My author guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” is someone who focuses on helping fellow authors to find and harness their positive inner energies and let them shine through, both in their writing and in their lives. She has written memoirs, poetry, written and/or compiled writing resource books, and she offers workshops focused on healing and transformation through memoir writing. Her works have won numerous awards, including Best Book Award, Feathered Quill Book Award, Mom’s Choice Award, Eric Hoffer Award, and Allbooks Review Editor’s Choice Award. Please help me welcome creative nonfiction author, Diana Raab, PhD.
Kaye: You have a PhD in Psychology with a research focus on the healing and transformative powers of memoir writing. Can you explain briefly what those powers are?
Diana: My research examined how pivotal experiences encouraged individuals to write memoirs as a way to transform, grow, and become empowered. I interviewed esteemed writers about the role writing their memoirs had in their lives. Poet Kim Stafford said that writing his memoir transformed him, in that it helped him come to a new understanding about his brother’s suicide. Another writer said that the writing experience relieved him from the pain of his past. And another writer who lost a son said that writing helped her look at life in a much larger context and also helped to keep her son “alive.” Writer Maxine Kingston said that she was transformed by penning her memoir because she was finally able to tell the stories from her past, which for a long time had been a secret. Thus, in most cases, the writers were liberated from the demons of their pasts.
Kaye: How can writing facilitate transformation and empowerment?
Diana: Transformation is a dramatic change in one’s physical or psychological well-being. It’s about becoming more aware of and facing our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Writing down our feelings can lead to self-realization and a sense of empowerment, because we’re moving our feelings from inside of us and onto the page; and like therapy, it can help us work through our challenges. Writing can also be transformative because it helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves. With that understanding comes deeper reflection, and consequently a more profound sense of harmony.
Kaye: What is your biggest challenge of being a writer?
Diana: That’s a great question. In my earlier years, while raising children, my biggest challenge was carving out the time to write. These days, I would say that my biggest challenge as a writer is finding inspiration.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Diana: When I was younger, I used to love writing in the wee hours of the night, but now that I’m older, my preference is to write early in the morning. That’s when my mind and thought processes are most clear. I like writing just after my morning meditation, as sometimes thoughts emerge during this time that can move me into a highly creative and inspirational zone.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Diana: I love being with my adult children (ages 36, 34, and 30) and playing with my grandchildren; and I love hiking and going for beach walks. I meditate every day, and like most writers, I love to read. I also love cooking, especially soups and desserts. I love doing needlepoint, a craft I learned from my maternal grandmother, Regina, who committed suicide when I was ten. She was my caretaker, and this was a huge loss for me. Her story is the basis of my first memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal.
Kaye: How does memoir writing differ from other writing forms? Don’t most forms of writing “unleash the true voice of the inner self”?
Diana: I don’t believe that most forms of writing “unleash the true voice of the inner self.” It might start out that way when writing fiction, but soon the imagination comes into play. Memoir writing is a first-person account chronicling a slice of life, not an entire life. It is a subjective recollection from one’s own perspective. Typically, there is a theme or thread running through a memoir. What sets a memoir apart from other forms of nonfiction is that it weaves the story as it happened, but also includes reflection. It’s much more than a journalistic telling. Compelling memoirs definitely unleash the true inner self.
Kaye: Tell me about your writing workshops. What can I expect to come away with if I take a workshop with you?
Diana: What you will come away with will depend on the nature of the particular workshop. Each one is different, depending on its focus. I usually revise my workshop format accordingly. For example, I’ve taught high-risk youth, bereaved adults, hospice workers, and those battling with drug addiction. My regular workshops are related to memoir writing, where participants of different writing levels come together to work on their personal stories.
I limit these groups to ten individuals so that I can offer individualized coaching. Participants learn by hearing my comments about their memoirs, and we also discuss published memoirs. They’re grateful to hear about all the tidbits of information I’ve gathered during my 40-year writing career. I stress the idea that writing is a process, and like any other process, patience is necessary. Those who take my workshops say that they leave them feeling very inspired to continue their memoir-writing journeys.
Kaye: What lessons do you want readers to walk away with from reading Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life?
Diana: There are many lessons within those pages, as I weave my story into a how-to book on personal writing. I want readers to understand the transformative powers of memoir writing and be aware that writing is a journey. I stress the idea of truly enjoying that journey and not becoming focused on the destination. People have called Writing for Bliss “instructive, inspiring, healing, and a blueprint for writing for healing and transforming your life.”
Kaye: You put together a book project that was quite innovative with Writers and Their Notebooks. I thought it was a really cool idea, and apparently others did too, since it became a Best Books award finalist with USA Book News. In fact, I’d bet there is an abundance of valuable information for aspiring authors. What inspired you to compile an anthology of author essays about the value of an author’s notebook?
Diana: As I mention in the Preface, “As artists have sketchbooks, writers have notebooks.” My inspiration for creating this anthology originated from my own experience and the joy that journaling has brought into my own life. For more than five decades, journaling had helped ground and center me. My passion began with my mother giving me a Kahlil Gibran journal when I was ten to help me cope with my grandmother’s suicide.
This book is a celebration of well-published writers who use their notebooks to inspire, record, and document anything and everything that nurtures or sparks their creative energy. Many of the essays in the collection are confessional in nature. This year celebrates the book’s tenth anniversary. The project is even more meaningful for me now, as many of the writers in the anthology have passed away, such as Sue Grafton and Michael Steinberg.
Kaye: Another valuable anthology which you put together is Writers on the Edge, a collection of 22 authors being brutally honest about their own battles with addiction. Was it difficult to get so many authors to open up?
Diana: Great question. Addiction is defined as the obsession and compulsion to self-destruct. Author James Brown and I co-compiled this anthology because of our passion for the subject. We contacted writers who we thought would be interested in writing about their journaling practices. We were honored when Jerry Stahl agreed to write the foreword. A number of authors said that they didn’t know if they could write so intimately and honestly, but they did. Some had never written nonfiction before, so it was a huge challenge for them, but in the end, they felt a huge sense of satisfaction. As we said in the preface, “These battles are not fought alone, and perhaps these stories will also provide insight and hope to all those and their loved ones struggling with some form of addiction and its inevitable consequences.”
Kaye: You’ve written two memoirs yourself. Why did you choose to share with others your inner thoughts and feelings during a difficult time in your own life, with Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey?
Diana: After my first cancer diagnosis in 2001, I decided, as a gift to myself, to enroll in graduate school for my MFA in writing. My two memoirs were a part of my creative thesis. In actuality, I had no intention of writing a memoir about my cancer journey. I was the type of person who believed that I got breast cancer, had a mastectomy and reconstruction, was healed, and that it was over and I’d be okay. I didn’t want my cancer diagnoses to define me.
During my recovery, I did a lot of journaling, but with no intention to publish a book on the subject. Five years later, to my surprise, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable form of bone marrow cancer. Supposedly, it’s not connected to breast cancer. I was devastated, but the silver lining was being told that I had smoldering myeloma and wouldn’t yet need treatment, just regular blood work.
My friends and colleagues encouraged me to write about my cancer journey because they thought it would help others. To make the book a little different and more universal, I decided to create a self-help memoir where I provided journaling opportunities for readers to share their own cancer journeys.
Kaye: You won the Mom’s choice award for your first memoir was Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. What kind of revelations does it contain?
Diana: During the writing process, I learned a lot about my grandmother. I began writing the book about the time of my first cancer diagnosis. I wanted to study my grandmother’s life to see if she’d committed suicide in 1964 because of cancer, but that wasn’t the case. I learned that at the time of her death, she was very depressed, and her doctor had given her a prescription for Valium, which she eventually overdosed on. By studying my grandmother’s life, I learned that she held on to the demons of her past, such as being orphaned during World War I and marrying an abusive man. All this inner turmoil eventually got to her, so she took her own life.
Kaye: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Diana: I don’t want to think about it. I love writing, whether it’s journaling; or writing poems, articles, letters, or blogs. It’s where I find my peace.
Kaye: What is next for Diana Raab? What can your readers and authors look forward to in the future?
Diana: Last year I turned 65 and felt that there was a huge shift in my vision. While I’ve always practiced mindfulness, I find that I’ve been living more in the moment. Also, in recent years, I’ve lost a number of loved ones, which is another reminder to enjoy the present. Thinking a little farther ahead, I hope to give more workshops and maybe create some short inspirational books. I’m currently working on my fifth book of poetry. I also have an unfinished novel that has been sitting in my drawer. Maybe one day I’ll be inspired to get back into it, or perhaps I’ll become inspired to write a children’s book for my grandchildren. Time will tell!
I want to extend my thanks to Diana Raab for joining us today and sharing with us. I have to agree with her philosophies, as I’ve experienced the healing powers of writing in my own life. I believe many of us have. If you’d like more information about Diana, her books, projects and events at her website: dianaraab.com.
You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2020, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress. Please share content you find interesting or useful.