Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Day 7: More On "Journaling"

I was recently reminded how a few great authors honed their writing skills by copying letter for letter, word for word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, and sometimes entire books written by authors they admired. A handful have reproduced for themselves the classic Don Quixote, for example. Actor Johnny Depp reports how Hunter S. Thompson copied Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby more than once, so he could get in touch with what a masterpiece felt like. Thompson also reproduced Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms to find the the experience of writing like a great author.

When a teenager, I sat and copied by candlelight entire passages and Sonnets of Shakespeare onto parchment with a nib and ink for the same reason--to experience the production of something great by my own hand, learning to write like a master. The same is true also when I play Bach’s Cello Suites.
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My writing is hardly masterful, but I love to write. For many years, I’ve kept a journal as evidenced by the piles found in cabinets and drawers around the house. My problem is that I’m never really sure what to do with them once I’ve written. I never go back and read what I’ve written. So why do it? Why write?

Joan Didion published her reasons for writing, echoing George Orwell’s theme through her short essay, “Why I Write.” Good or bad, one arranges words in order to hear what one thinks--some things sound better (or worse) “out loud.” For Didion, writing was her way to explore the pictures in her mind. But who does one write for? Does it matter? Must everything be published? Not really.

A case might be made that a diary is for personal use while a journal is intended for publication; however, in practice, the case might also be made that there is no distinguishing between the two except for the purposes determined or designed by the writer. A journal may be intensely personal, where the author wrestles “out loud” over issues, makes resolutions, works out a plan. A diary may merely be the record of days, “what” happened “when” and “where.” For some, writing can be an intensely spiritual exercise.

The beginning of this series introduced Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin’s exploration into virtue; that is, living as a holistic man. A common practice of their day was to not only make resolutions but to also keep a written record of events, some personal and others professional. David Brainerd, a New Englander close to Edwards kept a journal but his intent was to publish his writing. Edwards used his journal for personal examination. Interestingly, those who seek publication would not not have readily done so without the aid (directly or indirectly) of Franklin, who kept personal records of his own--not including his autobiography.

In conclusion, writing comes with ease the more one tries. Even if you copy to get the feel. Accept the challenge to fill a page with what’s on your mind. Should the subject changes as you write, don't stop. Just keep going and watch what happens.

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