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Takeaway from Kimball Workshop No. 1

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Do you get anxious before a presentation? I do. I'm afraid I'll bore people. Boredom, the killer disease. So I was quite relieved when nobody keeled over yesterday, or left the Zoom session in a hurry, saying they needed to feed the cat. Kimball's wonderful Lynne Gately and I were joined by eight other writers via Zoom, and the Homebound Diaries Journaling Project is now up and running. The session—the first in a series of six—brought together a bunch of very creative people—they will keep me on my toes, for sure. I hope they all went away with some new and useful ideas. I promised to send them a handout, so here it is. Next session: Friday, September 25, at 10 a.m. ET. To register, email

Above: A photo from author Shirly Hook's August/September diary. Shirly, the author of My Bring Up, is working on an Abenaki cookbook.


Dear diarists:

I’m inspired by this group, which is so full of creativity. It will be a challenge to keep up with you.

Let’s start with the writing exercise, “Fives.” We did items 4 and 5 yesterday, but there is more to it. Taking the lists you made yesterday, choose one item and write a few sentences about it. Set a goal, such as “I’m going to write 5 sentences,” or “I’m going to write one page,” or “I’m going to write for 5 minutes.” Make the goal something measurable and concrete, and just write, keep your fingers moving, and don’t judge. See what comes out.

(In writing, you know you’re getting somewhere when you surprise yourself.) Here’s the full exercise:

Writing exercise: “Fives”

When I’m stuck in my writing, I can usually muster up the ability to at least make a list. I can then use the list as a springboard to more writing.

Make five lists. Each list will have roughly 5 items. If you can’t think of 5 things, just write a word in place of the missing thing, any word, the more ridiculous the better.

1. Five things I did yesterday.

2. Five things I wish I had done—or done differently—yesterday. (regrets/losses)

3. Five things I hope to do someday. (wishes/desires/goals/intentions)

4. Five things I miss.

5. Five things about which I am passionate.



1. Use your diary to help your other writing. Some of you are working on memoir, fiction, poetry, and biography. Rather than think of your diary as somehow separate from your other writing, think of it as an integral part of being a writer. Every marathoner has a daily workout. The keeping of a daily journal can be one of the writer’s best tools for staying limber. The commitment to write every day keeps us in the habit of writing, and you can use your diary as a place to explore new ideas, without judgment.

2. Your diary can be whatever you want it to be. It can be a traditional diary—a record of your day—or something quite different, something of your own design. Think of creative approaches. Among the ideas we discussed:

* My morning walk. Very specific. Specificity is always useful to a writer. Whatever your theme (morning walk, the natural world, taking care of someone or something, building/making something), experiment with it. Write about it, draw it, photograph it.

* Write somebody else’s diary. Make it up. For example, write your cat’s diary (and put yourself in it). Or write Princess Marya’s diary. Start with the list you made yesterday: What does she miss? What are her regrets? What is she thinking about—perhaps obsessing over—as she makes tea, gets dressed, turns down the bedcovers? Use your senses. Be specific. Evoke the sounds, smells, and small details of daily life to make your characters come alive.

* Letters: make your diary a series of letters—to a real person or to an imaginary person. Whether real or imaginary, make that person specific--not just anybody, but your grandmother who died giving birth to her ninth child, your mother. A superhero, your daughter on her sixteenth birthday, Thomas Jefferson, whoever you think most needs/deserves to hear your message, your point of view, your take on things.

* Drawings and sketchbooks. Keep a visual record of your days. Please! I love this idea (thank you, Sally). Add captions, random thoughts, little poems, grocery lists, to-do lists, whatever comes to mind. I encourage everyone to do this. Don’t say, “But I’m not an artist,” or “I can’t draw.” Of course you can draw. Every child can draw. Elephants can draw. Can you hold a pencil? Then you can draw.

3. What makes a diary useful? The key is regularity. Making a daily commitment will hasten your progress, but if you skip a day, don’t despair. Just renew your commitment and move on. Your diary may contain many routine, even dull days interrupted by occasional surprises, and that’s okay. Such is life.

4. What to record? Anything. Use your senses. Record what you see, hear, taste, smell, feel. Don’t worry about whether it’s “important,” or worth recording. Most days, planes do not crash into the World Trade Center. Observe the minutia, for it is the small details that make up a life. This is the context in which the unusual occurs. Give us the context.


These were inspired by yesterday’s discussion.

1. Write a rant. Really let yourself go. Write at least one page. Vent. Pure fury.

2. Count your blessings. What are you grateful for? What brings you comfort and joy? Make a list.

3. Write an apology.

4. Write a confession.

5. Make a will.

6. Write your own obituary. (I wish everyone would do this.)

7. List 10 things you hope to do before it’s too late.

For next time: Bring a diary entry to share, or come to report on your progress and get some encouragement to persevere. We’ll read aloud and, if there’s time, do a quick writing exercise. Meanwhile, I’ll post some diary-related material (mine and others’) on the Korongo Books blog.


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