Adeline Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) was an English writer who transformed the very craft and structure of novelling with her stream-of-consciousness techniques.
Not only was she consistent and dogged in her writing, but she used journaling as a means of self-reflection on her thoughts and progress.
She once revealed her practice in what she called a “disgraceful confession”.
On Sunday morning after ten, she wrote that she sat to just scribble in her diary, not fiction, with no excuse except the “state of my mind.”
The modern thinker and writer
Virginia was thought to be among the most important modernists and pioneer of the 20th century.
Being a novelist, children’s writer and committed diarist, essayist, publisher and critic, she revolutionized literature with her writing. Her best-known works are ‘Mrs Dalloway’, ‘To the Lighthouse’ and ‘Orlando’.
Virginia Woolf would diary with the same approach she used for serious writing – with meticulousness, selectivity and discipline.
She once said: “Going at such a pace as I do, I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.”
The approach, she believed, has actually improved her writing.
She understood that the practice of self-reflection in one year could make her “trace some increase of ease in my professional writing”. She attributed it to her “casual half hours” when she was diarying continuously.
As journaling was a part of her self-reflection, life lessons and professional writing, Virginia Woolf looked at the diary as an important weapon in her personal and professional evolution.
She acknowledged that it was an extremely crucial part of her life and even described it as a symbol of her personality development.
Depression – and the diary
But although she maintained a few sporadic early journals, she never journaled seriously until later in her life.
It was only when she was 33 in 1915 that she wrote copiously, until her last recording in 1941, just four days before she died. She left behind 26 volumes of her diaries.
They are documents and life-lessons of herself. As she put it:
The fine layers of life
Diarying helped Virginia Woolf to explore herself, cutting through the fine layers of life.
Her thorough practices made her arrive at the conclusion that she was plowing through the different layers of style that defined her writing. She was convinced that the point she reached was “less pliable”.
She even visualized her character of the “old Virginia” who put on spectacles to read in March 1920.
Through self-reflection she arrived at decisions, continuing that she would go on with it.
She even spoke to the images of herself she visualized: Greetings! my dear ghost; and take heed that I don’t think 50 a very great age. Several good books can be written still; and here’s the bricks for a fine one.
Virginia Woolf was the seventh of eight children in a blended family. Losing her mother and then her father dragged her through deep depression.
Throughout her life, she was troubled by sporadic bouts of mental illness, which many times even got her institutionalized.
She has been thought to attempted suicide at least twice before 1941.
Today, critics believe that she was infected by bipolar disorder, which was never diagnosed by anyone who could effectively intervene or use therapy during her time.
In 1941, when she was 59, she put rocks in her coat pockets, and walking through River Ouse she took her last breath. .
Journaling could not cure her of what might have been a clinical disorder, but it certainly did get her to discover and cure herself through self-reflection and continuous internal therapy.
The evergreen novelist
Virginia Woolf seems to have gone through many bouts of lows, but her self-reflection and narratives converted the flaws and defects in her progress into positive affirmations of her craft and thought processes.
She will forever be considered to be a blaze-trailing thinker, feminist and writer, who gave a new direction to the modern novel itself.
Challenging the establishment and going against the accepted grain of society also made her an important change-maker.
How you can get started with self-reflection?
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