A Nobel Prize Winner’s Tip For Memoir Writers

Category: Writing Advice

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Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

“It is a mistake to intend to write only very important things in a journal. That is not its justification.” ~ Andre Gide

Over the course of four decades of journal writing I’ve frequently enjoyed reading other writers’ journals. Since what I write about is often in response to what I’m reading, it’s not surprising to have found this Gide quote above in one of my own journals from the early nineties.

Nobel prize winning author Andre Gide, once significant and pretty much now forgotten, wrote near eighty books. As editor of The New French Revue he introduced the world to many significant writers in the first half of the twentieth century.

As a journal writer myself, who once nurtured the hope of being significant in literature, I read the journals of other writers from Fitzgerald and Gide to Thomas Mann and a number of lesser lights. These experiences were instructive, Gide’s four volumes being the most rewarding and insightful of all.

The Gide quote was useful for me in the following manner. If you only permit yourself to write thoughts of world-class, earth-shattering significance, you will in short order become paralyzed by the effort. Sure, it’s good to have high standards, and a journal can be useful in training one to capture ideas and emotions that are indefinite and ambiguous, but if today’s journal note or blog entry has to be the most significant thing you’ve ever captured in words, always pushing and stretching like that will eventually tire you out. It will not only sap your joy, but also stifle you.

Time and again I have found that having recorded an insight here, a quote there, proved to be exceedingly valuable later. On one occasion my brother had an insight during group therapy while working on his Masters in Psychology. When he called to tell me about it, I recorded it in my journal. 20 years later he had forgotten it completely whereas I still found it compelling.

A similar thing happened when another brother of mine went to visit my father in intensive care after Dad had had a heart attack. A misunderstanding occurred and I penned the event into my journal that day. Years later he had forgotten it until I reminded him recently.

These were both rather small things in a sense. The journal helped to retain their vitality.

As an artist I found it to be a liberating attitude when I didn’t have to paint a masterpiece with every canvas. When I was young I held a belief that whatever I do next has to be the most significant thing I have ever painted. Later in life, instead of striving to produce masterpieces every time my pen touches paper or brush smears paint on a surface, I can take pleasure again in the act of creative discovery. And I can even throw some of it in the trash.

A portion of this was originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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