Archive for the 'Journaling' Category

The New Journal – Author Blogging

Dear Reader ~

The art of being an author means that it is no longer enough to craft a compelling manuscript and submit to an agent or publisher. We are now told that no matter what the size of our publishing house we need to do our fair share of marketing.  We must now be excellent promoters of their work and with this revolution comes the relatively new interface of the author blog.

Over the years, my journals have been a conglomeration of personal and impersonal—

scribblings which sometimes lead to published work, but other times include lists of things to do and books to read. Now that some of my scribbles have gone public, I find myself a little more reflective. I try to keep my blog entries general enough so that those who are not authors will also find them stimulating, but those particularly interested in the writing life will gain some personal insight into their chosen field.

In general, there continues to be an intrigue and mystique associated with the writing life. I learned this while editing my last book, Writers and Their Notebooks (The University of South Carolina Press, 2010), and how fascinated readers are to hear about how the writer’s mind works. Even though we don’t get paid much, many people still say they would love to be a writer if they had time. In fact, yesterday I had lunch with a dear friend whose son asked her, “Mom, if you could be famous for anything what would it be?” She turned to him and in spite of working in a completely unrelated field, said, “I would want to be a famous writer.”

Surely everyone else’s grass looks greener, but if you love to read you probably would be proud to call yourself a writer. OK. I’m veering from the subject of blogging, but also making a point that there are different types of author blogs and it’s beauty is that it gives you a chance to ramble and muse. Alas, I have made a promise to my readers that my blog will never exceed 1000 words, and most often they hover around 700. Long blogs will loose readership. We simply all have too much to do.

Many authors already have blogs, but if you are considering one, here are some things you should know about the different types of blogs:

Daily Blog – Even though at first, this may seem like a wonderful idea because it inspires regular writing, these types of blogs are very difficult to maintain over a long period of time. The idea is that writing your blog should not be a chore, but something you actually look forward to doing. You also want to make them stimulating and interesting to read, unlike the journals you kept as a young child. In your first draft, you can start by writing, “Dear Diary,” and write from your heart, write about what really interests you and chances are it will also interest your readers. Then go back and cut what might not be interesting.

Weekly Blog – This is what I do, because a week’s time frame presents itself with enough material to filter through and find something captivating to write about. If nothing happened or sparked your interest in the past week, then write about something in the news which interests you. Write about what you’ve read. Write about a movie you saw.

Subject-directed blog – This is a good type of blog, particularly if you are a nonfiction writer who specializes in a particular topic, whether you’re a politician, scientist, activist, photographer, fashion designer, medical practitioner, painter or filmmaker. These types of blogs stir up the most controversy and will probably get the most comments.

Group Blogs – This is a good way to go if you are unable to make the commitment to a weekly blog. You might want to gather a group of authors together who write similar books and take turns blogging. If you choose this route, make sure you have a list of guidelines laid out in the beginning. In addition to my personal blog, I am a guest blogger and columnist on a few other blogs and I enjoy the occasional and refreshing nature of this arrangement.
What makes a powerful blog? This is an important question because unlike diaries, there’s really no use for a blog without readership. I suppose we should ask our readers, but many of mine have told me that they were just thinking about the subject I blogged about, which I guess means that my blogs are very timely. So here are some tips I live by which might help you:

1 – Have your finger on the pulse on the times.

2 – Let your personality shine through. Readers are attracted to passion in writing.

3 – Write well and compelling text. Sometimes a good writer can make an uninteresting story or life sound very interesting. It’s all in the writing.

4 – Update regularly. My readers expect my entries on Monday.

5 – Stay ahead of yourself. Typically I am one week ahead, just in case and I cannot blog on a Monday, I always have an entry in the hopper.

And the best news of all, (before this blog entry gets too long), is once in a while we hear that blogs can sometimes lead to a book contract – now wouldn’t that be a perk?

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Why We Write

As a journaling advocate who has been writing for over forty years, I have often reflected on the reasons why people have chosen writing as a career. My journaling habit has served as a foundation for my life as professional writer. I have a lot of gratitude for those little red diaries with lock and key that my mother gave me each birthday during my childhood.

There are many reasons why writers are compelled to the page, including having a story to tell and the desire to bridge the gap of loneliness. In order to sit down and put words on the page, writers must submerge themselves in a zone which ignites their creative energy and spirit. Sometimes this requires the simple act of closing an office door, making an escape to a writing retreat, or going to a local bookstore or café. In other cases, it might take a more profound removal from day-to-day life. Sometimes darkness is brought on or initiated by something real in the writer’s life.

According to Margaret Atwood, in her book, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing, (2002), “Writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out into the light.”

Marguerite Duras, in her book, Writing (1993) says, “Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome.”

The childhoods of writers are thought to have something to do with their chosen vocation. Although many are quite different, what they’ve often contained, were books and solitude. My own childhood had all the vital ingredients to provide a lifetime or writing. When I was a child, there were no films or theatres and the batteries in the radio always seemed to be dead. Yet, something ever present was books. I had a shelf above my desk and there was also another big one in our living room.

I learned to read at an early age. My mother was an avid reader and inspired the same in me. Each week she took me to the public library and I’d leave with a stack of books reaching all the way up to my chin. Margaret Atwood also spent a lot of time reading as a child. “My mother liked quietness in children, and a child who is reading is very quiet,” she writes.

As a child, journaling was the only place where I could visit myself and be alone with my thoughts as I tried to make sense out of the world around me. William Faulkner argued that there’s a more profound reason why writers write. “An artist,” he says “is a creature driven by demons. He has a dream. It anguishes himself so much he must get rid of it.” That’s why many of us working on longer projects can get by with very little sleep. The demons just won’t let us stop until they are satisfied and there’s no telling how long it will take them to be satisfied.

In many ways, writing and psychotherapy are both healing and could be thought of as a modern, guilt-free replacement for confession. This might be one reason so many people are drawn to writing memoirs and personal essays. Writing about real life experiences is like a snake shedding its skin and leaving a former self behind. It’s easier moving forward when the baggage from the past is dropped.

Soren Kierkegaard describes what it is to be a poet: “A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music….” The way I look at it is that we are all blessed to be writers.

Joan Didion in her essay, “Why am I a Writer,” says, “Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

As expressed by these exceptional writers, in essence, we write to know ourselves. Even our darkest—or unknown—thoughts, memories and fears can transform to reveal value and meaning for us. And with any luck, for others as well.

The Month of Love

This month presents a few issues to contemplate on the subject of love – a perfect discussion to fill up the pages of your journal. I will share my entries with you here. It’s interesting to study the evolution of love and relationships. No matter where you live, whether in an urban, suburban or rural area, you can hardly get through February without being reminded of Valentine’s Day. This was a holiday we always celebrated when I was growing up because my father managed a general merchandise store (akin to Woolworth’s) and Valentine’s Day cards and gifts were already displayed the moment the Christmas aisle was cleared. So, my beloved father, was reminded every working day to bring home Valentine gifts for my mother and I. Each year he bought me one of those padded chocolate heart boxes filled with assorted chocolates and a card which read, ‘To My Daughter.’ Even though I knew lots of other daughters cross the country got the same, I appreciated his loving gesture and came to expect it.

Needless to say, I continued this ritual with my own kids, although my husband is not a great fan of this universal holiday when card and flower companies dictate that it’s time to celebrate our love. He believes the commercialization has gotten out of hand and on some level I agree with him. He will make his point by buying me flowers or a card either the day before or after February 14th, but not every year – and only when the whim strikes. That man has always kept me guessing!

This makes me wonder, also, about those who do not have romantic love in their lives. How do they cope with cupid following them around the stores for six weeks after the Christmas season ends?

Yesterday, the New York Times feature an article entitled, “Better Loving Through Chemistry,” which addresses the new way of finding love through internet dating services—which as many single people are well aware, has become an online task. (In fact I have two cousins who found the love of their life through such services.) The article discusses how a handful of dating Web sites are competing to impose some science or structure on the quest for love using various kinds of tests in the selection process. For example, ScientificMatch.com created romantic chemistry via genetic testing. The site matches couples based on certain genetic markers for their immune system, believing that we are attracted to those with different immune systems. Wow. This is amazing. Companies like eHarmony suggest potential matches based on areas of compatibility, such as values, beliefs, important experiences, family background and personal values, which they believe are all predictors of successful relationships.

Chemistry.com, on the other hand holds yet another view. As I think about those I know in successful relationships, I find this to be quite accurate. They say those with decisive, straight-talking temperaments, called ‘directors,’ tend to be attracted to empathetic, intuitive types, called ‘negotiators.’ Spontaneous types, called ‘explorers’ tend to be attracted to their own kind, and traditional pillars of society called ‘builders’ also tend to be attracted to their same kind. Think about this and let me know what you think. (I’m not telling you which category I fall into, but those who know me can probably guess!)

When you think that this is a $976 million annual industry, you realize that people do want love in their lives. So, this year, let’s take the time to bring love and caring into another person’s life, whether it is for a moment, a day or a lifetime.

Happy V-Day!

The Mind-Body Connection

I suppose, once a nurse, always a nurse. Even though I have not practiced nursing in over twenty-five years, I have an innate interest in health issues try to keep up with all the recent advances. In recent years and many illnesses later, I have become more and more interested in the mind-body connection.

This past weekend I attended a lecture given by Dr. Hans Gruenn who runs the Longevity Center in Los Angeles. Now, isn’t this a perfect lecture for a baby boomer wanting to remain forever young?  Dr. Gruenn, originally from Germany, spoke on “Advances in Integrative Medicine,” and gave a powerful and poignant two-hour talk.

Integrative medicine is a type of medical practice that incorporates physical western medicine in addition to  alternative therapies while taking into consideration psychological, environmental, historical and genetic factors. It relies upon a partnership between the patient and the physician and is considered a way to treat the body, mind and spirit all at once.

The major question Dr. Gruenn posed for us, is to ask ourselves, not why we  get sick, but why don’t we heal? He believes that the patient must do their part in maintaining their health. He quoted Voltaire – “The doctor is to entertain the patient while he heals.” He admitted that some people have a tendency to see an array of doctors looking for solutions to their health problems, but that there is a real danger in seeing too many doctors and having too many tests. He agrees that we must pick and choose. He spoke about the difference between medical practice in the United States and in Europe and how the basis of good health gets down to good nutrition and eating fresh organic foods, instead of processed foods. He said that due to poor diets, the life expectancy for our children will be shorter than ours.

In general, he said, “Medicine keeps you honest. It makes you think why you  are stuck, whether it is for emotional, physical or genetic reasons.” He believes that the practice of medicine is a searching process and that if a patient comes into his office for a medical problem, he will typically treat that problem, however, if they do not heal by traditional methods, he will examine other reasons which might prevent their healing, including medical history, ancestors’ history and their general state of health.

His recommendation for good health is to examine the following:

1)   What is your weak spot? How can you address it?

2)   What is your diet? Do you have a metabolic problem? Genetic issue?

3)   Do you have food sensitivities or allergies?

4)   How acidic are you? (your pH should be over

He suggested the following basic supplements for health (which I was already happily take!)

1)   Omega 3’s (anti-inflammatory)

2)   Minerals

3)   Digestive enzymes

4)   Vitamin D

5)   Probiotics

If your blood test show deficiencies, you might be instructed to take additional supplements. In the 1970s when I studied nursing, Integrative Medicine was not even in my curriculum. Practitioners in this field were regarded as being on the fringe or practicing quackery. Even acupuncture and chiropractic treatments which are more readily accepted today, were considered questionable treatments.

Today is different, many nursing and medical schools are teaching their students to think in an integrative way with the understanding that the  body, mind and spirit all interact and are never independent of one another. Nutrition is part of the curriculum, whereas typically in those days, it was not.

There’s no doubt that some non-traditional treatments might not work or may not have been adequately tested, but with good research and referrals, it is certainly worth a try. Personally, I believe in the mind-body-spirit connection. As  someone who  meditates and writes in a journal daily, I can honestly say that it makes a huge difference in managing my own stress levels!

Writers and Their Notebooks

I am happy to announce the release of my latest book, Writers and Their Notebooks (The University of South Carolina Press) where I have solicited essays of well-published writers on the role of journaling in their lives. I am honored to have had Phillip Lopate write the book’s foreword. The collection includes essays from: James Brown, Wendy Hall, John Dufresne, Reginald Gibbons, Sue Grafton, Dorianne Laux, Rebecca McClanahan,  Kyoko Mori, Peter Selgin, Kim Stafford, Maureen Stanton, Ilan Stavans, Michael Steinberg, Tony Trigilio Lori VanPelt, to name a few.

The actual publication date is January 31st, but as my eager readers, you can already place your pre-order on Amazon,  Barnes and  Noble and  Powell’s Books. If you want a signed book plate, please email me your address and I’d  be happy to send it to you.

Here’s an excerpt from my introduction:

“A journal is the music and voice of our true emotions. It makes no judgments, is free of editors, critics and teachers. By its nature, the journal captures sentiments, observations, ideas, ruminations and reflections. Whether the writer is expressing the depths of their true feelings, snippets of overheard dialogue, observations, ideas for future projects or listing books to be read, the journal is an important accessory in the writer’s tool kit.

The art of journal writing dates back to when men wrote on cave walls. The first published journals were those of Samuel Pepys in the 17th century. Between 1660 and 1669 he wrote an 11-volume diary that was published after his death in 1825. Next, there were the journals of The Lewis and Clark expedition in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Then, along came James Swan, a native American wrote extensively in the mid-1800s about whaling practices.

Walt Whitman wrote in his journal in the mid-1860s, and then Ralph Waldon Emerson wrote about friends and activities of special interest to him. As a matter of fact he wrote about Henry David Thoreau. In 1885, Susy Clemens (the daughter of Mark Twain) was 13-years-old when she began to write a memoir of her celebrated father.

Virginia Woolf, one of the 20th century’s most influential writers said that she wrote in her diary to bring order into the chaos in her life.

In the mid-twentieth century, Anne Frank, for her 13th birthday, received a diary from her parents. Twenty-five days later, to avoid imprisonment, her family went into hiding in the upper floor of her father’s office building. Her book, The Diary of A Young Girl, published years later, was written about her hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam.

The intrigue and curiosity of what is written on journal pages is innate to human character, which might be why the Diary of A Young Girl has been such a classic, as have been other published journals.

The essays in this collection are a celebration of writers who use journaling in their personal and creative lives. The types of writers are diverse—they are poets, novelists, short story writers, essayists and memoirists, They are male, female, young, old, and live from coast to coast. They have all been widely published and many are professors in major college and universities.

The confessional nature of these essays makes each one compelling to read. Many of the authors write so automatically in their journal that they were honestly stumped when I asked them to write an essay describing their journaling practice. After minimal contemplation, they agreed and after completing the essay they felt an enormous sense of satisfaction. In fact, many thanked me for the exercise and the opportunity to contribute to this collection.  During the writing process these writers not only learned about their journaling practices, but they also learned about themselves.

Most people who have made journaling a vibrant part of their lives will agree on its benefits, particularly in how it is the best way to record memories and as a way to ground them in their lives. The journal has also helped writers work issues out.

My inspiration for writing this book is grounded in my own journaling practices that began at the age of ten. It was a maroon hardcover volume without lines. On top of each page were the wise sayings of the prophet Kahil Gibran.  My grandmother and caretaker had committed suicide in my childhood home and to help me cope with this great loss, my mother bought me a journal. Into that journal I poured my pain and sentiments. As an only child, that journal became my best friend and confidant. Initially, my musings were a form of catharsis in an effort to ease the pain of losing my beloved grandmother, but eventually some thoughts lead to school essays and eventually formed the foundation for my life as a writer.

During graduate school I became further inspired to journal while reading writer Anaïs Nin’s four volumes of her journals. She began her first journal as a letter to her deranged father, which she never sent. I was very drawn to her writing style and sensibilities and her volumes are still perched in my writing studio.”

I really enjoyed gathering this collection of stellar writers all who have been a pleasure to work with. I was so honored that world-renowned essayist, Phillip Lopate offered to write the foreword and here is an excerpt:

“I salute the editor of this valuable collection, Diana Raab who ahs done such a sensitive job of gathering these diverse, eloquent, and experiences voices and encouraging their thoughtful, heartbreaking, rambunctious, free flights of testimony and speculation into  being. Freedom is a frequent theme in these pages. The freedom to try out things, to write clumsy sentences when no one is looking, to be unfair, immature, event to be stupid. No one can expect to write well who would not first take the risk of writing badly. The writer’s notebook is a safe place for such experiments to be undertaken.”

Happy New Year — resolutions, yes or no?

I made no resolutions for the New Year.  The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me. — Anaïs Nin

It’s 2010 and this is the first year I toasted the New Year without any resolutions. What’s the point, we never keep them anyway! Instead of pronouncing my resolutions over a glass of champagne, I decided to write mine in my journal. First and foremost, I decided to slow down a bit this year, do more reading and less published writing. Four books in eighteen months has given me a little bit of heartburn and although I’m happy about my accomplishments, I’m somewhat tired of reviewing galleys.

During the holidays, I read two books—Mary Karr’s third memoir, Lit which was great, but just a continuation of the tragic drama in her life. It’s mind-boggling how one woman my own age could have already written three memoirs. I bow to her writing style and story. The second book I read is one which has to do with my written New Year’s Resolution and it’s called, Awakening The Buddhist Within by Lama Surya Das. The first chapter is called, ‘Contemplating Your Life,’ which for me will be the subject of 2010, the year my first child gets married. Das writes in a very compelling and easy-to-understand manner and much of what he says appears to be common sense, but it’s nice to see it on the page. He says that self-reflection helps us heal our lives and accept any problems we have and realize that something might need to be changed. He says that everything in our life depends on our relationship with the self, the world and the other. He says that when something is going on inside your head, chances are it will have something to do with at least one of these parameters.

On the path to happiness, he suggests sitting down and trying to change one of these relationships. He poses some interesting questions which can make great journaling prompts. Try these:

  • Where do you want to be in a month, a year, five years, ten years?
  • What or who might you be if you were given the choice or the chance?
  • If someone gave you a cosmic credit card what would you do with it?
  • What do you want to do with your creativity?
  • What would you do about your compassion for others? How would or could you help others?
  • Who am I and who can I be?

In summary, the tenets of Buddhism includes being mindful or pleased in the pleasures of the moment. Focus on the words, ‘just this here and now,’ while you inhale and exhale (important part) and simplify, simplify, simplify and remember what the Buddha said, “Wherever we go, wherever we remain, the results of our actions follow us.”

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU AND THANKS FOR BEING FAITHFUL READERS!!

The Red Book by C.J. Jung

Last week I had the special opportunity to visit Pacifica University for James Hillman’s Lecture, entitled “The Active Imagination,” which was prompted by the recent and controversial release of C. G.Jung’s The Red Book (Liber Novu) which last month was published by his heirs with the assistance of the translator Sonu Shamdasani. Hillman encountered Jung in Zurich in 1958 after obtaining his Ph.D. Jung began the journal in 1913 after a falling-out with Freud. Apparently he was afflicted by a psychotic episode which he viewed as a voluntary confrontation with his unconscious. At the time he was having strange dreams and frightening visions. Because of the personal and quirky nature of the manuscript, it was not published during his lifetime. The book’s theme is about how Jung regained his soul and overcame his imbalance and spiritual isolation.

In The Red Book, Jung described his dreams which reflected what was going on in the world—what was happening during the horror and crumbling of the 19th century. According to Hillman, Jung was thrown off by all the events of the time. Hillman described The Red Book as the theory of madness and the defending of madness. He continues, “Many have written that Jung was psychotic or had something called, ‘creative illness.’ This makes the point that in order to do something radical, one must leave the safe terrain. What held it together for Jung was his commitment to his own world, which had no acceptance and had no real authoritative background.” Apparently, Jung stayed committed to the journal for about 15 years and wrote in it at the end of the day, in spite of a busy practice, a wife and children. He was desperate. He was going crazy and had to do something. He was trying to survive with his demons, images and voices, which is why he wrote in the journal.

Jung believed that imagination is the reproductive activity of the mind in general. He believed that people often suffer from a lack of imagination. According to Hillman, many might have thought this book to be a book of instruction, but in fact it’s not – it is simply a book to learn from. The book retails for $195, but is available on Amazon for $ 114.07, although I noticed this morning that it is temporarily out of stock. I also understand the book is on display until January at The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC.


Quote of the Week


"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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