Wednesday, June 07, 2006
The Intended Audience for Diaries and Blogs
Dorothy W. at Of Books and Bicycles has been reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries and, following from them, contemplating parallels and distinctions between diaries and blogs. In her latest post on this topic, she addresses the matter of audience. I began drafting a comment in response and found it quickly expanded into a post of my own.
In my diaries, or journals (that term seems to me to more accurately reflect what they have become), I write exclusively for myself. However, this has not always been the case. I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was ten-years-old and in the very first one there’s a preface addressed to the future reader. Who did I imagine this future reader to be? All those who would be interested in my childhood later when I became a famous writer, of course. Delusions of grandeur! This preface was viciously crossed out and annotated with contemptuous margin notes by my twelve-year-old self.
By then I had reconceived my diary as a private space in which to impart secrets. Yet I still wasn’t writing wholly for myself. You see, I didn’t just embellish my experiences in my adolescent diaries, I made things up. In her comment on Dorothy’s post, litlove wrote of sanitizing her diary in case her mother should read it. If my mother had read my diary, I would have been in serious trouble for things that I hadn’t actually done. Who was I trying to deceive? To my knowledge the only person who ever read those diaries was my summer camp nemesis who did so on the sly. She believed my fictions and tarnished my reputation accordingly. She was definitely not my intended audience, though I did address a few diary entries expressly to her thereafter. I suppose it’s possible that it was just for me, that in my diary I was trying on a tough girl persona that I aspired to at the time. It used to make me squirm to reread those entries but it’s occurred to me since that in fictionalizing myself in that way I was beginning to learn how to write stories. Certainly those diaries are an invaluable resource to me now when I try to tap into the thoughts and emotions of teenage characters in my fiction.
In my late teens I stopped striving for coherent narrative and my diaries became journals. They contain bits of description, philosophical ramblings, quotations that interest or inspire me, lists of books read or to be read, snippets of conversations overheard, broad plot outlines and beginnings of first drafts of stories. This is still the sort of journal that I keep when I keep a journal and there’s no question in my mind that it’s for me alone. It’s a place to work things through and try things out. Something may start in the journal that I later transform into something for public consumption, but the journal itself is just raw material, for my eyes only.
My blog is a different story. From the beginning it was intended for an audience although initially I didn’t realize how broad an audience that could be. I thought that a blog would be a great way to share book recommendations with a few friends. I was amazed and delighted when I belatedly discovered the extent of the litblog universe—so many quality blogs to read and so many avid readers with whom to discuss books and writing. My blog still serves as the forum for book reviews that I originally envisioned, but now the reviews are interspersed with posts that are essentially thoughts-in-progress which I hope will elicit, and I know will benefit from, input from others, and also posts like this one which are responses to other blogger’s posts, my contribution to the ongoing conversation.
There’s plenty of overlap between journals and blogs, but for me there’s no question that the intended audience for each is quite different.