Writing Diaries for Our Future Selves

“If you don’t tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” ~ Virginia Woolf, “The Leaning Tower”

One of the reasons I am looking forward to a career pivot in a few weeks is having more time to devote to the life of my great aunt Hattie, as told through the 77 volumes of her diaries (1920-1957). Hattie’s diary entries pull me into her world as no other kind of writing can, and I continue to ask myself one question: Why did she write these pages each and every day for over thirty-seven years?

Photo of Virginia WoolfOne clue might come from one of Hattie’s contemporaries, English author and diarist Virginia Woolf, whose birthday is today. Woolf described her own diaries as “rough and random,” “often so ungrammatical, and crying for a world altered,” and recorded at a “rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles.” She kept at this furious exercise in part for the benefit of her future self, for the “Virginia Woolf at the age of 50” sitting “down to build her memoirs out of these books”:

“[I]f it were not written rather faster than the fastest type-writing, if I stopped and took thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap.”


“In spite of some tremors I think I shall go on with this diary for the present…. I fancy old Virginia, putting on her spectacles to read of March 1920 will decidedly wish me to continue.” Read More at Brain Pickings

Hattie may have had no ambitions to write a memoir, but I am convinced that she found comfort in her diaries. I do know that she re-read and even rewrote some of the entries, and she often remarked on the passage of time, using her own words as mile markers of both history and personal growth.

Woolf Library Way
Library Way, New York (photo by author)

Photo of Virginia Woolf by George Charles Beresford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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