Are Blogs The New Journals?

My novel came out in June 2012 — it’s a portrait of two women, including one revealed through her journals after her death. Shortly after it was released, I got an interesting email from a reader. The reader said she hadn’t been sure she would like a book half written in the form of journals, but had been grabbed by the point of view: the private side of a woman, in her own words, that made her public self look like a facade.

“No one hears about journals anymore, now that everything is about blogs,” the reader wrote. “Were you afraid it would seem dated?”

GIVEAWAY: Nichole is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: vrundell won.)

 

 

the-unfinished-work-of-elizabeth-d      

 Guest column by Nichole Bernier, author of the novel
THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D. (Crown/Random House),
a finalist for the 2012 New England Independent Booksellers Association
fiction award, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health,
and Men’s Journal. A contributing editor for Conde Nast Traveler for 14
years, she was previously on staff as the magazine’s golf and ski editor,
columnist, and television spokesperson. She is a founder of the literary
blog Beyond the Margins, and lives outside of Boston with her husband
and five children. She can be found online at nicholebernier.com and on
Twitter @nicholebernier.

 

 

To be honest, that never occurred to me. Certainly blogs have become enormously popular: personal and professional blogs, hobbyist blogs, blogs about illness, health and parenting. But have they taken the place of writing people used to keep for themselves privately? In this age of everyone trying to have their platform, are blogs to journals what banks are to money that used to be hidden in mattresses?

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It’s hard for me to see it that way, because blogs are such a different beast than journals. No matter how natural and honest a blog might be, in the end, it’s always written with the consciousness of someone else reading. Blogs can be many things — entertaining, poignant, hilariously embarrassing, informative, cathartic. But even with the most sincere of intentions, blogs have a certain amount of posturing because they’re crafted to be seen by others. It’s the difference between a candid photo and a portrait.

In my novel, I used journals because I wanted to give voice to a character who was no longer living — and also provide a lifeline to my protagonist left behind, a friend and mother struggling in a post-9/11 world that felt suddenly and precipitously arbitrary. I juxtaposed the two women’s storylines to show how they might have had some of the same experiences, but perceived them very differently. Friendships passing in the night.

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The evolution of blogs has been fascinating for me to watch. Blogs, with their comments boxes and links to one another’s sites, are looking for community, perhaps sometimes even crowdsourcing opininions. But in journals, people are working through questions for insight, alone — essentially asking of themselves, What would the wisest person I know advise me on this? And then digging deep for the answer. It’s a conversation with the best part of oneself.

Journals are not everybody’s cup of tea. Not everyone processes thoughts and problems by writing them out. But if people who might be inclined to take to blogging, is there no need to keep a journal? Even if it’s not the same thing, is it close enough?

Earlier this year, author Chris Bohjalian wrote about this in his newspaper and blog column. He said he didn’t keep a journal, because he found these essays scratched that itch for personal expression and synthesizing observations.

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“Young writers ask me often if I keep a journal. I don’t,” he wrote last February, on the 20th anniversary of his column. “I have notebooks that hold research for my novels, but I have never kept a diary. Why? Because ‘Idyll Banter’ has been my diary. This column has been where I have tried to make sense of the loss of close pals and parents, and where I have celebrated the wondrous joys of marriage and fatherhood and friendship. Likewise, it has been where I have chronicled the unremarkable but universal moments that comprise every day of our lives. The first snow. The last leaf. The swimming hole. The ice jam. And I have enjoyed it more than you know. This column has been a great gift.”

I couldn’t agree more; I feel that way about first-person essays, too. They might be my favorite kind of writing. But sometimes when I want to process the big personal things, I put the file on restricted mode and write only for myself. I don’t worry about clever phrasing or dangling participles or a good strong concluding line. It’s an unshowered-with-a-baseball-hat-on kind of place, where spades are called a spade. And where they had been by my doomed novel character, too.

GIVEAWAY: Nichole is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: vrundell won.)

 

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8 thoughts on “Are Blogs The New Journals?

  1. jerrywaxler

    The reader who commented that journals are out of step with the times has obviously not been following the vibrant community of bloggers who blog about journal writing. 🙂 There is still plenty of room in the world for pouring thoughts onto the page, but since those words are not public, not everyone knows it’s taking place. Hence her misconception.

    As for the differences between blogs and journals, privacy is just one. I wrote in a journal for 10 years, never considering anyone would read my entries. They gave me enormous confidence to pour words onto the page (tip of the hat to Natalie Goldberg) but gave me no experience editing those words or structuring them in a form that would be accessible to readers.

    So the knowledge that someone will one day read your thoughts not only influences the freedom with which you express them but the requirement to structure them.

    For a writer in training, journals are a fabulous way to learn the knack of free-writing, that is to allow emotions and thoughts to emerge freely onto the page. To translate those free-flowing words into readable prose, a blog is a great way to take the next step. Without worrying about pleasing an editor, a blog lets you develop an editing style and voice that will someday grow into a combination of emotions, free flowing words, and well edited prose.

    Jerry Waxler
    Memory Writers Network

  2. Amy

    My blog has taken the place of my journal for sure. I hardly write emails to my family anymore either, as they just check the blog for updates. Your book looks wonderful and I’d love to read it! Thanks and congrats on publication.

  3. vrundell

    No, a personal journal and a blog are not, and cannot, be the considered equivalent. A journal writer will expose more of his/her self within the pages of a book considered private, than one who writes for the world to see. While some aspects of TMI may be revealed, it still isn’t to the same level of constant exposure that a journal writer might make.
    Thanks for the insight into your book. One favorite of mine that is told completely as journal entries is Life As We Knew It–about how life and society shifts after an asteroid crashes into the moon and disrupts its orbit. A wonderful read.

  4. kino

    I keep both a blogs and journals. While I sometimes write about the same things in both, the intention is rather different, I feel able to freely express myself in my journal whereas in my blog, I feel like I have to censor myself a little bit.

  5. vickielb

    Nichole, I do not believe blogs are the new journals, and I agree that they cannot be the same or express the same emotions and detail. The voyeur will be looking over the blogger’s shoulder – making a writer take a step back before totally telling all. I have done both journals and blogs, and in my journals I sometimes fantasize about my son, daughter, or husband reading the personal details of my love for them after my death. The material is so personal I cannot say it all out loud. If the material is never found, that is OK too. On the other hand, a blog can be accessed as a common everyday blurb, which does not get the intensity or depth my journals do. In addition, I add cut outs, ink sketches, texture and other tactile objects to my journals, making them a complete work of art. I can’t replicate them on-line. Just as an e-book doesn’t satisfy me tactially, neither does a blog.

  6. chrispossessky

    Thanks for the article. My current stash of books are non-fiction related to WWII, but I may step into fiction to pick up The Unfinished Work…

  7. DianaShallard

    I like your points about blogs being public, but it’s a good reminder that there’s a “restricted” option as well. The same is true for Facebook. It’s where we often post the milestones, photos and funny kid moments in our family’s lives, and without realizing it (or perhaps with total self-awareness for some), we are indeed creating journals that we can look back on — if we take time to do so.

    I don’t remember the title right now, but I heard on the radio an interview with an author whose mom bequeathed her library of journals to her, not to be opened until the elder’s passing. The author honored the wish, and eventually opened the jounals to find they were all completely blank. The mother had intentionally, thoughtfully purchased beautiful bound books and written nothing inside! For all the private matters journals hold inside, perhaps for some, the pressure to write it all down is just too much. Maybe for them, the “public” option would in fact prove easier.

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