March 29, 2010

Leah Cypess: A Life in Diaries

Leah Cypess is the author of the recently released MISTWOOD, which has earned praise from two of my favorite authors: Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner. Before becoming a published author, she worked as a lawyer. But as you can see from her guest blog, she's been writing for a long time.


Thanks for having me on your blog! I see from one of your earlier blog entries that you’re a fellow admirer of THE PILLOW BOOK OF SEI SHONAGAN, so I thought I’d talk about diaries. When I was younger, I was always trying to keep a diary. I was very into my identity as “a writer” and all the writers in books seemed to be keeping diaries. Besides, before facebook and twitter there was no other excuse for jotting down my day-to-day observations.

My first diary was written in fourth grade, and was part of a class assignment by one of my favorite teachers. I found it years later, when I was packing to move to Boston, and spent half a day reading it instead of packing. The diary was actually something of a dialogue, since I had my diary write responses to me (“Dear Leah, You’re right. Love, Diary”), an early suggestion that perhaps non-fiction wasn’t going to be my genre.

Book Cover

We had a diary-writing assignment in fifth grade, too, but that one didn’t go so well. I started one of my diary entries, “I’m not going to write the whole story about this, Ms. X, because I know you’re reading this even though you say you’re not.”

In high school, I wrote one diary during summer camp, focusing on the month-long battle with the girl who had the bunk bed right next to mine. One day toward the end of the summer there was a huge, pitched verbal battle involving our entire bunk, “my” followers vs. “her” followers. I think maybe we won. I was no longer keeping the diary by then; I had ended my last entry with, “Writing in this diary is interfering too much with writing books.”

My last diary was written when I was 18 and backpacking with a group of friends through Europe (if you can call it backpacking when one girl had a suitcase that required all four of us to lug it up and down the steps of the Metro, and another put on makeup Every. Single. Morning. Including the morning we woke up on a sleeper train in our destination-city, Paris, to discover that we had 15 minutes to get off before we’d end up in Germany). That diary was more of a writing exercise, since it consisted mostly of descriptions of the cities and places we saw, along with vignettes like, “I see that I’ll never live the tickets lost/passport forgotten incident down,” and, “I think we’re accidentally sleeping in a nunnery.”

About halfway through that trip, I realized how to make museum visits more fun: by making up stories about what was going on in the paintings. My diary quickly turned into a collection of mostly-unfinished short stories, along with notes like “must research the Medici and write a story about Lorenzo” or “Churchill was really cool, need to read more about him.”

So there you have it: snapshots of my life in diaries and, between the lines, the reason why, since that last attempt, I’ve never kept a diary again. When you write a diary, everything in there is true. More or less. It misses the best part of writing, which is the part where you get to make stuff up.


  1. SOOOO jealous that you have Leah Cypess guest blogging!!! I reviewed "Mistwood" for SLJ and it was fantastic! Loved it.
    I was never very successful at diary keeping either, and it amazes me when you hear about those people that have volumes saved by the time of their!

  2. I haven't read MISTWOOD yet, but I can't wait to . . . so I'm jealous of you!

    I'm not a successful diary keeper either.


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