You should write in a diary every day.
The advice made sense. I wanted to be a writer, and the best way for a child to become a better writer was to write. A daily diary would force the words out, create an addiction that would require satisfaction before falling asleep each night—a productive insomnia.
Besides, little girls love diaries. Just look at the faux-fur cover, the glitter, and the heart-shaped padlocks. You know. For the secrets.
The best diaries were the ones on the commercials. The expensive ones that were locked in a pink plastic shell, complete with a voice activated security system. Sure, the bulky password-protected shield didn’t have room for very many pages inside of it, but that was beside the point. No one must see this writing. This writing was secret.
And boring. My gosh, it was boring.
Because as it turns out, a ten-year-old’s secrets absolutely blow.
My elementary-school attention span didn’t even last a week.
It was the content of the diary that was the problem. The reason I liked to read was because I liked to read fiction, and a diary is always so horribly nonfiction. Like those invasive training-wheel essays forced on us in class: What Did You Do This Summer?
Several diary attempts were made, all unsuccessful, even the faux-fur one.
And yet, still I heard that same advice over and over: if you want to be a writer, you should write in a diary every day. It always bothered me, because I was such an terrible failure when it came to diary keeping, and I still didn’t have any secrets.
Besides that, why was I writing down all of my weaknesses in an incriminating document? The best-case scenario was to bury it inside of the earth before anyone else realized that I couldn’t afford the voice activated one.
Still…if I didn’t even have the patience for a diary, how was I ever supposed to write a book? That small voice of doubt was ever-present, like a notebook full of secrets that is inevitably not hidden well enough.
I was studying in college before I finally succeeded in my lifelong quest. Not to be a writer, but in that secondary mini-quest I had forgone all those years ago, back when I realized with mild horror that I could open the heart-shaped padlock without a key.
I was going to start a dream journal.
My dreams occupied that same fictional space that my stories did, and in fact, had been the inspiration for several of my stories up to that point. A dream journal would be useful, a record of all of the bonus creativity my unconscious mind had to offer. Plus, I would not need to write in it every day, only when I had a particularly vivid dream or nightmare.
There are no security systems on my journal, there are no useless locks, and there are no secrets.
There are stories though. Mostly the tie-dye nonsense of a recharging mind, but in and amongst the madness, there are promising glimmers of inspiration. The journal itself is a story in a way, and I like to think that somewhere in the most mysterious part of my brain, the characters in the journal haven’t faded completely to black, but are still there. Mingling.
In Transcendent, the short story “When the Dreamshard Knocks” found its fertilizer in the pages of my dream journal, in all of those fractured Technicolor imaginings that I’d written down while still half-asleep. The setting—The Unconscious—is based on a world built by my dreams and written down in the pages of my new journal.
The best way to become a better writer is to write, but don’t force yourself into a password protected box. Write what you want, where you want.
After all, some writing was never meant to be a secret.
Ali Habashi graduated from the University of St. Andrews with a Joint Honors MA degree in English and Management, and currently works in Boston at an academic publisher. She has been published in several academic literary journals, most recently in the Inklight Creative Writing Society’s annual publication. She has recently begun writing horror, and has been featured on The Other Stories Podcast.
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