I also believe writing a diary every single day, since 1997 has inadvertently helped with my fiction writing in a few ways.
1) write through writers' block. I don't meant to sound smug, but honestly I've never had writers' block. I've always been able to write something. It may not have been to continue with what I was writing at the time, the big complicated project whatever it was, but I've always been able to write something. It may have been writing about what I was feeling at the time – why I couldn't write what I was meant to be writing. Or writing about how I feel stuck and can't write – still writing. The great thing about writing a diary is there's never any expectation to share it with anyone ever. Which is enormously freeing and takes away all the 'is it any good' 'what will people think about it' angst. It means I can write about anything, just letting the words flow. I've realised this is how I write my first drafts of fiction. They're for me. I imagine I'm never going to show them to anyone when I'm getting the words on the page, and it takes away the angst. Writing a diary with no purpose other than myself means it's easy to write fiction things with no purpose other than myself (often they end up seeing the light of day, but at the time, I'm just writing it for myself). Writing a diary every day, also has made me used to writing every. Single. Day. If I don't write my diary for a few days I get a bit antsy, and need to take myself away to write it, 2-3 days all together, flowing from one thought to the next.
2) writing my diary long-hand has stopped me wanting to edit as I write. It's not possible in a diary. So I don't do it. I just concentrate on getting the words down on paper. Apparently writing and editing uses different parts of your brain. You're stopping the creative bit of your brain and activating the critical bit to edit. And when you're trying to, you know, actually write that's a bit like driving along the road and constantly pulling over and putting the car in neutral, before pulling away again and building some momentum changing up gears, only to quickly stop again. When I do my first drafts, I write right through to the end, without stopping, without correcting typos, anything, just write write right to the end. If you edit as you write you're tinkering with the little things, when you need to know the overall story arc to know which bits need changing first. When I hand wrote fiction, while in Australia on the flights and during travelling (simpler to bring a notebook and pencil than a laptop and plug adaptor) I actually loved the slower way of writing long-hand and the inability to move, edit, change things, the compulsion I had to continue moving forward with the story. I'm not saying I'd hand write all my first drafts – it adds an extra stage in having to type it up – but when I don't want to bring my laptop I know I can hand write first drafts, and I think that's due to hand writing a diary every day. Also, by writing first, then editing, you can edit things in batches – 'make x character more likeable' or 'add extra zing to the chemistry between x and y characters' you can brain storm how to do this then drop these extra little bits in throughout the manuscript while still having 'make x character more likeable' in your head for that batch of edits. Make sense?
3) It frees my mind and is healthy. Without an outlet for random thoughts bouncing around your head they kind of carry on bouncing. With a diary you can 'capture' them, lock them down, ground them is the psychological term I believe. When I lost my great aunt, and one of our cats, and recently my good friend, Nick, I had so much floating around. I wrote it all out in my diary. After Nick's funeral I returned to my laptop and wrote about 5000 free association thoughts, feelings, memories, music, texts conversations, anything, related to Nick. I had a good old cry. I have no idea what, if anything I'll do with those words, but at the time it was such a wonderful feeling to get them 'out' of me, onto the page. Psychological counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, it all recognises the value in writing about our feelings. Write a letter to someone who hurt you. You don't need to post it, just the act of getting the feelings out, is healthy. I think a daily habit of recording my ups and down thoughts worries and feelings has helped me through some very dark very depressed times.
4) writing a diary taps into your emotional intelligence. By writing a diary I reflect on what I said, what I did, and how that affected others. Whether happy or sad, writing about how I feel means I can revisit how I felt, and how I expressed those feelings in words. Emotional intelligence is about how we manage our emotions and how we manage our impact on others (through words we say or things we do.) I think this means it helps me write emotions in my fiction. Three weeks after Nick's funeral I sent his husband a card. I bought the card and didn't have any idea what I was going to write in it. But when I sat down to hand write the message (see earlier about hand writing and not editing as you go) it just flowed out of me; the words I wanted to say, the emotions I wanted to tell Nick's widower filled four pages. And when I re-read them to the BF we both got quite emotional and he said it was just the right things to say. I think this helps me express emotions in my writing too, as I'm used to writing about emotions - even if it's messy, it can always be edited and tidied up.
5) writing a diary every day, of about 250 words or so I believe has helped my writing fiction. Yes, I still read writing blogs, go to writers groups and RNA chapter meetings, ask for help from other authors, but as with all practical things, I believe you get better at it by actually doing it. If you want to become a better footballer / skier / scuba diver / baker you have to put in the hours and actually do the activity in question. Writing's exactly like this. There's this whole 10,000 hour rule thing about having to complete that many hours at something to lead to excellence. Bill Gates, and the Beatles, among others, all started early. I think by writing for yourself, you steadily clock up the hours of practising (both the discipline of sitting down and writing when you don't think you can, and of the skills within writing itself you've learned from other writers / blogs / conferences etc). 10000 hours may sound like loads, but assuming I take 30mins to write my diary a day since January 1998 that's 182.5hrs a year x 17 years = 3102.5hrs OF JUST DIARY WRITING. Not to mention since the creative writing I did in my teenage years, writing character portraits in French exchange classes, or while I travelled round Australia, or to my school's creative writing magazine (yeah, I went to one of THOSE schools) or since 2011 when I started writing with a hope of being published. I'm not saying this to be all 'aren't I a marvellous writer' because trust me, my first drafts are ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE, and in later drafts I still make loads of mistakes when I write, I know I've got loads to learn about writing, and always will have, but I'm saying it to show that with just diary writing over that many years I've clocked up almost a third of the so called magic 10000 hours. And all without really even knowing I was doing anything more exciting than recording what I'd done, and what I thought. Every. Single. Day. And if that's not a bit magic, then I don’t' know what is. And even if you don't count it as hours, you count the words, 250 words a day over 17 years is 1,551,250 words! I suppose these are also storytelling too, since I'm telling myself the story of my day – it's hardly a twenty character saga spanning 20 years, but it still has a start, middle and end. Since writing with the intention of being published I've written about 900,000 or so words (most of them were TERRIBLE and needed LOADS OF EDITING) but they were all to the aim of storytelling too. So what I'm trying to say is a little bit over a long time, equals a lot. Even if you only have 30mins a day, 5 days a week, it all adds up.
Have you ever started a journal / diary? How did it go? Or do you write fiction every day?
Now, if you'll excuse me I've got 3 days of my diary to catch up on...
Liam Livings xxx