Thursday, July 24, 2008


A few weeks ago I went through my files to gather drafts and letters for a donation to the de Grummond Collection. I'm sending the collection my work from Part of Me, Skinny Brown Dog, Waiting for Gregory. They are boxed up and ready to go. A few years ago, my friend, Kathi Appelt donated all her drafts, letters, and journals she'd kept over the twenty plus years she's been writing. She said, "It felt so good to get all of that out of my office."

I wish I could do a clean sweep of all my papers, but I'm having a difficult time parting with any of it. A few years ago Kathy MacKay from Brigham Young wrote her thesis on some of my work. To research, she made the trip to my home in Texas. I allowed her access to my papers and to a journal I'd kept while writing When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Kathy did an excellent job and was sensitive to information I didn't want exposed.

But after that experience, my journal writing changed. I became self conscious about my entries, making efforts to choose the right word, improving my penmanship and worse, I edited my feelings. That defeated the purpose of journaling.

Then I made a decision. My drafts and letters might be donated, but the journals would remain with me. This sounds so dramatic(please imagine violin music playing Amazing Grace in the background), but I made my daughter promise that after I die, she wouldn't hand over the journals to anyone. If she liked, she could even have a bonfire. That simple decision helped me return to journaling for the purpose for which it was attended--providing a safe place to record my thoughts and feelings about how the work is going.

This doesn't mean I don't want to read other writers' journals though. Several years ago, I read John Steinbeck's East of Eden along side his Journal of a Novel. I love this book of letters Steinbeck wrote to his editor as he struggled with his story. Most readers would probably grow impatient with Steinbeck's constant stating that "this book must be good." But I loved his obsession with trying to get it right. I related to his moments of self-doubt. What writer wouldn't?

His journal offers me hope and comfort, knowing that though writers write alone, our desire to write a great book is universal. Thank you, Mr. Steinbeck, for sharing your personal insights. But if you don't mind, I'll be keeping mine hidden except for my eyes only.

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