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Musings on Writing and Self Reflection: Anais Nin

Anaïs Nin on Writing, the Future of the Novel, and How Keeping a Diary Enhances Creativity: Wisdom from a Rare 1947 Chapbook

by Maria Popova

“It is in the movements of emotional crisis that human beings reveal themselves most accurately.”

Anais Nin is a wonderful author and if you have yet to read anything of hers, you should put that on your to do list. She has written many books on writing and on herself, utilizing her own personal experience to create art. Her musings are so well put, and I found myself relating this to why I think journaling/blogging is such an important, useful, and creative way to learn, especially about social psychology.


Anais Nin talks about how keeping a journal made her a better, more in touch, and more powerful author. She states how keeping a journal can teach you lessons that can be applied to various other kinds of writing and lead to that moment of epiphany.

“Of these the most important is naturalness and spontaneity. These elements sprung, I observed, from my freedom of selection: in the Diary I only wrote of what interested me genuinely, what I felt most strongly at the moment, and I found this fervor, this enthusiasm produced a vividness which often withered in the formal work. Improvisation, free association, obedience to mood, impulse, bought forth countless images, portraits, descriptions, impressionistic sketches, symphonic experiments, from which I could dip at any time for material.”

This is the kind of sensation blogging should elicit. Ideas, creativity, breaking through the boundaries of what you would call an “expected” academic assignment.

“The Diary dealing always with the immediate present, the warm, the near, being written at white heat, developed a love of the living moment, of the immediate emotional reaction to experience, which revealed the power of recreation to lie in the sensibilities rather than in memory or critical intellectual perception.

The Diary, creating a vast tapestry, a web, exposing constantly the relation between past and present, weaving meticulously the invisible interaction, noting the repetitions of themes, developed in the sense of the totality of personality, this tale without beginning or end which encloses all things, and relates all things, as a strong antidote to the unrelatedness, incoherence and disintegration of the modern man. I could follow the inevitable pattern and obtain a large, panoramic view of character.”

The product is one in the end of perception, cognition, not at all left untouched by our re-workings, manipulations, and distortions of reality. How do we see and interpret our social reality? And then, how do we represent that reality? What gets lost or added during the journey of the construction of the story?


“It is in the movements of emotional crisis that human beings reveal themselves most accurately. … The heightened movements … are the moments of revelation. It is the moment when the real self rises to the surface, shatters its false roles, erupts and assumes reality and identity. The fiery moments of passionate experience are the moments of wholeness and totality of the personality.”

There are so many themes that arise in social psychology related to this excerpt. We always think we would act a certain way, say a certain thing, but in reality in the heat of the moment, our behavior often conflicts with our self image. Cognitive dissonance occurs, and at this essential moment, all of the threads of our identity unravel and form a new pattern. Sometimes, we justify our behavior and do not learn from our experiences. Or we can move our behavior to be closer in line to who we think we are, or who we want/should/will be. Writing is essential to that process and this is what I hope you get out of your own self expression and self reflection.


“But her greatest insight from the Diary has less to do with writing and more to do with human nature….

Naked truth is unbearable to most, and art is our most effective means of overcoming human resistance to truth. The writer has the same role as the surgeon and his handling of anaesthesia is as important as his skill with the knife.

Human beings, in their resistance to truth, erect fortresses and some of these fortresses can only be demolished by the dynamic power of the symbol, which reaches the emotions directly.”

We resist the truth when it conflicts with the way we see the world or ourselves. Yes we want to be right, but we also really REALLY want to feel good about ourselves. We stereotype and assume, its easier to do. Anais Nin is talking about how to create social change in these lines, how to break down the fortresses of denial and apathy. Anais Nin did what she thought was right and what she could to change the world, one reader at a time. After all, one person changes one person changes 3 people changes 10…. till at some point you find a shift in attitudes and behaviors, and no one can remember EXACTLY how it happened.

As social psychologists, our role is to also utilize our research to create positive social change.  Anais Nin chose her cause and her medium to defend her cause, what will you choose?



2 responses to “Musings on Writing and Self Reflection: Anais Nin

  1. nohaezz ⋅

    I have a long story with diaries! When I was young, I never believed I should have a diary and just wasn’t convinced that in any way it’s useful! Last year and when I was a freshman, I thought I should document my experience in my first year and because I underwent so many changes and experienced a lot of new situations and interactions I thought I have to write them down! I began having a diary and I really have to say it changed my life greatly! It became a habit and I master it more and more; I started reflecting on what happens and relating it to myself and what we take and try to think about my reactions wisely! This had many great effects on me; I knew myself a great deal better and can almost always express myself and became more aware of who I am and why I react the way I do in certain situations. And it’s even funnier now because when I look at those old days last year I am amazed by how much I am evolving and changing and at many instances I ridicule myself for certain things… it’s as if I am watching myself growing which is a very unique feeling!! It’s more than amazing, fun, useful, self-exploratory and good for you! Having a diary helped me write blog entries more easily because it made me be more open to sharing and more reflective! It’s an amazing idea to have a blog in this course, thanks Professor!

  2. Mona

    I have recently started writing diaries because I noticed that I always forget different situations that might have left a significant impact on my person. I cannot remember how I behaved in certain interactions and why. I decided to start writing; at the beginning I wrote for some days and then I found it tiring and time consuming and needs much deeper thinking and reflection. I gave up for sometime but I found myself in the dilemma again; having bad moods for no apparent reason and getting lost in who am I and not knowing myself. I started again since the beginning of this semester and though it needs time and effort, I know it is worth it. I hope it could help me as I expect.

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