One day when I was eight years old, I remember one of my friends showing up with a notebook that she called a diary. She told me that she could write anything she wanted in it and never have to show anyone else, and the idea sounded like magic. I got my own first journal a few weeks later after begging my parents, but it was a good five years before I started actually keeping a daily log. Keeping a diary isn’t easy, and though many people give it a try, only a few manage to keep it going for more than a few weeks. I consider myself very fortunate to have only missed a handful of days in the past eleven years since I started keeping one regularly.
Since I started writing a journal at about the same time I started writing novels, it’s hard for me to see how either one really affects the other. But there are definitely some things that I’ve learned about writing through keeping a journal.
1. It is possible to write daily. I’ve heard even writing professors claim that it’s impossible to write every single day, but I know differently. I know it’s possible to write daily because I already do it, and I have been for over ten years. Writing daily doesn’t mean writing well daily or writing a lot. It just means that you take some time to write creatively–even if it’s just a few words scrawled on a napkin at a restaurant. Even with classes or a full-time job, you can write daily. It’s just a matter of forcing yourself to it.
2. Nothing is too small to write about. Many people think that your life has to be interesting to keep a journal, but “interesting” is a subjective term. Diarist Anne Frank lived in a cramped hidden apartment with virtually no contact with anyone outside of her family for years, and yet her diary is still considered one of the greatest non-fiction works of the twentieth century. Don’t underestimate your life, or for that matter, your characters’ lives. You can seriously give everything weight and worth in your writing if you just learn how to recognize it for yourself.
3. Keep it conversational. If keeping a journal has taught me nothing else about writing, it has taught me how to write as if I’m speaking to someone. I don’t have to be structured and organized in my journal–I can be completely human and natural. I don’t have to make sense, and I can feel free to admit that my diary writing is terrible to the diary itself. It’s a safe zone, perfect for experimentation and honesty. Sometimes I write in a dramatic voice and sometimes I throw in French or Latin (or both) to better communicate what I want to say. I write in Gregg Shorthand, I write in the Greek alphabet–I write any way I want to just because I want to and I can. I believe this has taught me to be more natural in my writing than I would have been otherwise, and conversational writing has come in handy in many ways over the years.
Any other diary writers out there? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how journal writing affects your fiction and vice versa! Please let me know in the comments section below!