A journal is not a (good) book

Here’s something different:  Notes From My Phone* a self-portrait in her twenties is a compilation of notes Michelle Junot wrote on her cell phone’s notepad app. She wrote during her college years, posting her thoughts and prayers and grocery lists during “formative years of her life.” Two years later she came across the notes, bringing her back in time. A friend liked them enough to want to publish them, so a short book was born. Reviewers say it is honest and funny and captures life in all its mess and beauty, to paraphrase.

Have you thought of publishing your journal notes, or the old love letters between your parents, or even your old blog posts? Well, don’t publish them raw and unedited and in their entirety. Michelle had 500 notes and they were culled down to 180 of the better ones, leaving out the “self-indulgent and totally woe is me” ones and keeping the ones that “told a larger story,” the ones that covered shared human experiences. In another example, a WWI veteran’s 400 pages of notes were edited down to a 157-page book. I chopped down my Korean War veteran friend’s notes to about 215 pages, leaving out any stories that said nothing new.

The average journal-writer or letter-writer is not composing essays she/he plans to publish. To be interesting to strangers (and even family), a lot of editing needs to happen. A famous piece of writing advice is by Elmore Leonard:  I try to cut out the parts that people skip. You may think everything is important, but readers will not. What is the reason you want to publish? What do you want readers to learn, understand, experience? Gather the entries or letters that are most meaningful to what this overall message or theme is and then edit out the boring parts. You will probably need to add context, but what will be left after pruning is much easier and more enjoyable to read.

Lafayette-born author found a memoir in her smartphone’s notes

Sault teacher writes first book, turns soldier’s memoir into a ‘must read’

The art of memoir and writing about history



About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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