Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Last week The Passive Voice carried an article by Maria Popov about keeping a diary or journal. Writing in her weekly blog, Brain Pickings, Ms. Popov lists names of famous people who kept diaries and what they said in them.

She quotes W. H. Auden, Madeleine L’Engle, Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, Thoreau, Emerson, and Virginia Woolf. Not all diarists were writers. Others were artists or scientists. The author reports they used their diaries as tools for discipline, teaching the art of solitude and a way to inhabit their inner selves. They wrote about what interested them, or nature, or life and death. Diarists have left behind glimpses of their inner lives and creative struggles.

Probably the most famous diarist was 13-year-old Anne Frank, who didn’t think anyone would care what she had to say. Contrast that with Oscar Wilde, who said, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Keeping a diary seems old fashioned today, and those written by long-dead authors were written by hand and sometimes filled several volumes. It’s strange to think of doing that now, although I’ve read that mystery writer Sue Grafton writes in her journal every day, the one she keeps in her computer.

I kept a diary for a short time when I was a teenager, and then again when my early marriage fell apart, but that was many years ago. I suppose you could say that my novels are my diaries now because details of my travels or places I’ve lived have found their way into my books. Of course, we’re told to “write what you know,” so in a way I’m just following instructions. It also explains, perhaps, why I like to write in first person. I feel the writing seems more authentic and it goes more smoothly.

My two cozy mysteries, which have yet to be published, are written in first person, but then aren’t most mysteries? Think of Sue Grafton, Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald.

Yet only one of my romance novels is done that way. It’s THE ITALIAN JOB, which I’ll be republishing within the next month. I did it because I wanted to use a phrase which didn’t sound right any other way. What is the phrase? At the end of a particular scene my character thinks, “I learned a long time ago that I have plenty of faults, so I lean toward forgiving others for theirs.”

How about you? Have you ever kept a diary or journal? Do you now? What kinds of things do you put in it? If I get some good ideas, I may take it up again.

The Passive Voice
Brain Pickings
Sue Grafton


  1. Hi Phyllis,
    I guess it's cheating to use my blog as a limited diary? But I really do get into what drives me and other guys.

  2. Bob: Not cheating at all. Blogs make great diaries. Thanks for the comment.



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