An entry from A Writer’s Diary by Toby Litt, published by Galley Beggar Press on 1 January 2023
Yesterday I looked back through what I’ve written in this diary. Some of it, I’ve no clue where it came from; some pages contain chunks of stuff I write repeatedly – close to obsessively. (People I know still live in Bedford, and have lived there every day since I last thought of them. Do they ever think of me?) If I’m reading an edited diary, that of a dead writer, the most charismatic moments come with the note: ‘This entry has been removed, presumably by the author’ or ‘At this point, three pages have been neatly/roughly torn out’. (I don’t think Woolf ever self-edited; Kafka, maybe.) What could have been so appalling or so trivial or so poorly written that the writer nihiled it? – rather than excise that still extant entry about envying a rival, impotence, hating their sister, or explosive diarrhoea behind a hedge?/ Just had to go down to the kitchen and help out a roaring Leigh: the small cheese grater had got stuck vertically within a drawer, meaning the drawer wouldn’t open more than an inch. Distracted now. There are two helicopters overhead, which always suggests the police are pursuing terrorists. For normal car chase criminals, they don’t burn that much air-fuel. Or perhaps it’s the Prime Minister, escorted. / One of the reasons we (I) read diaries is to experience the shame of others, even if those others don’t recognise their shame: the snob, the imperialist, the consumer. It’s either humility or vanity, or superstition, but I don’t throw away my own work. (Cut to plastic boxes in cellar.) Whatever I wrote, I wrote. Some of it’s horrible, and I can’t apologise for it because I can’t identify it and acknowledge it. Maybe, experimentally, I should cut out a couple of earlier pages here – use the Swiss Army penknife. But that’s implicitly expecting someone ever not-to-read what I’ve removed. That’s shaking hands with the ghost of an impossible editor.