Posts Tagged 'Writers'

Happy National Poetry Month!

In honor of National Poetry Month, on Saturday I read at the Santa Barbara Library, along with six other poets who also had a new poetry collections published in 2009. It’s really nice to see that people are still coming out for readings and that poetry is still alive and well.

Even if you are not a poet or avid reader of poetry, this might be a good time to bring poetry into your life. Here are some ideas you might want to consider:

1)    Select a poem you love. Copy it and put it in your pocket. For the month of April, share it with co-workers, family, and friends. This is called the “Poem in Your Pocket,” program.

2)    Receive a poem a day. Here’s where you can sign up: http://www.poets.org/poemADay.php. Each morning in your mailbox, you will receive a new poem to celebrate National Poetry Month. Incidentally, the poems have been selected from new books published this spring.

3)    Attend a poetry reading.

4)    Organize a poetry reading.

5)    Subscribe to a literary magazine.

6)    Revisit an old favorite poem.

7)    Memorize a poem.

8)    Write a poem.

9)    Send a poem to a loved one.

10) Start a poetry notebook where you copy and save favorite quotations and poems.

11) Put a poem in your child or loved one’s lunch box.

12) Buy a poetry book.

Although I have done a number of things on this list, the most recent undertaking was to buy a copy of Billy Collins’ latest poetry collection which was just released in paperback. It’s called, Ballistics: Poems (Random House, 2010). As usual, it’s never easy for me to choose a favorite poem of Billy’s because I love them all, but here’s one to whet your appetite and maybe send you to the bookstore to buy the entire collection:

A DOG ON HIS MASTER

As young as I look,

I am growing older faster than he,

seven to one

is the ratio they tend to say.

Whatever the number,

I will pass him one day

and take the lead

the way I do on our walks in the woods.

And if this ever manages

to cross his mind,

it would be the sweetest

shadow I have ever cast on snow or grass.

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Typewriters, Then and Now …

Ever since childhood, I have had this deep adoration and affection for typewriters.  Perhaps I owe this to my maternal grandmother who taught me to type on her Remington typewriter perched on the vanity in her room. Twenty years later, my first book was typed on a Smith Corona which sat on a homemade desk my husband built for me during my bed-ridden pregnancy. I can still feel the residue on my fingers from the little white out sheets used to correct my inevitable typos.

Those of you who have visited my website, know my splash page features a typewriter and if you’ve visited my writing studio, you cannot help but notice the assorted collection of retired typewriters. At a recent meeting with a colleague in New York  I learned that there are others with this deep-seated affection. My colleague directed me to a website called, “The Classic Typewriter Page,” http://bit.ly/9rKFR3. The site states that typewriters in their original form date back to 1714, however, the actual concept of the writing ball dates back to 1870 when the pin-cushion-resembling ball was released by Malling Hansen.  In 1873, the Sholes & Glidden typewriter was launched  resulting in capital letter typing and the introduction of the QWERTY keyboard which we are still familiar with today.

As a writer, it’s fascinating to hear about other writers and their typewriters. I recently learned that Mark Twain claims to have been the first well-known writer to have submitted a completed typed manuscript to a publisher. Hunter S. Thompson used a typewriter until his death in 2005. Some writers, such as Cormac McCarthy still use a typewriter. In fact, he’s written all of his novels on an Olivetti , which he has been using since 1963. Supposedly in 2009, his original typewriter was auctioned at Christie’s for $254,500. He ended up buying a new one for a mere $20 to continue his writing. David Sedaris is another author who still uses a typewriter, up until the release of his essay collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000).  Isn’t it interesting that my research has revealed only male writers? If anyone has any insight into this phenomenon, I would love to hear it!

Linking Creativity and Depression

It’s not a new theory that some of the brightest, most creative and influential individuals in history have been plagued by depression – including Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, William Syron, and more recently the novelist, David Foster Wallace. A feature article in this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine section entitled, “Depression’s Upside,” by Jonah Lehrer offered a fascinating new slant on the subject. A study by a Yale Psychologist, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, showed that those with ruminative tendencies are more likely to become depressed. I found this to be an interesting factoid depicting those prone to this illness.

Supposedly, Darwin viewed his depression as a clarifying force, which helped him focus on essential problems. Apparently, in his writings, he claimed that sadness “leads an animal to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial.” In other words, for the creative individual, the darkness can be a sort of light.

The article certainly validated some of my own depressive moments. When everything is going extremely well in my personal life, I am more prone to writer’s block. As a journaling advocate and writing instructor who frequently lectures on the healing power of writing, I was thrilled that Lehrer referenced a recent study citing that ‘expressive writing’ leads to a significantly shorter depressive episode.  Many of us in the literary world are aware of this, but it’s refreshing to see it addressed in this reputable reference, for the masses to read.

In fact, in the journaling classes I teach, I see a major transformation in my students from the first to last class, particularly if they had signed up to find their way out of a crisis. I don’t really need any long-term case studies to convince me of the healing power of the written word. Just by examining my own life and those of my colleagues and students, I can see the pattern. I frequently make students laugh when I tell them that writing is certainly less expensive than therapy and often times, much more effective.

Depression is common in the general public and the article states that seven percent of the population will be affected by depression and this number tends to be higher amongst creative types.  So fellow writers, don’t worry so much about your depressive moments  or disregard your analytical ruminations, because you just never know what the outcome will be! Oh no, a literary drought!

To read the complete article, check out the following link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/magazine/28depression-t.html?em

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.”

Celebrate Collaboration

I am always up for a good reason to celebrate and today is a special one for me as it marks the launching of my latest book, YOUR HIGH RISK PREGNANCY: A PRACTICAL AND SUPPORTIVE GUIDE. This book was originally published in 1988 under the title of, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to Infertility and High-Risk Pregnancy. Since its initial publication and cover designed by my daughter, Rachel at the age of three, there have been two subsequent editions.

The first edition was written while I was on bed rest with Rachel. After she was born, my husband and I self-published the book in our basement on what was probably the first desktop publishing program, Ventura Publishing. From that basement I sold 10,000 copies and was then went on to sell the rights to Hunter House Publishers who released all the subsequent editions. This newly updated version could not have been completed without the generous assistance of Errol Norwitz, MD, Professor of Yale School of Medicine, Co-Director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Yale-New Haven Hospital. When the publisher asked me to update the book, I knew I wanted to collaborate with a physician specializing in high-risk pregnancies. After a thorough Google search, Dr. Norwitz’s name was first on my list.. Our connection was truly serendipitous. I phoned him to ask if he would be interested in updating this book with me. When I mentioned the book’s title, he stopped and said with enthusiasm, “I would love to. You know, I am familiar with your book. It’s on my bookshelf. I’ve had it since I was a medical student in South Africa!”

That moment reignited my belief in the value of my book. After Dr. Norwitz graciously accepted my invitation, we spoke nearly every week for three months. During each conversation I would interview him about the latest developments in high-risk pregnancy management. He has been a sheer delight to work with: professional, knowledgeable and eager to craft a book which will continue to help many women. Because I’ve heard that not all collaborative efforts are successful, I certainly consider myself lucky. I want to celebrate this new edition, and perhaps more importantly, celebrate an effective collaborative effort. On the book’s new back cover, just before describing the book’s contents, “You are not alone,” is printed in bold letters. This not only applies to all pregnant women who will read my book, but to it also applies to me for having had such a great collaborative partner for the rebirth of this title. In addition to the many medical updates, one change that is close to my heart is the addition of a “Journaling Corner,” at the end of each chapter, which provides prompts for women to write about their own high-risk pregnancy experience. As a journaling advocate, I just could not help but to share my passion with others. I invite you and your loved ones in need of such a book, to purchase it on Amazon or from your local bookstores. Errol Norwitz and I both thank you, our readers!

http://www.amazon.com/Your-High-Risk-Pregnancy-Practical-Supportive/dp/0897935209/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257832398&sr=8-8

Pregnancy Book Cover

What Story Are You Being Asked to Tell ?

Whether your chosen genre is fiction, nonfiction or poetry, you have a unique story to tell. For many writers, reliving and retelling childhood stories are common platforms. We often return to those times because they were filled with pain, joy or unanswered questions.

As writers we are often intuitive in regard to what we want to share and more often than not, there’s a story in us yearning to be told. However, once in a while we get stumped. Often times, the best story ideas come to us when we are not sitting at our desks ‘working,’ but rather when we are out and about, ‘not working.’ It’s important to be alert to those mundane moments in our every day life—odd discoveries and chance remarks made by others in the social, work or casual setting. Weaving these incidents with known facts about oneself, help make the story compelling.

My morning ritual is to read the newspaper and during the course of a day a magazine or two. Sometimes I will surf the web researching an idea which will lead me to something else intriguing, perhaps reminding me about a story I wanted to write some time ago, but forgot about. In my drawer, I have a file folder called, “Writing Ideas,” which includes all the stories I hope to tell one day. Whether I get to them or not is another story, but at least the file is there for when my well dries up. When you get really stuck, here are some questions you might want to ask:

1)    What is going through your head?

2)    What do you think about most often?

3)    Who are your villains? Who are your heroes?

4)    What are you obsessed by?

5)    What inspires you?

6)    Where are you in your life now?

7)    What stories are you drawn to read?

Whatever you choose to write, you will soon learn that the creative journey is similar to life—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 loose 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.

In her essay, “Why am I a Writer,” Joan Didion 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.”

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.

*****************

My journal is full of seeds, some of which will blossom into full-fledged projects and others will fizzle. Just like the beautiful process of fertilization—some eggs  get fertilized and some don’t. Speaking of which, my first book, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to Infertility and High-Risk Pregnancy (Hunter House, 1988) is now being updated and next year the 20th anniversary edition will be released. I am working with Dr. Errol Norwitz, the Co-Director of Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Ob-Gyn unit. This year my eldest daughter, Rachel turns 25 and I started writing this book on a typewriter while on bed rest with her! It took me three years to write. In fact, she designed the first book cover. Now Rachel is old enough to be a mother herself. Although she’s not even married yet, wouldn’t it be cool if this newly-revised book could be a guide for her during her own pregnancy?

By the way, I am looking for anecdotes from women who have had difficulties during their pregnancy. Do you have any that you’d like to share?

Post #5

By the way my pregnancy book began as a journal of my pregnancy. Eventually the journal was condensed into the book’s introduction and the book evolved into a self-help book for other women also experiencing difficult pregnancies. So you never know where your journaling might lead you. Have any of your journals or anyone you know had journals which turned into published articles or books?

Post #6

Most of my articles and books are first written long-hand in my journals. Studies have shown that there is something about the creative juices which flow when the pen meets the paper. Actually, I do my best writing in airplanes. Less distractions? High concentration of oxygen? Where do you do your best writing?

*********

Post

Instead, I have just pulled down from the shelf in my library one of the many random volumes of journals I’ve filled over the years. A red un-lined journal with parchmont paper that I used while studying poetry with Sharon Olds in Key West back in the early 2000’s. I revisit a poem about women’s purses and how sacred they are—clutched close, jammed with receipts, phone numbers and unsent letters. Very sacred, just like my anniversary.

So what are your thoughts about women’s purses? What do you look for in a purse?


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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