Do You Want Your Diaries Published?


I would burn my diaries if I knew where they were. At some point, while moving between Philadelphia and Boston, I lost the multi-volume compilation of my private childhood thoughts. Maybe they’re disintegrating in a landfill somewhere along I-95. Preferably, someone recycled them without ever peeking between the covers. More likely, though, they’re stuffed into boxes in my basement or our storage facility, waiting for my children to find them someday and learn how silly their mother once was.*

I don’t know why I’m self-conscious about who I was when I wrote those diaries, which was between grades two and twelve.

I also don’t know why I started keeping a diary in the first place. It may have been a reaction to the impotence of childhood, a time when I wanted adults to take my opinions more seriously than they often did. Somehow, writing my thoughts down made them seem more important.

Recently, author and diarist Elisa Segrave wrote about “the pleasure of keeping — and rereading — diaries.” She touches on the reasons compulsive diarists record their daily experiences. Some want their privacy while also wanting their “thoughts to be appreciated.”

To the extent I wanted others to appreciate the thoughts in my diaries, I wouldn’t have wanted that to happen in my lifetime (or even shortly thereafter, contrary to my typical aversion to “dead hand control”). Diaries are a vital source of historical information, though I doubt my childish musings on pop culture, boys, and other insignificant topics will provide future historians with much insight. My children are probably the only people who will ever find any reason to read them.

Segrave found and read her mother’s diaries as her mother was dying from Alzheimer’s. The journals her mother wrote between 1930 and 1950 gave Segrave a window into a woman who was otherwise uncommunicative with her children after a family tragedy.

Similarly, in Amelia Elkins Elkins, the recently deceased matriarch of the Elkins family comes alive through the diaries her daughter finds in Woodlynne Hall’s dusty, ten-thousand volume library. The diaries shed light on Gladys’s demise and on her relationship with her conceited, silly husband, a re-imagined version of the patriarch in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The revelations could tear the family apart.

Much to her daughter Amelia’s dismay, the diaries become a potential piece of evidence in the lawsuit stemming from Gladys’s death. Grappling with the possibility of her mother’s diaries becoming part of the public record of a trial, Amelia begs their lawyers to find a way to prevent the opposition from having them:

“…These are her private thoughts. Even I wasn’t supposed to read them.” That a diary could be read was always a risk; perhaps that was part of the appeal to some who dared to share their thoughts on paper.

So maybe Gladys wouldn’t have minded. I would. How about you?


*These days, I have the maturity to keep that silliness to myself. 😉


  1. I never kept a diary, but this would bother me as well. I suppose people can learn from one’s life, but not without their permission. And you can’t get that from someone with Alzheimer’s.

  2. I’ve been keeping a diary since I was about 10 and while I am not a daily keeper at the moment, I usually manage once a week these days. I still have every single notebook. I don’t think they are valuable but I wouldn’t burn them or destroy them myself and would be totally fine with some archive having them after I am gone. That’s not likely though –who would want them? — and I have no children so I don’t know what will become of them which makes me a little sad when I think about it.

  3. I’m 99% sure I will have a diary/journal burning session when I approach an age where it’s of concern someone else might read them.

  4. I don’t think I’ve kept a diary since my dramatic tween years, but I wonder sometimes about how people in the future will know about us. We don’t tend to keep adult journals and we don’t really write letters. Will they look at our facebook posts and tweets?

  5. Heh oh yes definitely watch which hands your diaries make it into! I tried the diary thing when I was 12 or something but only wrote in it when I was mad at someone and on rereading found myself too harsh. Also, I have a younger brother 😀

    1. That sounds a lot like what my diary was like (though I wrote in it pretty much every day)! I hope my diaries are never found.

    1. Agreed! These days, I’d be too self-conscious to be a true diarist. Blogging is a better way for me to record my reflections on what matters to me (books, writing, legal issues, and most importantly, my kiddos). Writing in a public way is far less mortifying than writing something private that others may read someday without my consent!

  6. I kept one diary when I was living at home. My mother read it behind my back and all kinds of hateful things happened after that, including me throwing the pages into the fireplace while we screamed at each other. I never felt comfortable writing in a diary again.

    1. I am so sorry that happened to you. The only invasion of my privacy that I know about happened in fifth grade when my then-best friend brought my diary to school and read selections from it in the lunchroom. It was mortifying, but I continued to write in a diary afterwards. I stopped at the end of high school.

  7. I’m not sure I would want to publish my diary or ‘journal of thoughts’ as I had labelled them. I began them in earnest in 1968, when I was going through troubles with my first marriage. A most emotional time, I poured out my feelings, hopes and desires and even wrote some short poems and songs, into those journals. We divorced in 1972 and I continued to write in my journal more about life, trips, my daughter’s accomplishments and growth, etc. My second husband found the journal, one day, and read only the beginning of my ‘tears and heart break’. He laughed at me and then got jealous…and in haste and desire to save this marriage, I burned them. I now wish I still had them because after the divorce, I recorded historical and fun events in my life….for example…I was at the hotel when Robert Kennedy gave a wonderful speech and was then shot down. I wrote a detailed and
    an emotional entry in this journal. If I still had the journals now, I can think of wonderful stories I could write. But still, I would not want them published as they were written or for my daughter to see how wounded, vulnerable and lost I felt at the time. Guess the bottom line is; it depends on what is written in the diaries. I have read some very interesting historical published diaries. Thanks for your blog, I have enjoyed!

    1. Thank you for sharing those experiences. It sounds like your journals included personal reflections on your life and also on major political events. It’s too bad those reflections are lost now, but I can understand why you burned them. I probably would’ve done the same thing if someone found my journals and then used them to hurt me. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

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