From Journal to Memoir: The Art of Reflection Vs. Presentation

Biographile's From Journal to Memoir with Dr. Rita D. Jacobs

By: Rita D. Jacobs, PhD

Editor's Note: In this multipart series,
Biographile and Dr. Rita Jacobs, PhD will walk you through finding the inspiration and motivation to start - and keep - a journal, and will later offer some approaches to transforming journal entries into memoir. In part two of her journal-writing series, Dr. Jacobs outlines the differences between writing for yourself and writing for others. Part 1 is available here.

There's little doubt that we live in a world of self-advertisement. Screaming egos demanding attention emerge everywhere from "reality television" to blog posts to Facebook. That started my brain going on the difference between journal writing and blogging. After all, they are both forms of "personal" writing and many people seem to think they are the same. In fact, some of my students at the university equate putting their thoughts out there in cyberspace with journal writing. But I am certain that these are two very different endeavors - not mutually exclusive and not necessarily contradictory - but still very different.

If blogging is putting one's thoughts and ideas "out there" to be visited and read by others, it doesn't necessarily mean a blogger censors or even edits, but there always exists the idea that you are presenting yourself, in whatever fashion you choose, to the world. Journal writing is a very different act because it's not about "out there" but rather about "in here." A journal entry might indeed be the very first step to a blog post or a memoir, but journal writing is about self-reflection and not about self-presentation, about getting inside rather than going outside.

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The more I think about this, the more important I think journal writing is for those of us who spend a lot of time "out there." In order to present ourselves to the world, we need to spend more time noticing ourselves. Scientists speculate that molecules in cells are in constant flux, a fact that may make you feel much better about the speed with which your thoughts and ideas are capable of leaping around. But in order to ground ourselves, to figure out where the constants might be in a world where life moves very quickly, it's wise to take the time to be introspective before we go blurting to the world or before we create a world on the page to present to others.

So the idea which I offer to all of you "out there" is that we could all benefit from using the old notion of "tithing" maybe ten percent of our time to ourselves - to notice, to write it down, to go below the surface. It could be that the best way to do this is to write about something that is secret for you, something that you would never blog about and that, in fact, is something that you have difficulty even investigating for yourself. It is in such an entry that you can feel the liberation of finally spilling the secret.

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I know this can feel dangerous, so if it does, just this once - I'm usually a great believer in keeping everything you write - I would suggest that if you need to you can destroy this exercise when you are done. Maybe burning it is too extreme, but you can certainly rip it up. Although you might feel that after you get it down on paper, for your own private use, some of the power of the secret is exorcised and you want to keep it.

Writing exercise: Start by sitting quietly with your eyes closed and allow your thoughts to slowly focus on a feeling, an experience, or a fantasy that you have not shared with another person. Bring that image into clearer and clearer focus, fill out the details and the emotions and then open your eyes and begin to write quickly, without censoring or judging. Knowing that this is for your eyes only may allow you great freedom to write.

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