“I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living.”
- The Journals of Sylvia Plath, Sylvia Plath
I clearly remember the first time I felt the urge to write. I had just finished reading a book written by a Portuguese author called Alice Vieira. It was a June afternoon; the sun was bright, the birds where chirping and my house was silent. As soon as I finished it, my eyes were filled with tears, but I couldn’t explain why. In fact, I don’t remember the plot very well, but I recall exactly the emotions that emerged from reading it: I felt as if my body was flying, carried by all the words I had just read, and everything was in its right place.
After completing this book, I felt I needed to write. Deep down, my soul and mind had just changed, and from that moment on I knew that I would always feel words, sentences and ideas floating around me like tiny and invisible dust particles. I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote a poem. I have never shared those words, but I still remember the feeling of writing them, the urge of translating into words something that was inside of me. I will always feel grateful to Alice Vieira for creating something that made me feel that way.
From that day on, I felt compelled to write. But what should I write about? During the 90s, many young girls would keep a journal. At the same time, there were some popular works regarding personal diaries, such as “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole” or “The Princess Diaries” series. Eventually I thought it would be nice to keep a journal, but soon I felt it was a pointless activity. I hated explaining what I had done, the conversations I had had and the activities I had enrolled in. Who would want to know that? I also hated the secrecy behind writing a journal. Everyone would say a journal was supposed to contain secrets about crushes - and I hated that notion. I was too shy to write about my juvenile crushes or even my future plans or projects, even though I was an only child and the odds of someone reading it besides me were almost zero. Even so, I tried really hard to maintain a diary, but I would always give up after a few days.
So I gave up writing journals. Instead, I began writing short stories, poems and some fantasy stories drafts that I’d keep to myself. But everything changed when medical school started. My mind was filled with thoughts regarding studying and working. The urge to write still lived in me, but every time I sat down to write something I would end up feeling I should be studying. Something drained me; the pressure of studying, the pressure of finishing medical school without failing, the pressure of earning my own money. All the while every single person would assure me that everything would to be better as soon as I’d finish my medical degree. I would finally have time to write.
Today, I am a medical resident and I still struggle. My work still drains me. There is never enough time. Every time I want to write, I end up feeling I should be studying, doing research work or reading the most recent paper about some subject. People often state there is enough time to work and to write, as long as you are organized and have enough willpower. Many writers did that; they worked and they wrote (Haruki Murakami, for instance, sat down every night after working at the bar he owned with his wife.) Some of them would not sleep in order to write. If you choose to read a book about being an author, you will eventually stumble with some generic sayings, such as: “you have to spend X daily hours writing” or “if you want to pursue a writing career, you have to give up on everything and start writing. There are no excuses.”
In my opinion, however, this is not as easy as it might sound. I tried many things: I started waking up two hours earlier in order to write. When that didn’t work, I started going to bed two hours later. I sat down every single day to write a certain number of words. I used my vacation period to write. I read plenty of books about writing, organization and productivity. But nothing worked, because I always had something to study, something to finish at work and something to clean at home. Eventually, frustration started piling up. I would cry, shout or get frustrated with everything. I could not help feeling that something - my job, my inability, my lack of courage - was preventing me from writing. So instead of forcing myself to write a story, I opted to write a personal journal.
As I have stated before, I did not enjoy the experience of writing a journal while I was a teenager, but I had just finished reading some interesting journals, such as Anne Truitt’s “Daybook, the Journal of an Artist”, Franz Kafka's Diaries and Susan Sontag’s “Reborn: Journals and Notebooks”. Keeping a diary or a personal notebook may have plenty of advantages. Many authors wrote about this theme: Joan Didion, Elena Ferrante, Virginia Woolf are some examples. I wanted the discipline of writing something every day, but I could not spend too many hours writing. Instead, I decided to write a few lines every day. And so, ever since 2017, I have kept a five year journal.
I have learned many things from this exercise. First, most of my days are filled with work. There are days when I only write a few sentences: “I have worked all day. Nothing else happened.” I’ve found that sometimes I write almost the exact words I did a year before. But sometimes I write something that, at that moment, made absolute sense. Sometimes I write down ideas I just had for a story. Sometimes I write a description about that foggy December morning, the way the sun got through the mist and illuminated the green meadow. Sometimes I write about the images that arose after hearing a certain song or a movie. Sometimes I write down short thoughts about art or books or something similar that I use in this blog. Sometimes I just write about things - things that often inspire and don’t inspire me. I have to write, I have to keep writing. And sometimes I just write down reflections to find myself in those words.
This is why I keep a daily journal: to find myself in those words. In a society where we are always running late for work, where we are always asked to do more and more, where the pressure of being excellent sometimes subdues our personal objectives and beliefs, I struggle to keep myself alive. I must struggle to keep alive that girl who cried when she read a book and felt the urge to write a poem. I must find her, I must remember she still lives and is heard everyday.
Perhaps someday I will have the courage to do that.
“Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. (…) Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.”
- Neil Gaiman’s Journal, Neil Gaiman