Dear Diary, How do I Write More?

I’ve been so crazy-busy with projects, I’ve fallen a little behind on posting. So I thought tonight I’d share the single best thing I ever did for my writing. Except for my writer’s group, of course, because that one’s pretty far up there on my list.

Ready? (Drum roll please) It’s…journaling. Yep, journaling. That’s the first big secretive tip I have to share tonight. But wait, it’s not a diary. It’s not your grandma’s rundown of what everyone did today.

Here’s some background. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but when I really think about it, it took on it’s (almost) present form in the nineties. All my journaling actually helped me as a writer, just so long as I didn’t do it instead of writing fiction…which is what I did for way too long. And that’s another story.

So a light bulb went off when I drew the connection between that and my fiction writing. I’m here to tell you that sitting down to journal at least several pages (front and back) or more every morning trained me to let my thoughts flow onto paper. Twenty years of flowing and I finally spilled out some novels. Too bad it took me so long to realize how similar fiction flowing and journal flowing really are. You just go with it.

Even better, I can plot in my journal for a bit when I’m in the middle of a novel, before I start that day’s scenes. I always say I don’t outline, but I guess I do somewhat–loosely that is. I just do it in my journal day by day before I sit down to work. The journal habit taught me to take anything I need to sort through, think about or plan and do it through writing. Which is why it’s so helpful to increase word counts in fiction. And then I don’t refer to it ever again (more on that at the end of this post).

So I felt like a mad scientist. It thrilled me to discover I had not wasted all those years of lovely journals. I even felt pretty darn smart for realizing this connection. Then, I remembered a little book I read in the early nineties, called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She called this “morning pages” and said it trained you to turn off the internal censor. You just keep going, whatever comes in your head. Okay, so it maybe it wasn’t totally my discovery after after all. I did this for so long, I’d forgotten it wasn’t even my idea. I did it like Julia said.

Well, so help me, it works.

The memories came flooding back. Suddenly I remembered that book was the reason I went from occasional diary writing about things that upset me, to daily writing about whatever crazy thought came in my head. I learned it from her, didn’t I? Pretty cool. Thanks, Julia.

Too bad, I did it in place of my art for so long. It became an integral part of who I am. Because I am a writer. I always was. And I know it gave me practice with letting thoughts flow onto the page, whatever they are. Even if they aren’t perfect. Similar to brainstorming, really. I guess I’m sort of a twenty-year case study.

Now, it’s true that I already liked to use journals. But this fondness took a distinct turn around the same time I read that book. I can now remember trying to follow her advice and just let it flow. I had a lot of trouble. Apparently, I totally overcame that if all these boxes of journals are any proof.

So if you struggle with letting your words spill out rapidly onto the page. Practice Julia Cameron’s morning page idea. You might just develop a new healthy writing habit to go with all that caffeine. You might even start to really “own” it, like I did, to the point you’ll forget all about this blog post and the book I just told you about. I hope you do. I hope you’ll get as much out of journaling as I have.

I can’t remember what the book recommends, but here’s what I do. First thing with my coffee, I write in the journal–anything that pops in my head so that I don’t pause. Pretty soon you won’t even have think about not pausing…you just won’t.

Once you’ve gotten to that point, translate that immediately to your other writing. Don’t become self indulgent like I did and turn into a journal-aholic, forsaking the muse.

If you have no clue what to do with your next fiction scene, try sitting down and going with the first thing that pops in your head–like in your journal. Better yet, journal about it first.

And here’s a bit of trivia about me and the real BIG secret of this post: In the last few years, I changed my handwriting for my journaling for the purpose of privacy and speed. I don’t even pick the pen up from the page between words. I just keep going. Which means I write even faster in it than I used to. . Weird, right? So, yeah…I’ve got this secret handwriting now that even I can’t read. No censoring. At all. This one was completely my idea, of course, because I’m THAT crazy.

It felt strange to do this at first, I admit. But soon I elongated the cursive letters into it’s own crazy looking non-readable thing. I still feels like writing–just now it’s writing on Nitro. And it helped me even more than just regular old word-space-word journal writing.

Definitely helps to turn off that internal censor.

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