Everyone Is Reading Your Diary: Why Facebook and Twitter Shouldn’t Be Your Journal

Remember journaling? It’s what a number of people used to do to record and work through their random, inane, deep, inflammatory, or otherwise likely-inappropriate-for-public-consumption thoughts before there was Facebook and Twitter and blogging. A private place to work out what you think about stuff and record what you ate for dinner. A place where it was safe to say dumb things because who would read it? A place where it was safe to say brilliant things that you would later recognize as dumb with a little more life experience under your belt because, again, who would read it? A place where you didn’t have to have it all figured out and prepare a defense of your views, your lifestyle, your existence.

Remember how you used to fly into a rage if your sister found your diary and read it? Now everyone’s reading your diary.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I read articles about why Twitter is dying and I realize that my first couple years on Facebook, when almost no one outside of Academia was on it, were filled with congenial exchanges with people I might otherwise not have a lot of chances to talk with because we were all so busy with grad school. Now Facebook is just all those annoying, cutesy, unsubstantiated forwards that used to junk up your email inbox. Now instead of deleting them without opening them, you see them — ALL of them — every day.

I have on many occasions been a click away from deleting my presence on Facebook and going back to living a life that doesn’t invite others’ opinions and unsolicited advice at every turn. But then, my parents get to see pictures of their grandson, so I should keep it up. Or now, I need to continue to build my online presence because I need effective ways to get the word out about my books once I start publishing novels. Or really, at this point there are a number of people I like to stay in touch with (many of my fellow writers, most of whom I know because of the internet) with whom I just wouldn’t stay in touch if we weren’t all on Facebook. So, I remain.

Then last week I had a realization that I think will improve my life greatly: I don’t have to use Facebook or Twitter as my diary.

I’ve never been great at keeping a consistent journal or diary, and all of my old attempts have pretty much been destroyed. I don’t want to remember how ridiculous I was in junior high. But now, as an adult who needs a place — a private place — to process life and record my hopes and dreams and fears, I’m turning back to journaling.

Over the past few years I have read through Virginia Woolf’s abridged diaries. I enjoy the staccato and often sarcastic way she describes her many visitors, both friends and people she merely tolerates. I’ve appreciated seeing her trials and triumphs in her writing, showing that the ups and downs I and so many others feel about their work are common to all writers. I’ve been enthralled by her descriptions of her surroundings. And I’ve appreciated that she doesn’t feel the need to write full sentences.

Thing is, if she and her friends and acquaintances had been on Facebook, she quickly would have had no friends and spent most of her time, thought life, and energies on explaining herself and apologizing when people misunderstood. She probably would have committed suicide much earlier in her life.

Instead, she put her insights and questions and suppositions into her fiction and her essays after safely trying them out on paper that no one would see until after she was dead. She sifted through her thoughts and theories privately before launching them into the world. She tested things out with close friends who wouldn’t assume the worst of her if she said something they didn’t agree with.

She didn’t go out into the streets of London and share her ideas with perfect strangers or even random acquaintances. She worked through things in her own mind, on the pages of her diaries, and with a small inner circle of close friends. And when she argued about God with T. S. Eliot around the dinner table, passersby did not poke their heads through the windows to comment. When she discussed politics with  Lytton Strachey, some lady she had as a substitute teacher in fourth grade did not burst through the front door and spout off some bizarre non sequitur to kill the conversation. When she made an off-hand comment about her truculent maid, she wasn’t then barraged with unsolicited and conflicting advice on how she should deal with the situation.

She simply wrote it out, pondered, moved on.

So with Virginia as my guide, I’m turning to the private page (an actual page made of paper that others do not see) and putting my thoughts there. I’ll still share things on Facebook and Twitter, but when I’m trying to process a sticky political point or when I want to work out my opinion on a matter of morality or when I just want to complain about something that hasn’t gone my way, I’ll do it in my journal. And someday, after I’m dead, after it doesn’t matter anymore, someone may read it.

But I won’t have to deal with the fallout.


Capturing Inspiration

On Friday it was only five degrees colder at the North Pole than is was in some parts of Michigan (-39 in Roscommon, which is about 2 hours north of Lansing). It was cold here too. School was cancelled because of wind chill temps in the -20 range and dangers of frostbite on exposed skin within 30 minutes.

However, it was a warm day in my brain. It was like the spring thaw up there, with great ideas for three writing projects — one big backstory/plot change for my WIP I Hold the Wind, one idea for a completely new novel, and both a new plot idea and a new POV idea for a story I haven’t worked on in over a year called Life in a Minor Key. I love days like that!

The first idea came from a little news clip I heard on NPR when I was in the shower. It will help me fix an issue that has been nagging and nagging me as I’ve drafted I Hold the Wind. I captured the idea on the waterproof notepad in my shower that Zach bought for me at Christmas. The second came from a New York Times article my husband shared on Facebook. I quickly printed the article and made some notes on it at my desk. The third came as I was listening to Billy Strings and Don Julin, a fantastic folk guitar and mandolin duo I heard at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival last month. I popped in one of their CDs as I brought my son to karate Friday evening and was actually happy for the stop-and-go traffic through East Lansing so I had time to write it all down on one of the notepads I always keep in my purse.

Yesterday the ideas kept coming. On the drive home from Grand Rapids last night I had another fun idea for Life in a Minor Key. Since it was dark I didn’t want to go digging in my purse and possibly run off the road, and I didn’t want to ask my husband to write it down for me because I was hoping he was asleep after a completely sleepless night the evening before. So I repeated a key word in my head until we got home, then wrote it down while I was still in the car on the driveway. Then as I was settling into sleep myself, a great reversal for the very end of The Bone Garden popped into my mind. Again, not wanting to wake my finally sleeping husband, I carefully reached over in the dark and snagged a little notebook from the nightstand. I wrote slowly in the pitch black and was happy to see this morning that it was indeed legible.

Inspiration can come from anywhere — and everywhere! — so be ready for it. Never be without a writing utensil and something on which to write or I promise you even the best idea will vaporize.


My Mind Full and My Pen at the Ready

The scales have tipped, the tumblers in the lock have fallen into place, the dominoes are all lined up and the finger is making contact with the very first one.

What am I talking about? My next novel.

Next novel? But you haven’t even published your first one. Yes, that’s true. But writers write. And this next one, which I hope will be my second to be published (eventually), has been brewing in my mind since the day after I typed “The End” at the bottom of my last manuscript. And on Thursday night, a key plot element was birthed in my mind like a baby star and I am just about ready to really start writing.

Since early March, I have been feeding my mind a steady diet of classic literature in preparation for writing this next novel, and a few weeks ago I finally picked up this beautiful book, a gift last Christmas…

dickinsonI’m smitten anew and excited to say that Emily Dickinson’s life, spirit, and poetry will get a major nod in the novel. In fact, the backbone of the story is constructed of books and poems, the kind that stay with us throughout our lives and to which we return again and again. It is precisely the kind of story the English major in me can hardly believe she will be privileged to write–one that celebrates our vast body of literature in English, makes a case for the singular importance of the printed book, and traces how our identities are wrapped up in what we read at formative points in our lives.

I’m so excited to get started, I don’t know that I will be able to wait until NaNoWriMo, which I had been thinking of attempting for the third time. And if I cheat, I simply could not wear a t-shirt like this with any sense of integrity…

tee shirt

And this is kind of how I feel about that shirt…

napoleon-dynamite-gifWill patience prevail? Only time will tell.


The Thrill of that First Paragraph

This morning as I drove home from dropping my son off at school, I found my mind working on words. I’ve been thinking about and taking notes on a new novel since the very day I wrote the last word of the first draft of my last novel. But I couldn’t start anything new at the time. I wasn’t mentally ready. I was still embroiled in the last plot, the last set of characters, the last setting. Which is good, because I still had revising and editing to do!

So I just let things start percolating in my mind and committed only notes to paper. I started to do some background reading for the new novel idea. I tested the idea out on a few friends and got instant and enthusiastic validation (thank you Zach, Valerie, and Ted) as well as great plot ideas. These friends were immediately excited about the story idea and their synapses began firing. What if this happened? What if that happened? One friend, also a writer, said, “This has legs. I want to write the screenplay when you’re done with it.”

I don’t think I have to tell you that I wanted to put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys) right then and there. I couldn’t, of course, mainly because I was driving 75 mph, but also because the idea was in its infancy. It needed more time. I needed more space from the manuscript I had just finished.

Then this morning, the first sentence wormed its way into my mind. Then the next. Then the next. And I ended up with 126 mood- and scene-setting words that can usher me into this new story. It’s a great feeling. The feeling of something new and never-before-seen. It continues to amaze me that we humans can take our thoughts, put them into words, string letters together to make words and words to make sentences and sentences to make stories. Something that doesn’t exist comes slowly into being. And it’s all made up of 26 arbitrary black marks on a white page.

It’s truly thrilling and it remains for me some of the most convincing evidence that this world came about and we came about as the product of an endlessly creative mind rather than a chaotic string of random events, and that we bear the mark of our Maker.

Lessons in Not Scrimping

There are some foods that you just can’t go low-fat on, aren’t there? I think we can all agree that fat-free ranch dressing and fat-free mayonnaise and those sick, white-fleshed turkey hot dogs are at best disappointing and at worst disgusting and not worth all the calories you’re saving. With some foods, you just can’t hold the good stuff back. They need the fat in order to taste how they’re supposed to taste.

I imagine that pound cake is one of these.


Pound cake is lavish. It’s unapologetically decadent. It’s essentially just butter, sugar, eggs, and heavy cream with some very white flour thrown in for good measure, then topped with more butter, sugar, and heavy cream. If you tried to make pound cake with low-fat and low-sugar substitutes I think you’d end up with a sad, nasty mess. No, in the case of pound cake, you need to go all in.

When you’re creating, whether you’re writing, sewing, painting, gardening, or whatever, the same holds true. You want to go all in, with the best of your ideas, the best tools at your disposal, the best raw materials you can get, and the best effort so that when you’ve finished something you’ve put all of yourself into it. Why? For several reasons:

1. When you put your all into something, you are generally happier with the result. Even if something didn’t turn out quite perfect (and there’s always something) you still know for a fact that you have done your absolute best. And mentally, that’s worth something. Even if others don’t get it or don’t even see it, if I know I’ve done my best and put everything I had into something, I can be proud of it.

2. The product of your efforts, whether it’s an herb garden or a baby blanket or the Great American Novel, will be better than if you only put in partial effort or just some of your good ideas (holding back others for a later project because you were worried you’d exhaust them forever on this one). If you put your “full-fat” self into your work, the end result will always taste/look/read/feel better. This is obvious, but it bears repeating when so many of us have the tendency to get down on our own work before we’ve even given our full effort to it. The world doesn’t owe us success for our minimal efforts. We owe the world our best effort, and success may follow.

3. Once people see your best, you’ll always want to give them your best in the future. If you bring an amazing, delicious, completely homemade pound cake to a dinner, the next time you’re asked to bring food, you’re not going to want to bring Chips Ahoy! cookies. You’re going to want to wow people again–because it feels so good to wow people. Once you write something you’re truly proud of and you get great feedback from people, you’re going to want to do even better the next time. Giving our best in one thing spurs us onto improvement. When we set a personal record running a mile (because really, you need to work off that pound cake) it makes us want to beat our personal best, doesn’t it? Giving everything you’ve got to a task not only makes the current result better, it makes future results better.

Today, this week, this month, and for the rest of the year, ask if you’re giving your current project the full-fat, gloriously delicious best you have to offer. Whether you’re cleaning out the garage or teaching your kid to ride a bike or detailing a car or crafting a poem or refinishing a table or whatever, remember that Splenda and Egg Beaters and skim milk and gluten-free flour do not a pound cake make.

How are you giving your best today?

The Mad, Mad Adventure of Writing to a Title

Ideas for writing come from all over–overheard conversations, awful dinner parties, a moment in time that hits you just right and sparks something inside of you that can only be described as the literary gene. But sometimes, you have to make the ideas come. Like when you’re on a deadline, self-imposed or not.

For several of my short stories this year I’ve started with a title idea and/or cover image rather than actual plot or character ideas, and it’s been interesting to see where that leads my writing. Because of this, I’ve run into a rather interesting situation I thought I’d share with you creative types out there.

For August’s short story I started with a title which I drew from a quote from Virginia Woolf’s diary where she is describing a total solar eclipse that she and her friends saw. I loved the phrase “the astonishing moment” which she used to describe the moment the eclipse was total and the light in the world simply went out. So I pulled that phrase out and thought it would make a compelling title to write to. I popped it on a photo I took up at Lake Superior whilst hiking Pictured Rocks last summer and thought perhaps I’d do a story with hiking as a backdrop. Here’s the cover I came up with:


But then Saturday night when I started to think about getting started writing, I decided to reread the section of Woolf’s diary that had inspired the title and pull out a quote with which to begin my story. Here’s what caught my fancy:

“We kept saying this is the shadow; and we thought now it is over—this is the shadow; when suddenly the light went out . . . . How can I express the darkness?”

~Virginia Woolf

Clearly that quote and my original cover concept do not match.

Rather than lose the pathos of that quote by omitting it and just writing the story I had (very) vaguely formed in the back of my mind, I decided to try again at the cover art. I pulled a photo I just took up at Mackinac Island, manipulated it a bit, and came up with this:


Clearly this new image does fit the quotation. I’m pretty sure the story will not be about hiking. I’m pretty sure it will be “maritime” in flavor. And I’m pretty sure some bad things will happen to the characters.

And that’s all I’m sure of.

Ideas Are Like Deer…

This morning spent a very peaceful morning alone walking the woods of Fenner Nature Center with my camera. Pre-motherhood, I did such things quite often. Once you have a child tagging along it is a different experience. Still a good one, but different. As the sun was rising into the hazy morning sky, I walked at my chosen pace with silent steps and no speech, listening to myriad birds singing springtime songs and watching the woods for things to photograph.


Not too far into my walk I saw the flashing white tail of a deer as it bounded out of my path. So I stopped, then moved forward slowly until I was at a point where I could see her through a little clearing in the trees. She looked at me, assessing the threat level. I was still, waiting for her to decide I could be trusted at that distance.

We looked at each other for several minutes. Then she started nibbling at the burgeoning plant life around her and flicking her white tail. This seemed to signal her friends. She was joined first by one other doe, who regarded me with just a bit of suspicion before she too began foraging. And soon thereafter two more friends joined them before they all moved on into the woods.


It occurs to me that this is how our ideas come sometimes. We are out enjoying life when a flash of white catches our eye and we stop a moment, then approach the idea slowly so as not to scare it off. We watch it closely, take in its form, maybe snap some photos or write some notes in order to capture it before it moves on. And if we are patient enough, more ideas come tumbling into the clearing in our mind.

Ideas can be timid, fleeting. Push too much and they can be pushed right out of our minds. But patience, stillness, a willingness to observe and record, can capture them forever.