Your Inner Secret Diary
diaries. Got one gathering dust on your highest bookshelf or at the bottom of an
old drawer? I do. When I started living with my husband, I pulled it out of its
retreat and we looked at some pages together. I was eager to share it; I
expected to find some bright ideas in it, some witty observations, a distinct
view of the world. I remembered writing stuff like that! Well, so much for those
ideas. On each of its fifty pages, I just encountered a shy twelve-year-old who
couldnt write about anything but boys, and boys who didnt even know she
existed. A ridiculous testimony. We read it for a shameful half hour, and after
that it was back to the drawer, you stupid girl, and dont even think youll
see the daylight again!
But then, I
started to write. A couple of months ago, I had this idea for a story. Its
about a twelve-year-old girl whose friends reject her from the band for no
obvious reason, and how she deals with it. Its not coming straight from my
imagination. This little girl is me, and what I would now identify as a distant
and unimportant event remains one of the most itching memories of my youth.
Its not that Im seeking revenge well, not quite - but why wouldnt
I write a novel about it? Every Know-How book about writing for kids will
tell you just that: write from your own experience. As far as this experience went, I knew it stung, but I wished
I could just remember more details, the reasons, the reactions I had, what we
said to each others... But wait a minute: I wrote all about it in my diary! The
conversations I had with these girls, the new activities I had to find and the
new friends I made: I had written everything!
When I read
my diary again yesterday, I didnt find it ridiculous anymore. True, there is
some laughable material in there. But, reading as a writer, I found out that I
could go beyond the words: I could hear what was going on, I could feel the
sadness and the humor and courage of this little girl that I was. With the diary
as a prompt, and reading as a writer, I could let myself go and be twelve again.
with writers eyes; looking at my memories as a writer. What it meant for me
yesterday was reading with an open mind. Not reading and be shameful about what
I wasnt, not reading to find only words on the paper, but be prepared and wishing
to go beyond, to grasp and investigate the feelings as the came. I was prepared
to do that last night, and I closed my diary with the certainty that I had found
there many useful hints to tell a compelling story to young boys and girls. More
than that, I continued to read after that and I found at least three new ideas
for stories to come.
here is not to tell you that an old secret diary is essential if you want to
write for children. Youre not doomed if you didnt keep a personal diary. I
am glad now that I did, and Im seriously thinking about beginning a new one
who knows what I will find in it in thirty years! But in fact, my
reflections here are not about a real diary. I had to go beyond the words to
find out what I was looking for; the words themselves were a prompt, a tool, not
the goal in itself. If I had sat back, closed my eyes and thought about this day
when my friends were not my friends anymore, and if I had made this journey with
an open mind and wishing to investigate the thoughts that came to me, Im
pretty sure it would have been worthwhile. Every child experiences fear, rage,
hope, love, disgust, and so on. The real way to go from saying that you remember
what it is to writing about it in a compelling way is not an old diary but an
open-minded search of yourself. I tended to avoid thinking about my friends'
rejection, not only because it doesnt matter anymore but also because the
twelve-year-old I was felt very ashamed for not being able to keep those
friends; shame is not a feeling that I gladly bring back to life. But now,
thinking of it as a writer, Im grateful to bear this memory of shame and
loneliness: Ill go find it where its hiding and hopefully Ill write
something good about it.
If you have
an old secret diary, especially from the unforgiving teen period, dont let
your patronizing adult tribunal judge it. Make allowances, and go read it with
your writers eyes: even if, like me, you were a witless diary writer, your
diary will still have a tale to murmur. And as I said, my diary was a great
tool, but I could have found what I was searching for without it. Thus, this
process isn't really about a written diary, its about an inner diary. Its
not about the artifact, its about how far youre willing to see beyond it.