It’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure to read about famous people’s lives in their own words. Maybe it’s because they hold a mirror up to our own experiences, aspirations, fears, or just to the times. Bottom line is, reading another person’s innermost thoughts, famous or not, makes us feel less ashamed of our own and consequently, less alone. But that extra bit of cultural status that comes from being a celebrity makes their very human foibles all the more validating. Stars—they’re just like us?
Take, for example, John Cheever. Wouldn’t a struggling, budding writer take solace in this?
“Loneliness I taste. The chair I sit in, the room, the house, none of this has substance. I think of Hemingway, what we remember of his work is not so much the color of the sky as it is the absolute taste of loneliness. Loneliness is not, I think, an absolute, but its taste is more powerful than any other. I think that endeavoring to be a serious writer is quite a dangerous career.”
Or in Susan Sontag’s list of things she had yet to read?
“There are so many books and plays and stories I have to read—Here are just a few:
The Island Within–Ludwig Lewisohn
Esther Waters–George Moore
Diary of a Writer–Dostoyevsky
Against the Grain–Huysmans
The Disciple–Paul Bourget
. . .
Poems of Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, Tibullus, Heine, Pushkin, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Apollinaire
Plays of Synge, O’Ne ill, Calderon, Shaw, Hellmann. . .”
There are countless published diaries by some of your favorite writers, painters, and scientists that could give you a window into their lives and process. But if you’re not interested in spending Dear Diary Day (Sept. 22) invading other people’s privacy or accessing your own memories or subconscious thoughts via dream journaling, another option is Morning Pages. This practice, coined by Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way), offers some of the same benefits as meditation, clearing your mind so that you can get to the tasks at hand. And it only takes 750 words a day.
If you’re looking for something that will give you more material results, keeping a work diary can help you get ahead in your professional life by preventing your self-doubt from getting in the way of results. Next time you’re frustrated by a project that seems to be going nowhere, journal about it!