This time last year I was on an adventure of a lifetime, the first one that I had taken on my own and it was a given that I take a notebook to write about my experience. My plan was to walk for fifty days to celebrate fifty years of life, then put the experience into a book when I returned.
Exactly one year today, I set off on a pilgrim walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago carrying an eight-kilogram pack. I planned to walk around 20 kilometres per day until I reached Santiago, which was 800 kilometres away.
I had big plans to write voraciously about my journey. I knew that I’d have plenty of time in the afternoons when I had finished walking for the day. It was an easy schedule: walk from seven am until about two pm with breaks, then write in the afternoon after a little rest, food and shower. Easy.
The first day I wrote brief notes because I was jet-lagged and disorientated. The next day wasn’t much more. And so it continued. Each day I’d sit down to write but I was so physically exhausted that I could only get down the important information or a few words to highlight my state of mind. I was disappointed by this because in the lead up I was excited about having time to write some kind of manifesto on this walk. Not only was I tired but there was also a lot to see and do and people to talk to. I found myself living in the moment.
So what about this wonderful journal that was going to be full of so many of my thoughts and be a really interesting read? I berated myself a bit then decided to continue to live in the moment, write daily in my notebook and see how it came out in the end. This meant that I could really enjoy what I was experiencing.
Back home, the journal was transcribed so that I had a draft to look at. It was pretty sparse, only about 12,000 words. But each day I had written something that I could use as an anchor because as soon as I read a page entry, the whole day came flooding back to me. Even months after my return, this meant that I could expand on what I had written with fresh energy. The ‘succinct’ entries that I had made were not at all wasted. Phew.
What did I learn? First, it’s better to actually live the experience rather than write about it or take a million photos because it ingrains the memory of it better. Second, just a few choice words can tell you so much. From these words I can dig into my memory bank and expand on them with much more creativity than when I was exhausted.
This has been a very interesting process. I haven’t used a journal to create content for a book before. And possibly the time distance that I now have helps me in the processing of the whole event. Now I’m making decisions about what to leave in and what to take out. How raw do I want it to be? We’ll have to wait for the finished book to find out, hopefully in a few months.
Not everyone wants people to read their journal. Usually it’s just a great way to process what’s happening in our life at the time. But there are many people who have kept a journal for big parts of their life and at some stage they may think about writing a biography or memoir. The journal then becomes a very important resource.
I’m looking forward to exploring life writing more at a seminar in May. The Society of Women Writers Victoria will be hosting a Life Writing Seminar on Saturday 11th May at Library at the Dock. Check it out here if this is something that you’ve been wanting to do.