Sarah Manguso, an American writer, has kept a diary for 25 years totaling 800,000 words and has now written a memoir about keeping her meticulous diary.
"I wrote," she said, "so I could say I was truly paying attention." Writing as mindfulness? Manguso goes on to say (I quote from an article by Alice Gregory) that she didn't want to find at the end of her life that she had missed it.
Even in an age of overshare (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) in the social media, writing every day about the ordinary details of one's life sounds compulsive. And it raises the question, for whom is such a diary intended? Manguso's memoir apparently tries to answer this, for she clearly does not wish to share (or bore) anyone with the quotidian details of what she ate for breakfast on a certain day. So she does not reproduce parts of the diary.
Perhaps such writing makes life real by recording it, as if the events become "true" or at least remembered only when recorded. Yet without the reader, how can there be meaningful writing?
It seems to me that every piece of writing, even a diary, has some intended reader, someone to complete the communication exchange. Am I the implicit reader of my own unpublished journal or diary? Would I be writing this blog if there were no readers out there?
I think of many writers who detailed their daily lives and thoughts, from Montaigne and Pascal to Proust and Thoreau and Thomas Merton, who wrote compulsively, but always with a sense of audience. It is not clear to me how transcribing "an entirely interior world," as Manguso says, is not merely self-referential.
Mindfulness can be achieved in several ways, usually involving an absolute minimum of words. But not by writing, although observing closely the details of everyday life keeps the one in the present moment.
As I think of friends who've always yearned to write and regret not having written, I raise the question, Why do we write? Is it to make sense to ourselves of the experiences we have had and nothing more? Why write--unless we ultimately share?
We all know of writers who shy away from publishing, filing away their stories or articles in desk drawers in the hope that someday they will find someone who can bring them to life by reading them.
My advice to such people is to take a few risks. Don't be reluctant to ask someone to read your work, then send it, once it has been carefully revised, edited and vetted. Today, more than ever, with online publications looking for new voices, there are countless opportunities for writers to become authors.
The diary or journal is, for me, merely a place to begin the sometimes lonely, demanding, but often rewarding task of asking to be read.