It all started with Harriet the Spy.

Harriet, the eleven-year-old girl who aspired to be a writer and who carried a composition notebook everywhere she went, was my first—and really my only—female literary hero. I can’t begin to guess how many times I read that book.

Thanks to Harriet, I started keeping a journal when I was ten (and in fact I called it a Harriet Notebook), and my first entries were obvious attempts to emulate Harriet herself:

I must find out why Mom has been acting so strange lately. Think about this.

Yep, I really wrote that. My very first “journal” entry.

The first pages of that book also contain the lyrics to a Beatles song (“Get Back”), the Greek alphabet, and a detailed chart titled “Indian Color Significance.”

By the time I hit the sixth or seventh grade, it had become more like a diary than a journal (I realize they’re technically synonymous, but I’ve always thought of a diary as being more mundane and personal, and a journal as containing somewhat larger thoughts and ideas). The pages of those early books chronicle a seemingly endless series of teenage crushes and heartbreaks, which continued fairly relentlessly until I married and had children. Then, not surprisingly, the entries begin to tell of adventures in parenting; and later still, they focus on the adventures of a divorced and financially-strapped mom of three trying to make it through college and then grad school.

All in all, those early diaries comprise an unremarkable narrative of day-to-day life—a narrative likely to be of little interest to anyone but me. The entries, rarely remotely insightful, are comprised almost entirely of poorly organized, uncrafted stream-of-consciousness.

All the way until 2000, the books themselves looked just like Harriet’s:

journal 20 pic

The first page of the last book starts out with “an attempt to clarify—both for myself and for [a friend]—how I see agency, personal definition, and the ‘victimization’ of women as well as our subjugation.” Quite a stretch from the opening lines of the first book, but after all, they’re separated by twenty-five years.

In any event, that was the last book. After that, I switched to a computer. And with that switch came a gradual shift in approach, from diary to journal, though most of what I wrote in the transitional period from 2000 to 2005 was lost, first in a switch from Mac to PC and then to the blue screen of death.

In the past ten years or so, my jottings have become almost purely a writer’s journal. What I mostly find myself writing about these days are characters, plot lines, and possible scenes and themes, though at times, the mundane and the philosophical both still find their way in.

Forty-five years I’ve been doing this now.

None of what I’ve written in my journals has ever been meant for anyone’s eyes but my own. Yet I continue to write my entries whenever the mood strikes me—if not daily, at least frequently.

I’ve only recently learned that there’s a name—that is, a clinical diagnosis—for the obsession to write: Hypergraphia. I’m not sure where one draws the line between merely loving and even needing to write and being hypergraphic, but I do know that if writing is an illness, then I guess I have it.

But if I do, I’m in good company. Dostoevsky, van Gogh, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Burns are all reported to have had hypergraphia as well.

What about you?