Life writing is precisely what it says on the tin, it’s writing about real life.
While there are many different types of life writing, they all fall under this one umbrella term.
There are, of course, two primary forms of life writing biographical and autobiographical. There are many ways styles to chose from, but today we will be focusing on diary writing specifically. So what is diary writing? Can it be helpful for a writer to keep one?
Why You Should Try It
Diary writing is common among writers and can involve anything. Traditionally diary writing involves documenting your day to day life, personal struggles and ambitions.
It is impossible to say what you should and shouldn’t put in your diary because that is entirely up to you. I cannot tell you how often to write in one, I personally do not keep one, but I know many writers who do.
A diary can be useful for practising the craft, keeping your emotions in check and is occasionally used for documenting the writing process.
Writing in a diary is a great source of relief for many authors. Being able to write, knowing that it will never be read can de-formalise the writing process.
It also helps with building a writing habit or increasing your daily word count limits. Diaries are a great way of writing without the confines of a plot or having to explain things to a reader.
It can also be emotionally helpful because it allows you to be honest with yourself when writing, without having to consider whether or not your work is legible. So absolutely give diary writing a shot, try to keep up the habit for a few weeks to a month to see if you enjoy it or not.
I decided that diary writing was not for me simply because I already have a writing habit. Keeping a diary stopped me from being motivated enough to work on my current projects because I had already ticked a writing box.
While keeping a diary or journal is still popular today, the most common modern-day equivalent of diary writing is, of course, blogging. Blogs can be read as more than just a private diary entry now as they are widely circulated and commented on. Blogs can be read as commentaries, journalism or fiction.
Diaries are in this weird middle ground area between private and public. They are seen as deeply personal, secretive and about self. Diaries are mostly written for self-reflection and isolation from the world.
A journal shows the hidden corners of a character and allows a reader to get to know the intimate thoughts of someone. That is perhaps why the idea of a published diary is attractive to the reader.
Writers specifically have the option to use a diary as a tool for improving their work. In the past, some authors have paired diary writing with their main works. Elizabeth George saw writing a novel as a journey and would start a new diary for each piece of work.
The genre ‘diary’ has many different levels of acknowledgement and awareness about whether or not they are being read. Some journals are written as though they are entirely private, while others have the intent of being read. The method you chose is entirely up to you as the writer.
A diary can be enriched by the collection of ‘evidence’ letters or testimonies. This can be a clever tool to help show a contrasting viewpoint, inject another voice into the writing or add emotional depth. It can also be used to enhance the way we see characters and their responses.
In the Diary of Anne Frank, Anne’s sister makes a guest appearance in the diary and Anne and Margot have a conversation this way. It allows the two girls to talk rationally and explain their viewpoints in their own voices. The addition of Margot’s voice to this book expands what the reader gets to see of the world. This is an exciting way to expand upon the work and show character development.
There is one last technique that I would like to mention, and it is beautifully shown in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This book is written in letter format, and the main character is a student who is interested in English. The technique I would like to focus on is the improvement of writing in the main character. As Charlie’s vernacular grows and he becomes better at English, his writing improves. This is shown throughout the book. You see the character finding his voice and playing with words. He stylistically develops, as an actual writer would.
I love this because it’s a very visual and subtle way of showing character growth. I would encourage you (if you’re planning to publish) to let your character grow in some way instead of remaining the same person with the same viewpoints from beginning to end. A diary, although an honest form of life writing, should have some character arc. Watching a character stay the same through thick and thin can become boring.
I would recommend any writer that hasn’t played with the idea of keeping a diary yet to try one out. It can be a great way to come to terms with yourself and can be useful in developing your voice.
There are of course fictional diaries and real-life diaries and it’s up to you whether or not you want to write as yourself or someone else. Maybe try out both? You might learn something about yourself. Hopefully, this brief introduction to diary writing as a form of life writing was helpful, and as always, I cannot wait to see you on the bookshelf!