Posts Tagged 'Journaling'

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?

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!

Namaste!

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.

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.”

Writing for Wellness and Health

This past weekend I attended a conference in Atlanta — the Wellness and Writing Connections Conference. My dear friend and colleague, Julie Davey also the author of  Writing For Wellness (a fabulous book) was the keynote speaker. I conducted a workshop entitled, “The Healing Notebook.” It’s the second year I have taught this workshop and the crowd is always very enthusiastic and includes writers, therapists, and clinicians. The premise of my workshop is to discuss not only the healing power of words, but how regular notebook-writing can empower us. Recent studies have shown that writing down your feelings can help you  come to terms with difficult situations. The good thing is that there are no rules to the healing notebook. You can dictate your own method and do at your own pace. By doing this you will gain control of your life.

Quite a few writers have used their notebooks as a way to heal and they have also gone on to publish their work, including Walt Whitman, Andre Lorde, May Sarton, Hilda Raz, Donald Hall, Elizabeth Berg, Jane Kenyon, Isabel Allende and my favorite diarist, Anaïs Nin who began her first journal as a letter to her estranged father who left the family when she was ten years old. Writing that letter was her way of healing from the pain of losing him. Since that day, Nin became an avid diarist and today has numerous published volumes.

I am also a big advocate of letter writing in the notebook and novelist Isabel Allende began her writing career by writing a letter to her grandfather when he was nearly 100 years old. At the time he was dying in Chile where her novel House of Spirits was set. She admits that in many ways, writing that novel saved her life.

The Healing Notebook has numerous benefits including: it’s a place to capture and record memories, a place to clear the mind, a place to build self-confidence, a place to empower and a place to witness the healing process. I always suggest using proper tools—that is, a notebook and pen which inspires and resonates with you. You want to be motivated to use your journal. I suggest starting with free-writing first thing in the morning, with 15-20 minutes and increasing the time as needed. Basically, this is writing without lifting your pen off the page and seeing where your mind goes. Begin by writing about an experience which has deeply affected your life or which has obsessed you for quite some time.

In general, my only suggestion is that when you sit down to write, you should write as long as you like, but if the pain gets too great, it is probably a good idea to stop. This would be an appropriate time to take a break and do something different like walking or some other form of exercise. The best part about keeping a healing notebook is the ability to turn a negative into a positive and what can be so bad about that?

Journaling Breast Cancer Awareness Month

BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

October is many things, including the anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Although breast cancer awareness should be promoted all year round, this month tends to focus on an intense campaign to promote awareness, education and empowerment to women of all ages. Given my background as an educator and registered nurse, I cannot help, but to share some reminders and statistics.

Statistics show that one in eight women will get breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. Here are statistics broken down in age:

Age 30 to39  – 1 in 233

Age 40 to 49 – 1 in 69

Age 50 to 59 – 1 in 38

Age 60 to 69 – 1 in 27

For more information, check out this website: http://www.nbcam.org/about_nbcam.cfm.

Personally, eight years have already passed since my diagnosis with breast cancer and I have to say that I feel better than ever. Because I feel so good I want to urge women over the age of forty to get annual mammograms. The reason I am still here today is because mine saved my life. My type of cancer, called DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) is sometimes called, ‘precancer,’ and is only detected on mammograms.

Coincidentally, this month the Mayo Clinic Women’s Health Source Newsletter featured an article, entitled, “Ductal Carcinoma: A Highly Treatable Breast Cancer.” The article says that before mammograms very few women were diagnosed with DCIS and now more than 62,000 cases are diagnosed yearly, which also accounts for about 20 percent of all new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year. The good news is that its treatment is extremely successful with a 10-year survival rate of almost 100 percent.

DCIS occurs when abnormal cells multiply and form a tumor or growth in the mammary duct.  The first sign is the growth of calcium deposits (calcifications) which on a mammogram look like clusters of white spots, often confused with talcum powder. In general, DCIS is not life-threatening, but if not treated early, it can progress into invasive cancer. The biggest challenge with this type of cancer is deciding on its treatment. Fortunately due to the diligence of my fabulous doctors, mine saved my life.

Ultimately  we are all responsible for our own health and the more  we understand about our own bodies, the better we can take care of ourselves and maintain a path of health. For me, one of the most beneficial paths to my own health was writing about my experience in my forthcoming memoir Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Story, which will be out in the Summer of 2010, just before next year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s one poem from that book:

To My Daughters

You were the first I thought of

when diagnosed with what

strikes one in eight women.

It was too soon to leave you,

but I thought it a good sign

that none of us were born

under its pestilent zodiac.

I stared at the stars and wished upon

each one that you’d never wake up

as I did this morning to one real breast

and one fake one; but that the memories

you carry will be only sweet ones,

and then I remembered you had your

early traumas of being born too soon,

and losing a beloved grandpa too young

and then I had this urge to show you

the scars on the same breast

you cuddled as babies, but then wondered

why you’d want to see my imperfections

and perhaps your destiny.

I caved in and showed you anyway,

hoping you’d learn to be careful, as

if it really mattered, because your grandpa

used to say when your time’s up, it’s up.

May he always watch over you.

Happy First Day of Fall — Fall Into Your Passion

There’s no time like the start of a new season to try something new—either for yourself or for your community. If you are a writer like me, you are probably compulsive about your craft. It takes a sort of obsession to be a writer—an obsession to start and finish an article, story or book. Perhaps, it takes this type of personality to bring any type of project to fruition.

After many years of being a writer, I also understand the importance of making the leap out of the office and away from the computer, journal or legal pad to wander into the real world in order to bring some awareness to an issue in the community or do something which unites your spirit with the community and/or the world.

For me personally, I have the need to inspire and teach others the power of writing, whether it’s for publication or to heal personal wounds. This has been an ongoing mission and passion of mine. Not all authors have the need to bring awareness to a particular subject. For example, in a recent Time Magazine interview with author Janet Evanovich (June 22, 2009), she was asked if she felt inclined to use her success to bring awareness to a certain issue. She said that she thought it was appropriate for some authors, but it didn’t seem appropriate for her. She explained by saying that she saw herself as an entertainer and that’s what she liked to do. I admire Janet’s honesty in knowing what is right for her. I also know that perhaps because of my past profession as a nurse, that I have an instinct to help and teach others. Today, I have decided to teach journaling to teenage girls at Girls Inc. in Carpinteria. They are excited about my visit and I’m excited about sharing my passion. It’s a win-win situation for us all and I hope the beginning of a series of similar events.

Think of what you might do that is different this Fall. Do you have a passion you would like to share with others? Is there a new hobby you want to bring into your life? Today is a good day to pull out your journal and jot down any ideas you may have and turn over a leaf of paper as the first colorful one change colors on your backyard tree.


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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