The Hell Butterfly

Nothing is sacred when you’re a writer

Do you remember the times you used to keep a journal, a diary or even a few scribbles jotted down in the middle of the night on a receipt for last week’s shop? Do you remember keeping dream journals, mood journals, writing letters to your future selves to open ten years down the line and hope at least you were at least a better person than back then?

Well, the way I see it, these things are no longer sacred once you become a writer. Or at least that’s my theory.

Two years ago I began a handwritten letter to someone. No-one in particular, just to someone who wasn’t me. It was half diary and half confession. I was in a dark place and writing it all down helped at the time. I wrote a lot of personal things in there, things I’ve never told anyone before or after. In the end it was 17 pages long. I had never intended to send the letter. In a sense perhaps I had intended to send it to myself so that when I next read it I would hopefully have fixed some of the issues I had in my life and mind. I added to it a couple of times, signing off every time with my full name. This was perhaps a fatal choice on my part, but I’ll come back to that.

When I had written the final entry I folded the letter-diary in half and put it in a blank envelope and kept it with me everywhere I went. Partly so I could add to it should the mood strike, but mostly so no-one could accidentally find it. It wasn’t really meant for eyes aside from mine. If it fell into the wrong hands … Well I didn’t like to think of the consequences.

I figured that having this letter would be a help to me. It was something private and personal that only I would know about. Something sacred. Something that belonged entirely to me, and me only. At this point I had been writing for easily five years, so each time I wrote something new I’d either want to share it if I liked it, or was asked to share it if people were interested. I hadn’t kept a diary in years and had sort of become accustomed to sharing everything I wrote. So it was nice to remember the feeling of having something I could hold, that I had written with my own hand, and that would never have to be shared or explained to anyone.

Eventually I took the letter out of my paper pad and hid it in the bottom of my lowest – and broken – drawer. No-one had any need to go into that drawer, and even if they did they would have to dig through all my junk to find it. I don’t know why I didn’t destroy it. Maybe I felt it was a part of me by then. The only other physical object that knew the contents of my dark, pained mind, to be melodramatic.

One day my sister called me into my room (she was staying in it while she was back for a while and always takes my room when she does) and when I entered I looked to her, then to the bed, then to the several sheets of all-too-familiar handwriting spread on it. She had read it. She had no reason to, had no right to, but she had. Her excuse? “It just fell out of the drawer when I was looking for something and I thought it was one of your stories so I read it. But even when I realised it wasn’t a story I couldn’t stop myself from finishing it.” It’s as I said – nothing is sacred once you become a writer.

My sister had assumed that several sheets of paper folded into an envelope and stashed at the bottom of a broken drawer was a story of mine that was okay to be read. I know it didn’t “just fall out of the drawer”. In the position I had put it, that was impossible. At any rate, she saw it, and let’s just say I was in some deep shit and had a lot of explaining to do. At least it was her that found it and no-one else. But still, as she had thought it was one of my stories, she thought it okay to look.

This may just be a one off occurrence, however I haven’t felt comfortable keeping a diary since. Even typing into a Notepad document with an unrelated title, saved into a folder reserved for art coursework from three years ago didn’t feel safe anymore. It doesn’t feel, to use the word again, sacred, anymore to keep something just for me, because of this incident. Now that I’m a writer, it seems that people expect me to share everything I do. Even writing hidden messages into my work that mean something to me, but would need explaining to others doesn’t feel right. Either people will guess what I really mean or they’ll ask me to explain and I’ll have nothing to tell them but the truth. Or that’s how it feels at any rate.

I may be alone in this. I may be the only one who feels as though being a writer makes sacred items such as diaries and journals become … somehow tainted. How about you? Have any of you writers felt that the value of personal writing is lost to others once you begin to share your writing?


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