Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Importance of Personal Writing

About thirty percent of my daily writing will never be read. Not by editors, not by friends, not by fans. The reason is, at least 30% of my writing is for me.

I keep a traditional journal, in which I record events and my thoughts and feelings on my daily life. It contains a lot of lists, because I like lists, and venting. The venting allows me to express all my anger or frustration, often directed at people I usually love, without needing to come into conflict with them or bad-mouth them to other people. I also find venting my frustrations or listing problems allows me to let go of them. I don’t feel the need to ‘hold on’ so I remember them, they’re written down if I need to reference them.

I also write down a lot of my daydreams in my journal. A lot of things that anyone in their right mind would be rightly ashamed to admit. Again, this frees up mental real estate for me, because sometimes I get caught in daydream loops, where I am so busy fantasizing about what I want, I forget to be productive.

I also have a prayer book, which is reserved specifically for prayers. These aren’t wishes or daydreams.  They are often promises to myself and God, in areas I would like to be a better person. Or requests for guidance. I like to read through them regularly, as well as writing new ones.

Anyone who sees me regularly in person has also seen my ideas notebook, which I carry with me at all times. The notebook itself is replaced regularly. However the leather cover has been with me for fifteen years now and I love it deeply. This is for writing ideas, snippets, dialogue, writing exercises and diagrams. Mostly it’s related to writing, but I may plan other things in the ideas notepad, such as the layout of my vegetable garden or lifestyle exercises. (EG: Where do you want to be in 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years etc.)

Then there is personal fiction writing I do on the computer. Much like the snippets or scenes I do in my notebook, I also write longer things, just for me. I have several novels I work on regularly that will never be published, which I write just for me. Sometimes I take characters I love from my own books and write them into other worlds and settings. Or give them different endings in their own settings. Sometimes I write fan fiction.

Even Meg and I write private co-authored stuff that is just for us. I’ve been sick a few days and unable to focus on our two works-in-progress. So Meg and I wrote a 12k novellette. There is no conflict in it. It’s got about four scenes and it’s about two characters going on a road trip. It was very relaxing to write. We enjoyed it immensely. We felt good about writing it, even though we knew its sole purpose was to keep us both entertained. It did its job very well. It’s the kind of thing I will probably dig out and re-read every few months. But without any conflict or plot, it will never be shared. I doubt anyone else will find it interesting—it was the act of creation that gave joy, not the finished product.

I think it’s critical that all writers have their own private writing and there are several very important reasons:

1. Knowing no one will ever read, or judge something allows you to be truly honest. To truly let out whatever is inside you. To fulfil those private fantasies without trying to make them fit a consumable mould. To release negativity and shame and vomit it all straight from the brain to the page.

2. It gives you an outlet for the dumb shit you should keep out of your shared writing. The hero fantasies, the things that in your heart of heart FEEL awesome, but don’t work in a proper manuscript.

3. It gives you room to see if things work. It’s hard to takes risks in your writing—or anywhere else in your life—if someone is always looking over your shoulder.

4. Having space to write complete and utter shit without having to worry that anyone will ever read it, keeps writing fun and makes it easier to polish the shared stuff. Imagine if you had to wear a black tie outfit, with perfectly done hair, all the time? Your life would be exhausting. You need weekends in your PJs on the couch too. Private writing is slobby couch time for your brain.

5. Some things will probably make other people uncomfortable. But you still want to create them. Your life is going to be slightly improved when you learn which graphically detailed novels about serial killers are for sharing and which are going to get you committed.

So there it is. How much of you writing is private? Really, truly intentionally private? Not just ‘I am ashamed or afraid to share this, but I secretly want everyone to love it’ private? Do you already keep two separate kinds of writing (for you and for others) or does this sound like something you want to try?

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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