#7 A Writing Exercise: Rereading Journals - Listening to Your Own Voices
JOURNALERS’ CORNER – EXERCISE #7
Rereading Journals – Listening to Your Own Voices
New Year’s can be a time of review and reprocessing events, and your own writing is the perfect medium for that valuable research.People vary in terms of how much they like to reread their own journals and the experience of reviewing personal writing also varies emotionally.Old writing can make you cringe or smile, but there can be value in spending a little time on what you yourself have written.
In a way it’s very odd to think of learning from something that you must have known at one time or you couldn’t have written it in the first place. But, if nothing else, a journal review is a reminder that the self is a continuous experience made up of a huge range of moments, memories and frames of reference.A sense of easier acceptance follows from seeing our own selves as constantly evolving and multi-faceted.The writing may be on the page or screen, but nothing is written in stone.
It does help to approach your journal review with some structure, so that the material does not become overwhelming.One interesting approach initially is to give yourself the Journal Memory Test.Before looking at your old writing, pick a date or an event and write a bit about what you think you did write at the time.Nothing will be a quicker demonstration of the vagaries of memory and historical reconstruction.You may find some common ground in what you remember and what you wrote, but the frame of reference you had then can never really be replicated.And each time you approach old material with a new frame of reference, you incorporate your experiences more deeply.
One way to look at old journals is by picking a stylistic theme or content to focus your review.Linda Metcalf and Tobin Simon (Writing the Mind Alive, 2002, Ballantine Books, NY) recommend making lists of metaphors, topics, visual imagery or types of statements you find in your writing.You can highlight them or pull them out to use for further writing or poetry.Another classic book on journaling, The New Diary, by Tristine Rainer (1978, Putnam Books, NY) suggests actually rewriting some of your old entries, with different emphases or conclusions, such as adding more emotional description or considering new outlooks on situations.In this way, your own past writing can influence your future, as your future self reaches back to affect the past writing.
I think the best journal reviews allow room for random discovery.I like highlighters and just flipping through and letting whatever catches your eye determine what you read.Then I think it is useful to do some writing to weave what you read into the current voice of your writing.A few questions might be useful to consider.
-Do I recognize the voice I just read?How would I describe it relative to the voice I feel I am writing in right now?
-What advice would I give the writer if I detach myself and try to forget that I was that writer?
-What can that writer tell me that I might have forgotten or discarded at this time?
-What is the single funniest thing I wrote?
-What aspect of myself seems the most useful from my past writings and what aspect of myself seems the most useless?
-What do I never write about?
-What topic or type of statement appears in almost every entry or page?
- What surprises me in my writing?
These questions are just ideas to broaden your search through your own writing.It really doesn’t matter if you never look back at your journals, or if you review them regularly.What is important is the sense of acceptance that flows from having your personal world of writing and from letting that world be as dynamic as each moment dictates.