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Dear Readers:

Please note that this blog has moved to a new address:

So update your bookmarks and RSS feeds, and visit me “Diana’s Notebook: Literary Musings” starting this week.


What To Write….

Whether you write fiction, nonfiction or poetry, there’s no doubt you have a unique story to tell with your very own perspective. For many writers, reliving and retelling childhood stories are common platforms for their work. We often return to those times because they were filled with pain, joy or unanswered questions.

Even though we might have a sense of what story we need to tell, but once in a while we get stumped. Many writers say their best story ideas come to them when not sitting at their desks ‘working,’ but rather when they’re out and about. It’s important to remain alert to those mundane moments in everyday life—odd discoveries and chance remarks made by others in social, work or casual settings. Compelling stories contain snippets of these incidents woven with well-known factoids. That’s one of the many good reasons to carry a notebook with you wherever you go.

My typical day begins with reading the newspaper, either on line or with my morning coffee. An article might spur my interest which would drive me to surf the web for more information. If I am in the middle of another project, I will toss the idea into my “Writing Idea,” folder which contains stories I hope to tell one day. Whether I get to them or not is not important, the important thing is to have that folder for those days when my well runs dry.

Outside of having the “Writing Idea Folder,” when stuck for ideas, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

1)What is going through your head?

2) Who are your villains? Who are your heroes?

3)What are you obsessed by?

4) What inspires you?

5) Where are you in your life now?

6) What stories are you compelled to read?

Whatever you choose to write, you will soon realize that the creative journey is similar to life’s journey—it is unpredictable, unstructured, mysterious and laden with miracles.

In her book, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002), Margaret Atwood says this, “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.”

In Writing (1993) Marguerite Duras 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.”

William Faulkner believed 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.” Whatever this dream is writers often lose sleep until the project is completed and this is how they uncover the story they have to tell.

In many ways, writing 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. Franz Kafka summarized this idea beautifully by saying, “I write in order to shut my eyes.” Fiction writers might argue that they write fiction so that they can tamper with the facts in their life and that they have more freedom during the writing process.

Joan Didion says this about her writing, “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.”

In essence, we write to know ourselves and to figure out the world around us. Even our darkest—or unknown—thoughts, memories and fears, can transform themselves to reveal value and meaning in our lives now. And with any luck, for others as well.

A Writer’s Spring Cleaning

For me, springtime is the perfect time for cleaning, not only our physical space, but our literary domains. This could mean organizing everything from our desk to our thoughts to our musings, to our unfinished poems or manuscripts.

In order to initiate this process, the writer needs to visit their favorite writing place. Visiting that special place in the springtime offers a unique opportunity to clean up the clutter sprawled about our literary world.

Virginia Woolf, author of Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, and A Room of One’s Own coined the term, “A Room of One’s Own.” Woolf referred not only to the physical room—but also to the figurative room, the places writers go to tap into their subconscious or to find the muse that sparks their creative energy. This is a place writers are safe and happy, whether it is in the confines of their own home, in a coffee shop or in a retreat. Most writers are aware of their “place.”

While in your place, think about simplifying your life. One reason to consider doing this is so that you have more time to do what you really want to do, and that is write. To begin your cleaning, try composing , a literary to-do list. Start by making three columns. The first one could be called,  “Works-in-Progress,” the second could be “Future Projects,” and the third might be called “Back Burner Projects.” Preparing this list  will make it easier for you to prioritize and help you see that all of your projects may not be viable. Springtime gives you permission to make decisions about what’s important.

After preparing your list, go to the right column and start by filing away projects on the “Back Burner.”  Just get them off your desk. Perhaps you will return to them at a later date, but don’t let them clutter your work space. Remember that your goal for spring-cleaning is to de-clutter. Next, put your “Works-in-Progress” and “Future Projects,” in order of their priority. Now glance at your list again. Perhaps you have some insights about your work. This might be the time to crack open a new journal and jot them down.

I think of springtime as a time of new beginnings. Many of you know that I’m a journaling advocate for both the young, old, happy and sad. I believe there is a place for notebooks in all of our lives, whether it’s a small pocket notebook like the one carried by poet Kim Stafford or a larger format like I keep on my desk.

You might choose one notebook to lump all your musings, or you might favor separate ones for different projects. You might considering beginning a gratitude journal to write about what you’re thankful for and what brings  joy into your life, whether it’s people, places or things. Sometimes half the battle of achieving happiness, rests in the ability to verbalize or write down what brings you joy. What makes your heart dance? Writing empowers you to discover your deepest desires.

Springtime is also a good time to shed bad energy. Focus on surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself and those who nurture and inspire the writer in you. Wean yourself from what I call ‘toxic persons,’ who cast negative energy your way. This might be more challenging if those people are family members, as my father used to say, “You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your relatives.”

If you have a relative who you don’t see eye-to-eye with, you might want to consider writing a letter expressing your feelings. Not only will this help relieve some of your stress, but it may also help foster a new beginning in your relationship.

Springtime often floods me with memories of lost loved ones and this is a good time to write about them. I like to think of every day as a new beginning, but springtime has its own unique kind of charm.

Enjoy your own writing and springtime!

Happy International Women’s Day !

Today, we celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women and  indeed, we have so much to celebrate.

First and foremost, how wonderful it was to see Kathryn Bigelow make history last night by being the first female director in the 82-year history to win the Academy Awards and on top of that it was for a war movie. Bravo Bigelow! Yesterday also marked the death of the oldest living person in the United States, Mary Josephine Roy, who was a sports-loving, card-playing woman and if you can imagine, was born before Henry Ford built his first car. In the end, she outlived her husband by forty years, had two sons, eight grandchildren, thirteen great grandchildren and five great-great children. Now that is quite a legacy, don’t you think?

International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1911—even  before women were allowed to vote.

Today, in my journal I am going to take some time to reflect on the most influential women in my own life, both alive and dead.

TO ALL YOU MALE READERS– I just read that in Great Britain, male cosmetic sales are growing at twice the rate of those in the female market. There has been talk about males wanting to keep up and keep young. Perhaps you are all getting ready for your big day – International Men’s Day to be celebrated November 19 — so don’t fret, you will have your turn!


Honoring Children’s Literature

Well we survived Christmas, and now we have to survive the rest of the year! It shouldn’t be too difficult – one week to go!

Last week I was gathering some books to give a friend going through a difficult time. I went to our local independent book shop, Tecolote, which is my absolute favorite. I asked for the inspirational section and one of the store’s employees recommended, What the Dormouse Said: Lessons for Grown-Ups From Children’s’ Books Collected by Amy Gash.

Initially, the title did not grab me, but as I flipped through the 146 page book which could be held in one hand, I found it to be a gem. I fell in love not only with the layout, but with the quotes Amy Gash chose to put in the book. It’s neat revisiting some of these books and some of the values and virtues we were taught as kids through children’s literature.

As a mother of three, I know I’ve read dozens of  kids books, some in which the moral of the story is easier to ascertain than others. What is nice about this book is that Amy spent a great deal of time gathering the essentials in some very prominent children’s books, including: The Little Prince, The Secret Garden Aesop’s Fables, Charlotte’s Web, Good Night Moon, 101 Dalmatians and many more of our favorites!

What a treat it was revisiting books I hadn’t picked up in almost twenty years! They also sparked some writing and journaling ideas –which is always welcome during those times of drought!

  • “Nothing is always” – The Girl Who Loved In The Wind
  • You can’t expect two starts to drop in the same field in one lifetime.” – Mary Poppins
  • “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
  • “There’s nothing as cozy as a piece of candy and a book.” – Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic

  • I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” – The Little Engine That Could
  • “It is such a secret place, the land of tears.” – The Little Prince

And the one most appropriate for this time of year:

  • “To him it was not the gift that mattered, but the giver.” – The Turnip

You Don’t Have to Be A Poet to Write Poetry

This past weekend marked the first of my poetry readings for my latest collection, THE GUILT GENE. This is a collection which I really enjoyed putting together.

It has been said that poets should not give away their secrets because there are people seated on benches waiting to copy and emulate—but as an instructor of writing, it is just a part of what I do. The secret I want to share with you is that you do not have to be a poet to write poetry.

Really. You don’t and I will tell you why.

The first poem I wrote as an adult was about fifteen years ago. The poem, called Park Avenue, was inspired by being watched by a senior citizen sitting on a bench outside my favorite coffee shop. As a woman taught to park in New York, by her car-loving father, I knew that I was a darn good parallel-parker. The gentleman on the bench on Park Avenue insisted on staring at me and his glance aggravated me so much that I decided to write a poem about the experience.

I read the poem at my writer’s meeting that week and received accolades. As a nonfiction writer, I was proud of my work, and realized the importance of words stemming directly from emotion. In addition, there is this certain unexplainable magic that happens when a poem is born. The poet is filled with a sense of joy and fluttering which creeps along the skin. Just try it. Sit for a few moments and think about an emotion or image which has recently grabbed you and write a poem about it.  Examine the details in your every day world; isolate one moment or image and dig deeper into it and you will surprise yourself.

My other secret is that most of my poems are inspired by a recent image or emotion. Below are two poem selections from THE GUILT GENE:

The Library

In the happy moments

of childhood

a public library sits

nestled between a department store

and a post office,

the only place I could find peace

from the yelling and screaming

at home

and the fallout shelters at school.

That little library card

bearing my name beneath

lamination could protect me

more than the words of my father

who would take me onto his lap,

swear to me that everything would be okay.

In the end books would save me.

Knowledge is the only thing

that cannot be stolen away.

California Roll

On route to my favorite coffee shop

in the building beside your place,

my mind meanders toward

the neighboring mountains

where we trekked long ago

and yodeled to the world how we

wanted to be forever arm-in-arm

when all of a sudden

a glance into my rear view mirror

meets the flashing lights of the law

signaling for me to pull aside.

He asks about the stop sign I blew through.

Having a blank moment

I mutter something about being

new to the area

don’t mention that for the past few weeks

friends and family have been

teaching me the lovely local dance

they call the California Roll.

I don’t mention you either.

I just say I’m sorry.

It won’t happen again.

the guilt gene_cover

Baby Boomers, Memory and Memoir

If you are like me and most other baby boomers you obsess a lot about memory loss. Sometimes it simply gets frustrating, such as when trying to recall details from books or scenes from movies recently seen. All this frustration has lead me to organize a refresher course for myself on how memory works, with the hope that in understanding memory, I can improve my own. One thing I know for sure is that memory is fickle and unpredictable. We never know how much we will remember and when we will remember certain things and not others. It’s important to know that memory is deeply tied to concentration.

Basically, we only remember so much. We all have selective memories and typically we do not remember what is uninteresting or unimportant. Our emotional states have a distinct affect on our memories. According to a recent study at Penn State University Erie, the brain has an override system that ‘trashes’ information which it finds outdated. While learning new information, if new details are revealed, then the brain has the ability to filter through the details and retain only vital information. So… is that why my husband didn’t remember when I told him that the bulbs in my office fixture burnt out weeks ago?

No matter what your profession, a good memory is important, but if you are a memoirist it is critical. Studies have shown that there are certain things we can do to improve our memories. Getting exercise has been shown to help memory because an increase in circulation improves brain function by increasing blood flow to the brain. Some believe that vitamin supplements can improve memory. The following vitamins are supposedly crucial for memory: Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Folate/Folic Acid (800mg), Vitamin E, and Gingko Biloba.

If you are writing memoir, here are some specific tips:

–       play music from the time period you are writing about

–       prepare foods from the time period you’re writing about

–       prepare timelines

–       look at photographs

–       keep notebooks everywhere to jot down notes

Memory exercises and repetition is also important. For example, if you are introduced to someone for the first time, in order to remember their name, repeat it three times – when introduced, during the conversation and when you’re leaving.

Back to my reading about memory, before I forget to do so! It has also been said that reading out loud improves memory, as long as it doesn’t disturb others around us. This is because it engages many senses and can be particularly helpful if you are reading complex material.

Have a good week!

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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