In her Grasmere Journal, William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy wrote that Wordsworth often sat in a crude shepherd’s hut or a writer’s hut to write. Wordsworth’s writing huts were little more than a roof and a desk that were beneath a covered shelter, and they had no walls that separated him from nature. The huts were situated in places where he had a natural view and a first-hand experience of his natural environment. Wordsworth clearly wanted to write from a place where he could directly respond to his natural setting, and his intimacy with nature allowed him to have the fodder needed to write authentically and from an immediate overflow of emotion.
Anaïs Nin also talked about writing authentically–about writing from an overflow of emotion that can result from a first-hand writing after observation.
“You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947
Anaïs Nin recommends that writers keep a journal:
“This diary is my kief, hashish, and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice. Instead of writing a novel, I lie back with this book and a pen, and dream, and indulge in refractions and defractions… I must relive my life in the dream. The dream is my only life. I see in the echoes and reverberations, the transfigurations which alone keep wonder pure. Otherwise all magic is lost. Otherwise life shows its deformities and the homeliness becomes rust… All matter must be fused this way through the lens of my vice or the rust of living would slow down my rhythm to a sob.”
From The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 1.
“The diary taught me that it is in the moments of emotional crisis that human beings reveal themselves most accurately. I learned to choose the heightened moments because they are the moments of revelation.”
From Nin’s essay “On Writing,” 1947.
“The theme of the diary is always the personal, but it does not mean only a personal story: it means a personal relationship to all things and people. The personal, if it is deep enough, becomes universal, mythical, symbolic; I never generalize, intellectualise. I see, I hear, I feel. These are my primitive elements of discovery.
Music, dance, poetry and painting are the channels for emotion. It is through them that experience penetrates our bloodstream.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947
C.S. Lewis Talks about Keeping a Journal
[About his journal after the death of his wife] “What would H. think of this terrible little notebook to which I come back and back? Are these jottings morbid? Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on think about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief. Do these notes merely aggravate that side of it? Merely confirm the monotonous, treadmill march of the mind round one subject. But what am I to do? I must have some drug, and reading isn’t a strong enough drug now.”
From A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis
Joan Didion Tells Why She Writes in a Journal
Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” From “On Keeping A Notebook” – Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Franz Kafka Tells Why He Wrote in a Journal
“One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer….In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today…..” From Diaries, 1910-1923.
Susan Sontag Tells Why She Wrote in a Journal
“On Keeping a Journal. Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts — like a confidante who is deaf, dumb and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.
The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.
From a December 31st entry in her journal, as printed in Reborn.
Julia Cameron vehemently recommends journaling in a format that she calls morning pages. In reading her book the Artist’s Way, it sounds at first as though Cameron advocates morning pages as a way to leech all of the bile that has backlogged throughout one’s being, but I believe that further reading of her book reveals that Julia Cameron would agree that once we have exorcised our demons on paper, morning pages can be extended to include more than a listing of our negative qualities and our inadequacies. Morning pages are a way to dig into our deepest extremities or into the roots from which we have sprung, but morning pages are also a place that we can register ideas for future books, stories, or pieces. They are about moving beyond our roots–about growing forward.
Morning pages are also a way to celebrate the everyday, the mundane, the what’s-happening-now in our lives. Keeping a daily journal is a way to stop, look, listen, and write. Grander writing may spring from our journals later, or they may not. As in most art, the product of keeping a journal is not what counts. It is the process. As we begin to write daily, we begin to notice more of what lies around us and we expand. As we begin to journal, life becomes more meditative for us, and we learn how to live in the moment and how to write from that same moment.
On page 52 of the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron shares that she learned about mindful observation and writing from the moment from her grandmother’s letters.
” ‘The forsythia is starting and this morning I saw my first robin. . . . The roses are holding even in this heat . . . . The sumac has turned and that little maple down by the mailbox . . . . My Christmas cactus is getting ready. . . . .’
“I could imagine. Her letter made that easy. Life through grandma’s eyes was a series of small miracles: the wild tiger lilies under the cottonwoods in June; the quick lizard scooting under the gray river rock she admired for its satiny finish. Her letters clocked the seasons of the year and her life.” [p. 52]
. . .
“My grandmother was gone before I learned the lesson her letters were teaching: survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention. …
“The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 52-53.
Julia Cameron Tells Us about May Sarton’s Journal of Solitude
“In a year when a long and rewarding love affair was lurching gracelessly away from the center of her life, the writer May Sarton kept A Journal of a Solitude.
“In it, she records coming home from a particularly painful weekend with her lover. Entering her empty house, ‘I was stopped by the threshold of my study by a ray on a Korean chrysanthemum, lighting it up like a spotlight, deep red petals and Chines yellow center. . . . Seeing it was like getting a transfusion of autumn light.’
“It’s no accident that May Sarton uses the word transfusion. The loss of her lover was a wound, and in her responses to that chrysanthemum, in the act of paying attention, Sarton’s healing began.
“The reward for attention is always healing. It may begin as the healing of a particular pain–the lost lover, the sickly child, the shattered dream. But what is healed, finally, is the pain that underlies all pain: the pain that we are all, as Rilke phrases it, ‘unutterably alone.’ More than anything else, attention is an act of connection.” [Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, p. 53]
Julia Cameron Tells How Her Writing Is Linked with Painful Experiences
“It may be different for others, but pain is what it took to teach me o pay attention. In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now. The precise moment I was in was always the only safe place for me. Each moment, taken alone, was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right.
. . .
“The night my mother died….A great snowy moon was rising behind the palm trees. Later that night, it floated [p. 54] above the garden, washing the cactus silver. When I think now about my mother’s death, I remember that snowy moon.
“The poet William Meredith as observed that the worst that can be said of a man is that ‘he did not pay attention.’ ”
“When I think of my grandmother, I remember her gardening…. [p. 55]
“I remember her pointing down the steep slope from the home she was about to lose, to the cottonwoods in the wash below. ‘The ponies like them for their shade,’ she said. ‘I like them because they go all silvery in their green.’ “Cameron, Julia. the Artist’s Way, pgs. 54-56.
©April 26, 2017