal:
My husband lent me a tiny hardcover journal, which I packed and brought to the Dominican Republic. I’ve spent bits of time this week on our holiday scribbling notes: a post draft, questions about our new project, failed attempts at poetry. I used to write in a journal on a regular basis; I started in middle school and kept one until I was about 28.
I wrote each day, and as I got older, the entries were sporadic, inspired by my relationships at the time. Sometimes, when I clean or rummage, I’ll find this collection of journals and thumb through some pages. I used to think reading past entries was cathartic — now, it’s just embarrassing.
But I sense in my reading what’s been lost: fluidity. I could handwrite for hours, thoughts pouring out. No fear, no judgment, no thinking — in which thought and pen movement were one. I compare that flow to my note-taking today — these pages I’m writing in now — there are
strikeouts, arrows, edits, symbols for paragraph breaks, and even marks where I plan to insert a link, knowing that these words will move online, from page to screen, for others to see.
In a way, this automatic self-correction as I handwrite reminds me of how my photography process has changed — how I often perceive our world as potential snapshots and documented moments — and how I think in tweets and byte-sized chunks.
I just thought of the best tweet, I said to my husband the other day, as we walked the streets of Santo Domingo.
How raw and honest can the writing in this journal be, then, when I’m already editing for public consumption? If I’m always looking outward, and now view writing and publishing as the same thing?
Dominican Republic, January 2014.
* * *
In his post about the intrinsic value of blogging, Matt Mullenweg says blogging is harder than it used to be — today, on an internet of randomness and amid a sea of avatars, we pay more attention to stats and traffic: Counting our Likes. Watching our retweets. Hoping for that viral hit.
When I write with the intent to publish, when I write with the internet in mind — which is really all the time — the process is something else entirely. Something so different from the years I used to write in my journal, where I cleared the cobwebs and allowed my thoughts to stir in the same private space, over and over. I’m much too slow to be part of the day’s internet chatter. More reflective than reactive, I find that once I’ve formulated a response to a Big Idea, everyone else has moved on.
It’s already hard to write, period. To write for others is harder.
And so Matt suggests very simple, practical, yet wonderful advice: write for two people. Write for yourself, and for one other person you have in mind, as if writing them a letter.
. . . when I get caught up in that the randomness of what becomes popular or generates commentary and what doesn’t it invariably leads me to write less. So blog just for two people.
I’ve been given this advice before, but I often forget. But it might be a way to stay true to yourself — whatever that means — but also stay focused and incisive.
Bringing that small journal on my holiday was a good step: I’ve managed to publish three posts in less than a month from the seemingly incoherent scribbles of those pages. Whether pen or keyboard, I’m writing.
Perhaps that’s all that matters.