Home » Writing » Anais Nin » On writing a diary – January 1st, 1993

On writing a diary – January 1st, 1993

François Truffaut

François Truffaut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fig. 1. Francois Truffaut knew himself – what he read, why he read and what he thought in letters and notes.


Written on 1/1/1993 in a hardback journal

I’m not writing a journal or a diary

‘It seems to me that I follow only the most accessible thread. Three or four threads may be agitated, like telegraph wires, at the same time, and if I were to tap them all I would reveal such a mixture of innocence and duplicity, generosity and calculation, fear and courage. I cannot tell the whole truth simply because I would have to write four journals at once. I often would have to retrace my steps, because of my vice for embellishment’. Anais Nin

(Henry & June, Journals, July 1932)

This has become many things:

  • a record of what happens to me and around me each day
  • a notebook for whatever I’m reading
  • a record and analysis of dreams
  • a place to try my hand at exposure and expression while avoiding cliché’s like that one
  • a place to describe how it is, or isn’t;
  • a place to practise lies
  • a place to drill, thrill and hone my skill
  • a place to underplay, exaggerate or avoid
  • a place to lose myself in Truth
  • a place to mouth off or to get off
  • a place to play
  • a place where a blank pages means something as a day missed is a day when I’m too ill, too depressed, too drunk or too bored with it

Writers keep diaries to record events – a writer’s journal

I do this; working up events until they have become more real than reality as I obscure what happened with scene setting detail and by bringing narrative order to the muddle of a daily life. At times I write as a drill, to practice, at others because I feel an obligation, it is what I do most days, every day. I use these pages in an attempt to extract a writing style and extricate myself from the bland, for many years without success.

Lately a form has emerged as I tripped and stumbled over a keyboard I’ve been hacking at the undergrowth until I have found my way, happily pursuing forest paths and following streams back to their source. I keep a diary as a record of events: what I did, where, with whom. At times I reduce the diary to bullet points, satisfied that I’ve not lost the day forever to obscurity. As a painter I had to draw what I saw, from reality, not straight out of the mind or by copying. As a writer I hoped at first that I could write candidly about reality and once I had established that I could progress to fiction.

Am I writing postcards to myself?

How for example would I describe this house? How would I describe the room in where I am sleeping? How would I describe the view from the window? The desk at which I am writing ? How we made love this morning? These are the things about which I should write.

It all counts. It all mounts

Words tripping over words, hardback notebooks labelled and stacked, files in boxes and files on discs, on zips and here, online. It’s a matter of finding the words, describing chronologically the actions which make the event and in so doing transporting the reader into my head.

This writing is never supposed to be a draft of anything

I would allow my diary to be read by Suzi. Knowing she would sometimes read it I could write disinformation, instead of writing about me, I could write about her, and as I would in a letter and could express my love for her instead of my doubts; as all authors do for their readers I could write what she wanted to read. Hardest of all was the need to leave out my lust for other women (I was 17 when we met, 18 when we went out with each other and 25 when we broke up)

I liked to indulge that rush of blood you get on seeing someone you could imagine being with !!

I had an affair with Louise without getting a finger near her … because I wrote, and imagined, and connived to seduce her, in my mind I dated her, despite how often she told me she had a boyfriend in London – foolishly I admitted some of this to Suzi. In so doing I smudged our relationship; I became a Janus, committed to looking in different directions, holding onto Suzi whilst hoping the relationship with Louise would take off – it didn’t.

The search for ‘Janus’ set off a string of memories

The search led me to the ‘Oxford Companion of Classical Literature’ and so to considering Hedes, looking up ‘sentinel’ and finally pursuing Juno until I read Janus and it all fell into place – a riddle solved. This in turn sparked off a vivid memory of being told by Mr Byers at Mowden Hall School sometime in the early 1970s.

I read how Francois Truffaut said he felt it was necessary to read everything to give the mind food and things to smart against, ways of gaining new ideas and having old one revived. If this is the case I can justify reading trash: ‘The Sunday Sport’ and ‘Viz’ as well as my favourite current authors: Anais Nin, Henry Miller, not only required reading classics like ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘Ulysses’, but also books I loved and read in the past which need to be reread: ‘Time Enough for Love‘ (Heinlein) ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (Tolkein), ‘The Nania Chronicles’ (C. S. Lewis), even that child’s book on history (Ladybird) which begun with a picture of a caveman and later had pictures of the Golden Hynde, my earliest books and what I thought of them.

‘Mind Stimulation’ digging up the psyche, that’s what I’ll call it!!!

So how many diaries or journals do I need?

  • a dream book
  • a diary for a straight log of what I did during the day
  • a journal as a notebook (as here)
  • a memory jogger
  • something for assessment/analysis of what I am thinking and reading
  • a scrapbook.

How many is that?
Would four do the trick?
Could I try it for a year?

I kept a five year day for eight years in my early teens: the five lines per day are hopeless unrevealing: I washed my hair, cleaned out the rabbit kind of thing. Some rare moments bring back the day or event. I began to record dreams in my mid-teens, tiring off it when I found I could recall four or more dreams each night taking several hours to write them up the following day. I kept a scrapbook and dairy in a ring-bind folder when I went on an exchange with a French boy and repeated this around my 17th birthday, filling a folder in one month and so realising I needed a different approach. This is when I settled for a page of A4 per day every day, not less and rarely more. Being able to write as much as I liked I found myself filling a dozen pages plus and so quickly lost the detail that would have otherwise identified the day, month and year.

Dreams already (usually) go on a pre-formatted template on the Amstrad

I’ve been wanting to buy a scrapbook again for ages but haven’t come up with an easy solution – it needs to be in a bound book form for simplicity’s sake. The ‘Journals’ (this) I have, which leaves the diary. If I take this route it will be strictly a ‘page day job’ – none of these twelve page epic per day entries. It would be a mere (better than nothing though) Logbook. Though never as dry. From this I could write expanded entries (as I am currently trying to do with the 1980s).

Anais would hide her diary

This secretiveness was a product of the treachery it would have revealed, especially to her husband Hugo who would have been unable to handle it. I hid my diaries for another reason – how vulnerable the inner thoughts can make you, and how many impressions, concerns, agitations are fears of the moment which would usually, sensibly, remain hidden.

It’s that probing around in my skull for scrap of anxiety or mystery which most concerns me.

I don’t want to indulge, I don’t want to look for fault. I don’t want to dwell on previous relationships (such as Suzi), unless I know also I will keep them in the past, unfortunately diaries, like minutes in a meeting, eventually prompt you to ‘do something about it’ Actions points, 1,2,3 …


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