Why Keep A Journal?

“Keeping a journal is the foundation of creative writing.” ~ Susan Tiberghien

Susan Tiberghien and friends

Why keep a journal? Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • To establish the habit of writing.
  • To find out what’s up with me (emotionally).
  • To capture memories.
  • To discover what I think and feel about what’s going on in and all around me.
  • To find my writer’s voice (i.e., there’s power in authenticity).
  • To take risks and experiment with my writing.
  • To plant seeds for poetry, personal essays, my memoir and memoir coaching.
“Just begin to write. Start with a date and title. Get whatever comes to mind down on paper or on your computer screen. Only buy writing on a regular basis, getting into the habit of writing, will you become a good writer.” ~ Susan Tiberghien

Why do you keep a journal?

Susan Tiberghien is an American-born writer living in Geneva, Switzerland. She holds a BA in Literature and Philosophy (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and did graduate work at the Université de Grenoble and the C.G. Jung Institute of Zurich. She has published three memoirs, Looking for Gold, One Year in Jungian Analysis (Daimon Verlag, 1997, Circling to the Center, A Woman’s Encounter with Silent Prayer (Paulist Press, 2001), and Footsteps, A European Journal, 1955-1990 (Xlibris, 2004) and numerous narrative essays in journals and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic. Her new book, One Year to a Writing Life, Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft, was published in September 2007 (Da Capo, Perseus Books.)

Read more about Tiberghien on Journal Writing from my favorite blogger, Dave Hood, HERE.

One Year to a Writing Life

Looking for Gold

Footsteps on the Path

Want to write a different kind of memoir? Call today to set up a 30″ complimentary sample session to see what we might create together: 206.617-8832 or design your own package.

How Do Writers Get Unstuck?

“There is probably no hell for authors in the next world—they suffer so much from critics in this one.” ~ Christian Nestell Bovee

If you are stuck, are you saying things like this about your manuscript?

• This has become so disorganized that the outline makes no sense.
• I can’t seem to finish.
• There’s something critical missing.
• I’ve been stuck for so long that I can’t seem to get going again.
• Every time I think about working on it, I put it off.
• I think my manuscript has great stuff in it, but I don’t know who would want to publish or buy it.
• I make strides on it once in a while, but I have trouble putting consistent time into it.

These problems are neither unique nor insurmountable. The fact is: books continue to be published every day—190,000 a year. So take heart, it’s not just you! Many people don’t know how to begin writing a book, let alone completing, publishing and marketing it.

This 190,000 figure should be taken as a rough guide because this doesn’t take into account the huge amount of books of local history, course textbooks, or other books that don’t require ISBN numbers.

Thanks to the invention of digital printing, we’re free to get just one or one-thousand copies of our own books printed, so whereas once the publishing industry was akin to an exclusive club where publishers thought they were gods, new authors, like us, can authorize ourselves.


“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” ~ Dale Carnegie

First, you need to think about what has been stopping you from making forward progress. If you have stopped making progress on your book project, do any of these excuses sound familiar?

• I’ve lost track of the big picture. Every time I sit down to write, I get bogged down in the details and I’m not sure if what I’m writing is relevant.
• My life is full of distractions. I need someone to keep me focused and push me forward.
• I know what I know, and others have assured me that my knowledge is valuable, but I’m not sure how to pull it all together into a book.
• I need to focus on earning and don’t have time to write.
• My mate thinks writing isn’t the best use of my time when our mortgage needs to be paid, and the kids need dental work, etc.

These problems need not stop you. Published authors aren’t really any different from anyone else; they’re just audacious. People who write (or make any kind of art, for that matter) often have family and financial obligations. Think about Nabokov, the author of Lolita, et al., he had seven children and an ill wife. He did most of his writing in the bathtub (the only room in the house where he could be alone in relative quiet).

J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, as everyone knows, lived in her car and flopped on couches of various friends due to financial woes. Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison both had financial distress and children to tend to and yet, both made time to write. Morrison swears her first two books were written on her kitchen table between meals or before going off to work.

I try to remember this warning given to me by author Barbara Sher, “A dream without action will make you crazy and action without a dream is a nightmare.” Another trick that helps me get unstuck is to take the focus off myself and commit to my would-be readers. After I make the mental commitment to completing my manuscript, I feel the momentum that helps me turn my dreams (of becoming an author) into a reality.

Subscribe to my blog (up in the far right corner on this page); it’s full of tips to jumpstart your creativity. Learn new tricks of prolific writers and memoirists every week with my help. Such guidance will keep your book project at the top of your mind and inspire you to get your book done sooner rather than later. Stay inspired by reading auto/biographies and memoirs of other writers.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Why don’t you take up my offer to have a complimentary sample session to see what we might create together. Call today to set up a 30-minute appointment: 206.617-8832 or pick a package.

Embrace Your Inner Magician

What Every Memoirist Needs to Know

Like many people, I have experienced several significant events that have had important meaning in my life, such as the loss of a job, emotional challenges, ends of a marriage, and death of loved ones.  And, for some strange reason, I’ve had an unquenchable desire to share my experiences, especially in regard to what I’ve learned from them. I thought about writing a memoir, but I didn’t know much about it.

I decided to read a few books on writing a memoir. In my research, I quickly discovered that there is no shortage of information or advice on “how to write a memoir.” In fact, on the very small Island where I live, there are many fantastic resources to teach you how to write a memoir (in the library).

Definition of a Memoir

What is a memoir? The word memoir (from the Frenchmémoire from the Latin memoria, meaning “memory”, or a reminiscence), is a literary genre, forming a subclass of autobiography – although the terms memoir and autobiography are almost interchangeable in modern parlance. Memoir is autobiographical writing, but not all autobiographical writing follows the criteria for memoir set out below. The author of a memoir may be referred to as a memoirist.

Memoirists that I work with as their writing coach often explore particularly meaningful insights in their life that were transformational, whereas autobiographies can be told in ways that are linear, information-heavy and systematic (not always as artful).

What should you include in a memoir? Anything and everything can be included in a memoir, but it should be relevant to your imagined reader. It is the writer’s decision to choose what to include. It can be about uncovering truths that make your life unique, memorable and fascinating. It is a chronicle—that need not be linear—about a time or period in your life. It is also about what you have learned from that time or experience.

A good thing to remember about writing about your life, your family members may never agree with your version of history.

You write a memoir using the first person point of view (“I”). You always include your feelings, thoughts, recollections, beliefs, values, and opinions. But, to be sure, you need not be an example for the rest of us. As a matter of fact, the more truthful (i.e., vulnerably honest), the more your readers will relate to your story.

Much of your memoir will also be based on emotional truth. In other words, you can write about how you feel about an experience. This does not mean that you fabricate the events. But it does mean that you can write about the truth of your feelings. Often each person—in your family of origin—has a different feeling about specific events in the family. For instance, in my family (of four + 2 half-siblings), we each experienced a different set of parents. The eldest grew up with a fairly happy couple of parents, the youngest grew up with two adults fighting over who was at fault in the breakup over “infidelity” and who gets what in the divorce. Make sense?

What Can You Write About?

Start by selecting an important event, experience, milestone, or turning point in your life. Some popular topics include death, divorce, life-changing events, illness, abuse, unexpected loss, and/or addiction. Next, plot your life’s important experiences and events. What events stand out? What experiences changed you? When did you say to yourself, “Because of this event, I’ll never be the same.” For me, such awareness occurred at pivotal moments:

* Parent’s separation

* Male babysitter’s violation

* Mother’s remarriage to an active alcoholic

* Feeling “sent away” for a year and consequently failing at school

* Negotiating anorexia

* Gaining faith/losing faith/gaining a different kind of spirituality

* Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, Divorce (each relationship lasting no more than 356 days)

* Job search, jobs found, jobs lost

* Professional crises and reinvention in midlife

* Negotiating a happy life as a single woman, etc.

For each event or incident that you intend to write about, ask yourself: “What is the particular meaning of this event or that personal experience?” Set your 15-minute timer and write down all of your thoughts and feelings and impressions of the experience and as author Natalie Goldberg commands, “GO!”

Ask yourself these questions: What is the universal truth that I can share with others? What have I learned that can be helpful to others? What might others find fascinating about my experiences and turning points? What is the significance? What is the meaning? What is the lesson learned? What would other people find astounding? Tedious? Offensive? Shameful? Unbearably boring? How can I spin that into a good short story of an event?

Another way of determining what to write about is to answer the question: “What is my legacy? What do I want to leave behind for others to learn from my experience?” Be careful to keep it real. For instance, though my grandmother was a conservative republican, she was also advocate for Planned Parenthood (pro-choice) and believed every woman should have the option to not bear children. If I were to share my memoirs in a preachy way, I would miss portraying the complexity of my checkered heritage.

Why Write a Memoir?

Do you even want to leave a legacy? Do you have something important to share? There are many reasons to write a memoir. Each writer has different motives. Here are the most common reasons why a person writes a memoir:

To remember or unlock memories

To validate who they are or who they’ve become

To release emotional pain and suffering. (Catharsis, can be a form of therapy)

To share success or something unique or something transformational that you have learned.

To share what you have learned from adversity, struggle

To warn future generations (i.e., see my book: CRACKING UP: LESSONS FOR MY NIECES

You feel that you have something to tell others

To honor your life

To leave a legacy

To get published: memoirs are easier to publish than fiction.

Reading List

Before you begin writing your memoir, consider taking inspiration from these popular memoirists:

Called Back by Mary Cappello

Lit by Mary Karr

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Night by Elie Wiesel

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson

The Last Lecture (www.lastlecture.com )

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Resources to Help You Write

There are many good books that can teach you how to write a memoir. Here are the books that I consider to be the best:

Your life Story by Tristine Rainer

How to Write a Memoir by William Zinsser

Writing a Memoir: From Truth to Art by Judith Barrington

Inventing Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir by William Zinsser

Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature by Bill Roorbach

Tell It Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola

Modern American Memoirs by Annie Dillard

Old Friends Far and Wide: The Practice of Writing a Memoir by Natalie Goldberg

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary book coaching session via email: AuthorizeU@gmail.com.  If we begin working together, my eBook—Writing From Life: A Wise Guide to Publishing Your Memoirs—will be yours as part of the coaching package.