How to Trick Yourself into Writing Great Literary Fiction

Over the past two years, I’ve become a real advocate for journaling. I believe its a fantastic and fun tool to utilise for exploring your creative side. For some, it may be more of an organisational tool —hence why bullet journaling has become such a craze— for others, it may be more of a therapeutic tool. For me, journaling is a mix of self-evaluation and a means to improve my writing skills.

For those hoping to one day write a literary masterpiece, its important to force yourself to write daily. This is where writing in a journal comes in handy. In your journal you’ll essentially be free writing. All while ignoring the editor inside you. Your journal will be your safe haven; where your writing is free from judgement. Give yourself permission to suck. Forget about whether your grammar is correct, or whether you spelled a word wrong. Just write.

But what should I write about?

The first step to overcome is actually putting the pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard if you prefer). This was always the most difficult thing to overcome for me. I either didn’t know how to start, or I was overthinking about what I actually wanted to write. This is where writing prompts help.

You can find hundreds of prompts all around the internet if you’re struggling to think about topics that come to mind. I even programmed my own tool that generates writing prompts. But some of the easiest ones to start with are:

  • Today I noticed…
  • I am grateful for…

The aim with these prompts is to extract the good little nuggets of introspection from your mind. You can either try to summarize your entire day; or instead focus on one specific observation and drill down on every thought and feeling associated to it. For the best results in our upcoming trick, I suggest going with “Today I noticed” as your main prompt.

creative writing journaling – Image from TheGiftofWriting.com

Make it an exercise.

Now that you’ve started writing in your journal using prompts; the task will now be to do it consistently. I recommend trying to do it for two whole weeks (or for longer if you’d like to). Remember, you don’t have to spend hours doing this. It can simply be a 5-10 minute daily exercise —and trust me, you’ll eventually be grateful at how normalised writing becomes once you force yourself to do it every day.

Once you’ve done this free writing exercise for at least 10-14 days, you’ll have enough material to pick from for the trick to work.

Take your best piece of writing and edit it.

After the two week period of writing in your journal every day, read back over your entries. Then, decide which one(s) you like best. If you’ve been writing by hand then type it up; if you originally typed these entries then print it out and use a pen for this next part.

Edit your piece or writing as you would with any other piece of writing that you would want to publish. Maybe you’ll want to change a few words. Maybe you’ll want to cut a few sentences short. Whatever you need to do to make yourself see the piece of writing as publishable, do it now.

This is where the tricking happens.

Your journal has been a personal place for you to host your thought dumps. To capture your thoughts on what you’ve learned and what you’re grateful for. Your place to examine the world around you and understand your place within it. But now, let’s flip that.

Change all of the pronouns in your piece of edited writing so that it switches from first-person to third-person. Basically, change all iterations of “I” to “He” or “She” or “Simon” or “Brenda”. Read it back to yourself and see if you feel like learning more about what Simon or Brenda are going through. If you feel a relatable story forming that you have a desire to add to, then you’re officially writing fiction.

Amazing handwriting in a journal – Image from Imgur

Why does this trick work for literary fiction?

Some of the best literary fiction out there is an examination of human behaviour. They are highly character driven and less focused on a structural plot than genre fiction. So by writing about your own observations and inner thoughts, you’re actually extracting the human properties from inside yourself that are both fascinating and extremely relatable to others. Whether you believe it or not, this could lead to some extraordinary fiction. It’s something that’s starting out as real, but you’ll then be shaping it into a work of fiction by developing on what you’ve already started.

Perhaps your journal entry will become just one scene in a bigger story. Perhaps the subject matter in your entry will be the full basis of your short story, novella or novel. Whatever the case, you’ve given yourself a start that’s grounded in reality.

It’s important to also know that there entire book collections out there are with short stories that read like journal entries. People actually want to read about human thoughts and emotions that feel authentic.

Go check out this short course on Skillshare for more insight

I must give credit to author Emily Gould as her course on Skillshare is what put this into perspective for me. I’ve been writing in journals for a few years and I knew it was something that could benefit aspiring authors. But only after watching this course from Emily did I understand how to put it into context.