In Four Seasons in Rome, Anthony Doerr considers the relation of his journal to his published work.
“As I work on yet another draft of my story, I try to remember these lessons. A journal entry is for its writer; it helps its writer refine, perceive, and process the world. But a story–a finished piece of writing–is for its reader; it should help its reader refine, perceive, and process the world–the particular world of the story, which is an invention, a dream. A writer manufactures a dream. And each draft should present a version of that dream that is more precisely rendered and more consistently sustained than the last.”
Doerr is a writer of fiction, and he observes early in Four Seasons in Rome that he has been for many years in the habit of starting the day with a journal entry to exercise his writing muscles. But Four Seasons itself is neither fiction nor writer’s journal, though it draws on both, one supposes. Doerr, who spent a year as a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, writes of how he at first made slow headway on his fiction in progress. Rome seemed to demand that he pay more attention to his journal, and so he did, eventually, one supposes, recording the raw material that resulted in Four Seasons, which retains the generally chronological shape of a traveler’s journal but has a more finished quality — it is now for the reader, not the writer.
Our own study abroad students in Rome are asked to write journals–starting with the daily observations and reflections that they can then use to create a second and third draft addressed to readers, while retaining the day-by-day shape of a journal. In this exercise our students are participating in a genre that is centuries old.
Thanks to Sarah Benson for lending me her copy of this book.