The essayist, Michael Greenberg, was fortunate to have an editor at the Times Literary Supplement in London who knew how to get the best out of a writer. He gave him a specific word count—1200 words—which became a discipline and then told him that no matter what he wrote about, the piece should have a sense of “personal necessity, a sense of urgency.” In other words, it’s more than likely that if we don’t risk spilling our blood, guts and tears onto the page, it probably will be of little interest to us or our readers. We don’t have to be vampires or Dr. Phil to do this. We can be ordinary mortals with a story to tell, some ideas to express, observations to make about life past, present or future, ours or someone elses'. And we begin this work in our journals and notebooks—private, silent spaces for our eyes only.
Carl Jung once told a client that her journal was her “cathedral,” a silent place where her spirit lived. Beginning there—in our journals, notebooks and blogs—we begin to sketch out what may or may not become a printed story to share with others. Our first audience is ourselves, then the workshop, a writer’s group, other readers.
And now having written this little essay, I note that it is mellow in tone but also very detached. I have not talked of myself or spilled my own blood, guts or tears into this entry. That is not to say that I don’t care about what I am writing today; I do, very much. But the subject of notebooks and journals and privacy is a tender one for me, as it is for all writers. I once had my journals and private emails ransacked and it took time to recover, to begin again, to rediscover a rhythm, purpose and sense of safety in my own words, those that belong to me and no one else. After the violation, the subjects I became interested in for my journalism and long form nonfiction shifted ever so slightly and so did I, I shifted too. Unexpectedly, I began writing and publishing poetry and short stories. I lost some friends and found others. I tossed out old journals and started new ones.