A diarist's dilemma - what do you do with your personal papers?

Do you keep a journal? Or a diary? Or a book of scribblings?  I've been writing reflections down since I was ten years old and they tend to accumulate, these half-finished blank books.  The question is what do you do with all of them?

Have you seen the new book called  Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters?  Someone's taken  scribblings Marilyn Monroe left behind - recipes, to do lists, poetry written on the back of envelopes - and published them as a book.  It's beautiful, moving, sad, revealing and extraneous all in one. And it gets me thinking, what about me, what about my papers - what do I want to leave behind? I want to ask your opinion on it if you are a diarist like me...

What do you do with all of your old papers?

A) Keep them all and when you pass on leave them to whomever might wish to peruse?

B) Edit them, sifting out the chaff, eliminating to-do lists, embarrassing moments, and bad poetry and only retaining the essentials?

C) Destroy them all? Preferably by fire.

I suppose it's partly a question of how we treat our past.  I'm opting to edit.  My journals sometimes reflect the worst parts of me, the days when I was most blue and wrote it out as a release. I don't want my legacy to be girlish rantings, egocentric misunderstandings, foolish crushes and immature obsessions.  And I don't want to hang on to the darkest parts of my past either, conjuring them up and bringing them into my present.  I've moved on and I live here and now - not then. And yet these pieces of paper bring that past self back, weighing me down.

You could argue the flip side, that past evidence of immaturity and foolishness and sadness can serve to remind you of how you've grown, how your life is improved, how much you have to be grateful for, and how things are never as dire as they seem when you're right in the middle of them.  And you could also argue that flaws and quirks make us uniquely human, and to edit is to reject my own imperfection that's part of being human.

So, what do you think? How do you treat your old papers?  Are you afraid of other people reading them out of context? Do you enjoy looking back or does it sometimes make you sad?


  1. Great question. I've never kept a daily diary, never been a regular writer, although I knew I had a few notebooks stashed here and there. Imagine my surprise to discover with this move just how many notebooks!

    I've finally collected them all into one place - a large plastic laundry tub in my bedroom. Some of them are painful to look at - as in painfully embarrassing - silly, self-indulgent, overly emotional or sentimental. But there are nuggets occasionally and for now, I'll just keep them all as they are. Maybe I'll do something with them someday.

    It's seems unfair for the me of now to edit the me of yesterday because the me of tomorrow might think differently. It's all so subjective. I say you gotta keep the good and the bad to know the whole person. Even the embarrassing parts remind me of events, thoughts, feelings I've long forgotten but maybe shouldn't have.

  2. Hello - I just found you blog and had to comment when I read this. Although I have never really kept a diary I do have quite a few sketchbooks that I also would occasionally write in and record some drama or heartbreak. I too, have been pondering what to do with these...some of the drawing are terrible, some ideas are pretty good and many have only half of the pages filled-up. Yet it seems weird to use them now - 10 or 20 years later. It also seems hard to throw them out. I am confused about what I would feel if someone read them, probably embarassment. Is that why Emily Dickenson hid hundreds of her poems? Thanks for your post - I think I will spend some time and really re-visit these books and the glimpses into my past, no matter how awkward. Hopefully, I can figure out what to do with them...hope you do too.

  3. Amy B, as usual you prove to be Miss Insightful. I appreciate the perspective. It's all so interesting... Who "are" we, anyway? Our self yesterday, today, tomorrow, or all at once? I tend to feel that I am myself in this present moment. I likely need a philosophy degree to answer this question with any credibility.

    vland, lovely to meet you! It's comforting to know even Emily Dickinson hid her papers ;-)

  4. So I edit.. I keep the stuff I want to remember, and get rid of the stuff that would make me embarassed if someone else found it. Tho that may take me years, as I have just recently tossed out my preschool art, kindergarden homework and the like while going through my mom's house. What I did keep was all of my creative writing - no matter what age. It sucks, but it's fun to read and watch "my voice" as I grew.