When pressed to define the distinction between a journal entry and a life story, I reply that in general, journal entries are more spontaneous, often raw and undigested, reports of events and reactions. The journal entry is grapes straight from the vine, newly stomped into juice. Freshly pressed grape juice is a delight to the taste buds.
The life story, at its best, is also grape juice, but juice that has fermented, then aged in oaken barrels for long enough to fully develop and mellow. This grape juice takes on overtones of the aging barrel wood, the yeast that ferments it, and all sorts of other factors. This juice delights not only the taste buds, but the soul. (When consumed in moderation....)
Life events are similar. We react one way today, and perhaps quite another way in a year or five or twenty. Over time we come to see deeper meaning and connections between the stories in our lives, lending rich overtones of insight and wisdom as we tell and retell them.
This is why many “experts” recommend that you hold off writing stories until the material has fermented and mellowed into the heady wine of experience. I generally agree with this thinking, but I also realize that some of my best stories have been impromptu blurts shortly after the fact. Follow your own heart in this respect.
The other day I discovered that even though you may wait for years or decades to write a story that seems fully developed, it may mature even further after it’s lain aside on paper for a year or few. Several years ago I wrote a story about a day I spent helping my mother with some painting over twenty years earlier. A week ago I mentioned this story to a friend and a sudden mental strobe light nearly blinded me. I had never connected the topic of conversation early in the story with an outburst from my mother later in the day. I’d always been baffled by her tirade. Suddenly I saw that it was a direct, if delayed, reaction to something I’d said. Lots of dots suddenly connected into a complex picture. That was mind boggling!
I never ever would have made these connections if I hadn’t written the story in the first place.I wrote it somewhat randomly because I’d been thinking about the morning and wanted to write it down. Years later, that random story fell into place as a key piece in a larger puzzle. The work of thinking it through enough to write about it was critical in the process. My strong hunch is that in this case, the delay in initial writing was important, but this may not always be so.
Have you ever read something you wrote years ago and seen it quite differently in retrospect? Perhaps if you write some stories that you don’t quite understand today, they will fall into place for you as mine did for me, and it won’t matter if they are journal entries or life stories.
And here we have yet another reason to write our stories, sooner or later: to help us connect our own dots.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal