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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.)

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
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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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