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Thursday, 6 November 2014

On Keeping A Journal


I’ve kept a daily journal now for twenty years (plus a few months). I started when I got my first desk-top computer in 1994. I was forty-five years old. The early volumes are fat, their content exceeding 100,000 words annually. I printed those out and have stored them in the attic. In later years – perhaps as a result of my life becoming a little more ordered – I found I was cranking out a more modest 50-70,000 words. Most of those volumes are stored on the p.c., and backed up on CD.

Since I started writing a blog I’ve found it harder to maintain the discipline of a daily update. Perhaps it has become less important. Let me correct that: the reason these blog entries have become less frequent is that I decided my journal was important to me.

I’m not sure what first motivated me to keep a daily record of my life. Like a lot of people, I had kept some kind of a diary in my younger days, but only very occasionally and erratically. I know that what I have put in my  journals over the past couple of decades has helped me in various ways to work out my feelings about what was going on my life. Some entries, I am sure, would make me go hot and cold all over were I to dig them out today. They fulfil one very useful function, however, that of a providing me with a simple record. When did I work on this or that article, story, script or book? When did I walk a particular footpath? Or last see a certain friend? Visit a certain town?

Beyond those specifics, and because the  journals span the twenty years during which I have made a living as a writer, I find it immensely helpful to have a record of my  endeavours to stay afloat financially. Buried away in their pages are accounts of some pretty difficult times – times of constant rejection, high hopes and broken promises. In 1999, shortly before I was hired as a script-writer on Britain’s number two TV soap opera, Emmerdale, I was indebted to the tune of some £17,000 – a fact that didn’t become clear to me until some time later when I scrolled back, read the evidence and did the sums. I paid that lot back within six months – to the considerable surprise of one or two debtors, who professed to have forgotten about the loans they’d made to me. Maybe they should have kept journals.

The journals’ greatest use, however, has been in providing me with a record of just how difficult it was in the early days. Back in about 1999 or 2000 I recorded – and I remember deciding to record this – a list of some 32 projects which were still supposedly `live`. These included ideas for radio programmes I was discussing with the BBC; feature ideas that magazine editors were considering – sometimes for as long as two years; short and long fictions, written and merely outlined, that I was trying to sell, and of course a number of ongoing debates with corporate entities who were considering my proposals to write their histories. What always intrigues me about these failed ideas is that I invariably seemed to strike pay-dirt after a call from out of the blue – from a place I hadn’t even tried, a publisher I knew nothing about. How else would I get a commission to write the history of The 41 Club? To ghost the autobiography of a cricketer? To write seven volumes on the life of a country policeman? Or, at the other end of the scale, to write a best man’s speech, or some kid’s application to a prestigious medical school?

I suppose I imagine that there might come a day when someone, somewhere, might like to read about one writer’s attempt to work the oracle – to conjure up enough paying work to allow himself to stay home and do the thing any writer loves best, and that that person will have my journals at his or her disposal.