A big welcome to Kerry Ryan of Write like a Grrrl. This week Kerry is taking over Antidiary where she’ll be offering advice and encouragement to help you get your words on the page.
Why should I bother writing about my life?
Why would anyone be interested?
I hear this a lot from my students. And my answer is always the same: because your voice matters. No one has lived quite like you. Your experience of life is absolutely unique. And so leaving a record of your feelings, your thoughts and how you engage with the world is one of the most important things you can do. And what better way of doing it than with Anti-diary?
Yesterday on the cliff path, I passed an elderly woman on a mobility scooter. The weather was good and so she had parked up to enjoy the sun. By her side on a rock, she’d placed her tartan flask and her Clarks sandals. Her bare feet were stretched out towards the sun and—this is what caught my eye—her toenails were painted the brightest, most luminous yellow. They sparkled. They glittered. I wondered who’d painted them. Perhaps her carer. Or her grand-daughter or grandson. Or perhaps she did it herself before she loaded up her mobility scooter and went promenading along the Leas.
She must have caught me looking because she slid her sunglasses down her nose and, cool as Cardi B, winked at me, then pushed her shades up and tilted her face back to the sun, a little half-smile on her lips. I laughed as I walked down to the shore where I stood at the sea wondering what her life had been, what her life was now, and how my own future might unfold.
This is the power of the written word
The briefest of exchanges. One of those small dramas of daily life. An ordinary moment yet a moment with impact: it made me think, feel. There was connection. Yet if I hadn’t just written that moment down and shared it with you, it would have been lost forever. Now it lives on for a little longer inside your head. Isn’t that amazing?
This is the power of language. This is the power of the written word. And with Anti-diary we can share our small daily dramas, the connections and disconnections, the joys, hopes and sorrows. We can leave a record how our unique selves experience these unique times.
Samuel Pepys’s diary was written in the 17th century and is still read today. That he’s famous, that Waterstones stock his diaries hundreds of years later is not what matters. What matters is that we have a record of how someone lived and loved during the English restoration. No intimate detail is spared. We know, for example, that when Pepys was staying at someone’s house, the maid forgot to leave out a chamberpot for him and so instead of waking the whole house to find one, he crapped in the fireplace. Twice.
I’m not suggesting you share your adventures with chamberpots though with Anti-diary you can write whatever you want—but what you can and should do is share how you experience these strange times. Our times. While there’s no Great Fire of London as in Pepys’ day, the world does feel fairly combustible. So write, rant, use Anti-diary to detail how life is for you right here, right now. Your thoughts, feelings, observations. Your present or your past. Your hopes for the future.
Writing is cathartic
You don’t have to be fancy. You don’t have to put on your bow tie. You don’t have to smoke a pipe and wear a polo neck. Write in your own voice. What readers connect with is honesty and authenticity. Make it real. Make it you. Besides, you can always write anonymously!
And the act of writing itself will benefit you. Writing is cathartic. It heals. It soothes. This, I’m pleased to say, is actual scientific fact. Writing strengthens your immune system. Getting words down on the page has been shown to heal wounds faster, boost mental resilience and help process trauma. Having worked with abuse survivors, I’ve witnessed first-hand how writing can release stress and foster strength and confidence. As Margaret Atwood wrote: A word after a word is power.
So write. Write what you want, how you want. Enjoy it. There are no rules. But if you’d like a little guidance then why not write about an exchange you had today or yesterday with a stranger or someone you don’t know very well? It might be the guy at the Lidls check-out or the bus driver on the Number 76 or a mum at the school gates. What happened? What did you talk about? How did it make you feel/think? Consider the five senses. What could you smell/hear/taste/touch/see? Write freely and without fear.
I’ll be back later on in the week with more on voice, resilience and the joy of details. Until then, have fun and happy writing!
Kerry is the founder of Write like a Grrrl which offers creative writing courses for women & NB in partnership with For Book’s Sake in the UK. Kerry’s Write like a Grrrl courses are now taught all over the world and Kerry has facilitated workshops across the UK, in Ireland and Russia. Her writing has been featured in various publications including Steer, The Manchester Review, the Kenyon Review and Spilling Ink. Her play Trust was recently performed at the Gulbenkian Theatre.