What My Great-Grandmother's Diary Taught Me About Writing

Dec 26, 2019

Dear Writerly Woman,

My great-grandmother wrote in her diary every day for most of her life.

When she passed away she had hundreds of journals on display in a beautiful bookcase in her living room.

Every member of our family could go to that bookcase, open a journal to their birthday, and find a note about how they were born on that day.

When I was 14, my family went on a road trip from our Boston suburb to the tiny rural town in Michigan where my great-grandmother had lived.

We visited her farm house, where her daughter now lived. This was the house with the very special bookcase. I remember pouring over those diaries. I picked them up and read as many words as I could.

The first of the journals started in the early 1900's. They contained pages and pages of what it was like to be a wife and mother on a farm in Michigan.

She wrote about doing the laundry without a washing machine. As a teenager in the 90's I was blown away at the descriptions of doing laundry by hand for such a big family.

She wrote about what the women did on the farm each day, what the men did, and what the children did. It contained all the dinners cooked, all the friends talked to, and all of their other doings.

These diaries were a window into this woman's life who I had heard so much about but had only met once in person. They helped me feel loved by her when I looked up my birthday and found her small note about my birth. They helped me feel a sense of connection amongst a family where connection was hard to come by.

These hundreds of books, written in a steady hand that I could never hope to imitate, taught me that writing didn't need to be fancy or glamorous in order for it to be impactful. It didn't need to be high literature to be able to touch my heart and make me feel seen.

Today, looking back at this memory of sitting in her rocking chair and reading about her life, what I see is what a gift these books were.

My great-grandmother's family is a large one. There are many nieces, cousins, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, daughters, sons, and in-laws. What a gift to each of us that we can find belonging in the written words of my great-grandmother.

But what I think is truly special about these diaries is that my great-grandmother, a busy woman managing her big household when automated machines were in short supply, found a way into writing that worked for her.

She had her circumstances, her life, and yet she found a way into self-expression through the written word.

Finding a way to write, a way to share your stories and your voice in this big cacophonous world, is a very special thing.

It's not always easy to figure out how to make this happen.

There are a thousand thoughts that stop us from putting words on the page. There are responsibilities, worries, self-worth issues, and any other number of things that might stop the words from flowing.

But what I learned from my great-grandmother that day is that this process can be so, so simple. A few paragraphs here and there. A few jotted down notes.

These things might seem small at first, but over the course of your life you could end up with a body of work that thrills the nearest reader to her bones.


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Image: Unsplash - Joanna Kosinska

Emma Veritas is a writer and writing coach. She's a committed blogger and is currently working on edits to her first novel. She graduated with her Bachelor's degree in English from the Honor's Program at the University of Massachusetts, where she wrote her thesis on the power of story during hard times. She has completed Martha Beck's Life Coach Training and is an endorsed Soul's Calling Coach. She is a life long learner in the craft of writing, most recently completing courses on fiction writing and plot development through WritersHQ. Her most recently completed writing project is her online course, Find Your True Self Again.


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