from the diary, Wednesday, 12/14/88, more thoughts on keeping a journal: “It sez in a book about the Adamses – you know, those silly revolutionaries – that John Adams was the only one [of the founding fathers] who kept a really good diary. Ben Franklin wrote years later from memory & George Washington recorded the state of the crops, generally giving short shrift to what we would consider the big events of the day. I wouldn’t mind a little crop talk, after all it was important at the time; but make those grains sound exciting.
“Two problems with reading journals. One, they are so full of chaff and before published should be edited quite ruthlessly. If some scholar wants all the dope, publish a ‘scholarly’ edition. Save me from it. Two, the prose is not very polished. It can be vibrant & interesting & fun, even. But when we write for ourselves we don’t impose much discipline on style or take as much care as we would for publication. I’m not going to do another draft of this. An autobiography, memoirs, those are never verbatim [diaries]. We fill in details from sketchy notes, leave unmentioned problems that take up pages [in the original diary, but which] later turn out to be unimportant. The same is true of published letters.”