Dana Sitar is making a return visit to Wrote By Rote. Earlier in the year she visited with a post of encouragement. Today she offers some more helpful thoughts about memoir writing.
Opening up: The benefits of publishing straight from your diary
Thank you for always being there for me. I think it’s time to take this relationship to the next level.
Writers, your journal or diary is the rawest (and probably the original) form of this art. Amidst all of the writing prompts and tips for free-writing that are supposed to encourage creativity and improve your skills, journaling seems like just a compulsive hobby and personal therapy. Maybe it is a little. But it’s also a great way to develop first drafts of stories you didn’t plan on writing.
Journals are a safe space for writers, a place to release the lines that are constantly forming in your mind. Because the words are intended for your eyes only, they’re also the most honest and shameless that you’ll ever write. Drawing from this unplanned collection of thoughts for blog posts, stories, or your full-length memoir offers your readers a glimpse of that unscripted honesty in a way that pre-planned writing can’t quite achieve.
When you start to think of your journal as a viable place from which to pull material -- instead of just a dumping ground for your secret thoughts -- you’ll notice a great improvement in your free-writing without making it a forced exercise. In my experience, because building my blog is always at least at the edges of my mind, my journal has naturally morphed into a collection of blog post first drafts scattered among the usual Dear Diary entries that help me sort out the complications of life. I approach many journal entries with a conclusion in mind, sometimes even start with a title or [pitch line] to center my stream of consciousness before I begin writing.
I don’t discount the merits of free-writing or brainstorming without a goal or direction in mind. But occasionally approaching your journal as a support to your major projects will quickly improve your first drafts -- in turn, creating stellar final drafts. You learn how to turn a stream of personal thoughts directly nto a well-organized piece with an ultimate purpose. Especially in memoir or personal blogs, pieces like this can be much stronger and make a much greater impression on readers than those created around the conclusion.
That, ultimately, is what sets journaling apart from other writing. Even personal blog posts generally start with a goal, and the thoughts are formed around that goal. A journal entry, on the other hand, often comes from a simple, desperate need to put your thoughts on paper. The thoughts come first, and the purpose is found through the writing. When you can combine those raw reactions to the world with the structure that will become innate with practice, you can create pieces of writing that are more uniquely YOU than anything you’ll develop from outlining and planning ahead.
Let your guard down, and try it! As an artist -- and a memoirist, no less! -- you have to let a bit of your soul loose into the world. If you’re not yet good at opening up in front of people for live events or interviews, for example, pulling words from your personal diary is an easy crash course in self-exposure. You get to be selective about the pieces you pull from your stream of consciousness, and you’ll quickly learn that it’s not so bad to share parts of yourself. Readers, in turn, will appreciate your candor and enjoy the glimpse into your personality.
If not for creative growth, try it for the sake of your career. For you marketing types (of which I’m kinda also one), that connection is vital to building a dedicated audience who will be eager to buy your books.
Have you ever blogged stories first developed in your diary? If not, I challenge you to try it! Share a link to your story in the comments.
Dana Sitar is a freelance journalist and indie author. She shares writing tips and anecdotes for dreamers in search of a path through her blog and newsletter, DIY Writing. Grab her DIY Writing Toolkit to guide and inspire you in your writing journey -- including 15 writing prompts for those days when the stream of consciousness doesn’t flow as smoothly as you’d like!