The Most Important Writing We Do

I always get a little more introspective around the New Year.  (I know it took me a few weeks to get this posted here, but,  hey, it’s still January.)  Lately I’ve been asking myself, “Laura” –yes, I do talk to myself and, sometimes, address myself–“Laura, what books have impacted you the most in your life? What books ended up being the most important?”

My answers surprised me.

Besides the Book of Mormon and other scriptures (which I’ve been imbibing my entire life), I would have to say the first books to really impact me were the ones I read when I was in middle school.  Someone introduced me to Madeleine L’Engle and I was hooked. I read everything she wrote.  Even her memoir about marriage (It was entitled Two Part Invention. I still think that is such a great metaphor.).  Even her journals–especially her journals.  On bad days I still pick up my worn copy of A Circle of Quiet, which I stole–really!– from my sister, and search for comforting passages. I’ve actually been known to sleep with it. As if it were my teddy bear. (We’ve already covered the fact that I’m a little strange, right?)

Other books that have stayed with me, that have changed the way I think, are Elie Weisel’s Night and Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz (my parents say I have sympathy survivor guilt like a husband gains sympathy pregnancy weight), Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark,  Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Carol Lynn Pearson’s Goodbye I Love You,  Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing,  and C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.

But the books that have meant the most to me are actually not books at all. Well, not in the technical/published sense of the word.  The books that have meant the most to me are journals:

*My grandmother’s journals. Reading how she struggled through and survived her mood disorder gives me hope for mine. The first book I ever wrote was about her. (Well, if you don’t count the one I wrote in the fifth grade about my tonsilectomy.  I even illustrated that one. Ewww.)

*My pioneer ancestors’ journals. If you want the real story about polygamy, go straight to the source! Although, I have to warn you, it’s not as salacious as some people would have you think.

*Even my own mother’s journal (which is actually only a few pages and I also stole–really!).

Those are the books I find my mind constantly returning to. Those are the books that have most shaped my thinking and feeling. Those are the books that mean the most to me.

So, while we are all in the busy-ness of our new resolutions and new ideas I hope we will all take a moment to sit down and pen a letter to our children or try to sum up the last year in a few paragraphs or just write down how you feel at the exact moment your fingers hit the keyboard.  Just write something.  Someone somewhere is going to want to read it. My grandmother died when I was four years old. She hardly knew me and certainly never had me in mind when she wrote. But I have benefited immensely from her experiences. She has been a  much needed friend in some dark, dark times.

If one measure of literary greatness is influence then writing about yourself for those you love is a great way to ensure a long lasting literary legacy. I think it’s no coincedence that most of my influential “real”  books are memoirs. There’s power in telling our own stories, warts and all,  in our own words. In all probability, it is the most important writing we’ll ever do.

7 thoughts on “The Most Important Writing We Do”

  1. Laura,
    Very nice. I too am a fan of A Circle of Quiet. I still look back very fondly on helping to get Madeleine L’Engle out to BYU as a forum speaker.

  2. .

    Blogging has sapped much of my journal-writing mojo, but I figure the couple dozen volumes I’ve already filled should take care of at least the grandchildren.

  3. Jonathon–Thanks! Is there a transcript of ML visit? I’d love to read it 🙂

    Th.–I know what you mean about blogging. I actual printed off a bunch of my more personal posts (from my other blog and stuck them in my journal.

    I wonder about the two dozen journals thing. My grandmother left a whole pile of journals and, to be honest, I’m the ONLY person who has read them all. That was one reason why I wrote the book about her–so that all her other grandkids would have a clue as to who she was. So, you know, not to knock your two dozen journals but here’s hoping someone will be willing to edit them and abridge them for you! *winks*

  4. Sadly, I don’t know whether there was a transcript–or more accurately, where to find one (since I’m sure there must have been).

    Looking on the Internet, it looks like she gave the 1999 Commencement address at BYU. However, the Forum address she gave would have been in March or April of 1989, or 1990, I think. I’m guessing 1989.

  5. I started keeping a commonplace book near the end of my undergrad career and I’ve since filled probably ten to twelve pocket-size notebooks with my writing (three lines of written text per ruled line—yes, I write very small). My observations come in various shades: this is where I work and rework poems, capture passing thoughts, flesh out ideas for essays, take notes, collect quotations, work out frustrations, set goals, etc. And while I don’t know if these little volumes will ever make a difference in anyone else’s life, the process of keeping a commonplace book (which I now carry in a sleek, pocket-sized, zippered cowhide case from Daytimer that doubles as my wallet) has surely enhanced mine.

    Maybe someday I’ll get around to translating my collection into a different, more readable format, something, perhaps, more fit for posterity. But for now, I’m content that my daughters (five and three) feel compelled to follow my lead and to carry their notebooks with them almost everywhere we go. (They have more scribbled in volumes than I do!) If that’s something they continue for the rest of their lives (writing in them, of course, as they learn to write—the five-year old’s getting there), I’ll consider my journal-keeping legacy complete.

  6. When I consider how much of the scriptures are made up of (essentially) journals, letters, and other kinds of not-necessarily-formal writings, I think our journal keeping may have some eternal implications beyond what it does for posterity.

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