If there’s one thing I love, it is learning about other people’s experiences on this life journey. It’s a way to learn new ideas and share in compassion with the obstacles, joys and events that mold us into our unique self. I was very intrigued when Meghan Hill reached out to me about her memoirs that she is publishing from her lifetime of journals. Not everyone has the bravery to share so willingly with strangers, but I think it’s an action more of us should practice.
Why I am Publishing a Lifetime of My Personal Journals
By Meghan McDonnell
In December 2015, I published Minor, Novice, and Limbo, the first three volumes in a series of ongoing journals I have been writing since I was eight years old. I’m 36 now and currently at work on the next 25 books in this series. Each one is roughly 80,000 words and I will continue publishing them until I have caught up to present day. The journals are an ongoing autobiography. They are an invitation to readers to engage with the arc of an internal life (mind, heart, and soul) of an American woman from childhood up through adolescence and into adulthood.
Writing is the only thing I have ever done consistently. I can’t help but record life. I feel compelled and it doesn’t feel like a choice. As for why I am publishing what I write, it’s similar to what George Mallory said when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest: “Because it is there.” My words and stories are here and I want to share them with people in hopes that they will feel known, understood, less alone, and more human. It would please me greatly if the journals inspire people to write more and share their own experiences as a means of catharsis, preservation, and connection. Girls and young women often struggle to find their voice and their place in the world. The journals are a blueprint for how I found mine.
Over the years, my loved ones have inquired, “How’s the writing going?” They know I write all the time and I think they wonder when I will publish a novel. My sister told me no one will read what I write as long as it sits in journals lined up on my bookshelves. Whenever my brother and I talk, he asks me what I’m doing for work. Depending on the month or year, I say waiting tables, doing admin for a law firm, making bookmarks, or whatever else has constituted my checkered job history. He listens and always says, “Well, that’s for the meantime. But we all know you’re a writer.” And in June 2013 at an annual girls’ weekend, one of my oldest friends made a suggestion: “What if you published your early journals serially? My niece is twelve and she’d appreciate reading the thoughts of another young girl.” This set something dormant off in me. I thought, “Why publish just the early ones? Why not publish all of them?” Within a month, I began.
I had no idea what I was getting into. I had published an ebook on Amazon two years prior, a book about organizing. I had several years of experience as an organizer and enjoyed going into people’s homes and helping them through the physical and emotional process of editing and refining their spaces. This was a safe topic for me to try my hand at writing a book about. I learned a lot and sold a few thousand copies. But when I started on the journal project, I had a host of new problems and questions to address:
- Will anyone care or read them? (I’m not famous or distinguished.)
- What’s the point? (I don’t know of anyone who has ever done this.)
- Is there value or meaning in all these words? (This may be self-indulgent and narcissistic.)
- Why can’t I stop writing? (I’m not a real writer because I don’t write novels and I’m not a columnist or reporter, but I write every day.)
- Is this what I am meant to do with my life? (All I want to do is write.)
- Then the more pressing questions:
- How will I protect the identities of the people I love who are written on almost every page?
- What are my ethical and legal responsibilities?
- Will I publish anything that could hurt someone in any way?
I still don’t have answers to some of these questions. They morph and change throughout the process. This is my great experiment. I love every aspect of it. It has driven me to obsession. At times, I have resented my inability to stop working on it or thinking about it. I can’t get enough of it. Restlessness and a desire for purpose have defined most of my adulthood. Working on the journals has quieted these habits of being. I found something that keeps my interest and attention and that I can work on for endless hours with focus and precision. I have to believe it’s for something larger. Though I can’t see what that is yet, I keep going. Knowing I have at least 25 more books to go, I realize how important it is for me to take care of myself physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I get consumed by my past, and the pain and joy laced throughout my relationships and history. I have no problem with structure or discipline when it comes to writing and publishing but for my health and well-being, I need social outlets and support so I don’t become a version of Hemingway in his final years. When I transcribe what I wrote so many years ago, I feel raw and vulnerable. Sometimes I try to pad this with beer or cigarettes. But it doesn’t work. I come face to face with myself and all the versions of me that have lived thus far.
My books are unique in their scope and in the consistency with which I’ve kept them. I explore all the levels and layers in myself, my relationships, and my experiences. Passages range from the mundane to the mystical, from distinct details and observations to overarching universal themes that anyone can relate to. The e-book versions include hyperlinks to the many cultural references I make to songs, books, and films, adding atmosphere and experiential currency. The books contain no chapters. The format is dates of entry and sign-offs. The books have an ongoing, fluid nature with a mixture of long and short entries, large concepts and daily detail, life, humanity, reality, and imagination. The journals take readers on a fearless, vulnerable journey into their own emotions and experiences. They address most of the things we ignore, suppress, and deny. They are a relief to people and a liberating opportunity to take off our masks and loosen the binds that tie us – all the criticism, judgement, and workaday conformity that we tolerate daily. We often feel frozen when we look within. My books thaw this freeze.
I record my life in story to tell the truth. We all experience the gamut of emotions, I just happen to write about them, explore them, find meaning in them, and once in a while, transcend them. There is no shame or rage or depression so great that story, writing, reading, talking, and listening can’t alleviate it. My books bear this out. Identification of suffering may be one of its inherent antidotes – to share lightens it, to speak of it, bring it to light, begins to dissolve it. I have an eye toward suffering, but also to the joy and mystery of being alive. We all want to confess. I do. In my journals, I have written what I observe and hear. Observation and listening as a form of reverence. I absorb others’ stories, alchemize them with my own, and pour them back out in writing. I break a lot of writing rules. I don’t have the luxury of punching up what I wrote with creative license. The material was already written. But in transcribing, I’ve been surprised by how much natural story emerges when you simply write down your life as it happens. I could hazard guesses about what my 16 or 21 or 30 year-old self thought or felt or said. But I don’t have to because I recorded it. Not everything. But enough.
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