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One of the most common pieces of writing advice I hear is that you should write frequently and often. Writing regular entries in a diary should fit this criteria, but I'm hesistant to call my years of writing entries as serious, qualitative writing practice.

I do focus on more open-ended topics and don't usually deadpan describe everyday events. It's not uncommon to be incredibly meta in this, questions like 'why do I think this?' and the thinking that emerges from that can conclude by changing my own perspective or the way I think or approach a certain topic. I think that my problem with thinking of this as serious writing practice is because it's already a habit of mine and it feels like cheating to accept something that I already do and don't have to actively attempt to learn. It also isn't the exact same thing as trying to write an actual paragraph or chapter of a novel.

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    Practice doesn't mean doing the same thing every day. It means doing it with a goal in mind, and things to work on to improve – Thomo Aug 16 at 4:43
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    To clarify: I don't write about the same things or daily, just frequently and when I feel like I have something to say. I usually end up writing pages about these ideas and my own perceptions of them. I do think having a goal in mind is a good idea in deciding whether or not a specific writing activity counts as practice. – ObsoleteUsername Aug 16 at 5:07
  • Sorry, what I mean to say is doing the same thing over and over, without feedback and improvement, isn't practice. If you practice bad habits consistently, you don't improve, you only cement the behavior. Practice means doing it with the goal to improve. If you write crap everyday for a year, the only thing you're going to get better at is writing crap. If you write it, then later read it and edit, then that is practice and you'll find yourself improving. – Thomo Aug 28 at 3:50
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There is a distinction that needs to be drawn here: are you talking about practice that helps you improve your writing, or are you talking about the kind of practice you can put in a CV to help you get a job in journalism or something similar?

If you're looking for something to put on your CV, "I write a diary" is weak. "I write a blog" is stronger, because you can put a link to it. Even if the two are essentially the same thing - the fact that a blog is "published" makes people see it differently.

But if you're asking whether your writing is improved by the fact that you write a diary, then yes. Any exercise wherein you express your ideas in writing, improves your writing. School assignments. Blog posts. Diary entries. Letters. Stack Exchange answers. Expressing your ideas clearly, transmitting them in a way that lets them be understood by others - it is a skill. Any form of writing improves it. (Writing of ideas, I should say. Making a shopping list doesn't count.)

It is a habit that you have? That's great. You're getting practice through something you enjoy and do anyway, rather than through "dedicated practice". That's actually better, since it wouldn't tire you as much.

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Let me make a parallel:

Question: Does walking inside my own home counts as exercise?

Answer: It depends on the mindset and the way it is performed.

For exercises, it depends on what metabolic rate you can achieve during your exertion. Keeping it steady and in the optimal zone makes it an (productive) exercise. Of course every single movement counts. They just don't count as much.

One could argue also that just speaking does not make you a better singer or a better news anchor. But certain patterns and techniques of speech do. What is the difference? I can idly strike a guitar's strings. Does it help me make better music?

Now let's port this to writing. Every word penned (or typed, in this XXI century of ours) counts. Even this post counts. However, are you striving to improve? Are you reflecting on your word choices, grammar and stylistic choices? Are you reviewing your work and honing your process?

That is the kind of writing that counts the most. Just as walking from my kitchen to my bedroom is a minimal exercise, mindlessly penning a diary entry is writing. However, you might not be making the most of it.

In one word: Mindfulness.

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I think that my problem with thinking of this as serious writing practice is because it's already a habit of mine and it feels like cheating to accept something that I already do and don't have to actively attempt to learn.

I write (and sometimes I get paid for it). To turn your diary writing into serious practice, I'd leave some blank pages after each entry, and after some time (a week perhaps) go back and try and rewrite an entry, or part of it, to be more clear, or have more impact.

When you are writing your diary, take some event or emotion from your day, and try to translate that into prose as if it were in a novel. It doesn't have to be long, or a scene, much of my writing in a novel is a piece less than a hundred words long, a paragraph or two, that describes an MC entering a new room, or meeting a new person, or ordering dinner.

Surely you did something during the day, or something made you laugh, or something irritated you momentarily. Perhaps you felt serene while grocery shopping. Pick a real moment you experienced during your day, and make a few paragraphs out of it. Read it a week later, and (on that blank page you left) try to rewrite it for more impact. Better word choices. More clarity. More sensory information -- Did you describe only what you saw? Did you hear anything? Smell anything? Was the air warm, or cold, or moving or still, stifling or dry?

Begin with actual moments from your life and memory; later you can move on to imaginary moments for characters.

Now these little descriptions are not stories, they don't have tension, or plot. As I answered in another recent question, these are vignettes, capturing a moment, like a photograph or painting does, but in words. But vignettes are a building block of scenes, and you can get practice adding tension and plots later. Vignettes that successfully create an imaginary experience for a reader are the bulk of writing well.

You can also write vignettes of dialogue you have actually had, conversations, being told a joke, relating some breaking news, etc. Practicing writing your real dialogue is practicing writing imagined dialogue. Get an idea of how much was actually communicated in words, how much detail, how long the sentences were. Actual dialogue is typically natural for someone, and by trying to recreate an actual conversation you had (without the hems, haws, and weird pauses), you get an idea of what dialogue should look like on the page. And, probably, how much thought actually goes with your dialogue.

Keeping a diary entry can be a good exercise, and writing about real life relieves you of the burden of imagining something. It is pre-imagined and you have all the detail you need, in your memory, to capture the moment. You have reality as your yardstick for how well you did (at least reality as you remember it.)

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