Diary writing is generally viewed as a private and uninhibited activity, a stream of consciousness recording personal changes from day to day. However, there does exist a mindful process of selection and structuring of thoughts taking place, even if the writer is not fully aware of it. When Alice James, the youngest sister of the famous Henry the novelist, and William the psychologist, started journaling, she was 40 years old. She was a sick shut-in, suffering from breast cancer and mental illness, who's only company was a nurse and her companion, Katherine Peabody Loring. Like many other diary writers, James' decision to write a little every day was in hope that it might "bring relief as an outlet to that geyser of emotions, sensations, speculations, and reflections which ferments perpetually within my poor old carcass for its sins," (Edel, 25) for her inner turmoil was motivated by a desperate sense of isolation.
The claim that diarists are only writers and write with the sole intention of unburdening their minds through private expression is not necessarily true. That claim is most noticeable in James' diary because it is not a "geyser of emotions;" it is, on the contrary, pretty subdued for a woman who's life revolved around her health, both physical and mental, and hysterics. It is as if she were consciously holding herself back from the extreme outbursts of emotion in her writing that she experienced in her every day life. A diary itself is a confidential form of expression, though it makes no outwardly direct claim to notice, and yet to record one's own thoughts and feelings in this manner is, after all, to make an assertion that one's life is worthy of documentation. As a diarist, the writer also becomes a reader, making self-conscious remarks strewn with self-mockery. A direct example of this is when James' refers one of Emily Dickinson's poems in her diary, while explaining how she had been asked by her doctor if she'd ever been written for the press like her famous brothers:.