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.

Memoirs Are Rarely about Romantic Bliss or Love that Brings Contentment, but…

Here are a few to read for inspiration that have captured the more nuanced shades of the people, places and things we humans love: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers; Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogran; Geography of the Heart by Fenton Johnson; Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov; Comfort me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl; The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls; Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams.

Why are both readers and memoirists drawn to learning from broken hearts? Read more HERE.

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.

What If Your Memoir is Politically Incorrect?

Sally Ryder Brady’s memoir, A Box of Darkness, is a politically incorrect book insofar as it is full of a widow’s disbelief: “How could you, my husband of 46 years, be gay?” For the years that her husband and she lived together under the auspices (and privileges) of “marriage”, almost everyone with a job was “in the closet” unless they were activists working on Gay Rights legislation, liberation and awareness.

Sally Ryder Brady can sympathize with her gay brother-in-law, and can see with a compassionate eye almost anyone else negotiating “coming out” as gay whether they are living within a marriage or not. But, she cannot believe she could be “the last to know” in her own experience. This discovery is the pivot on which this memoir swings. Ryder Brady’s story, like many family-centered memoirs, unveils a half-century of repressed truths. Through the act of writing, she hopes to get not only her head but her heart around what she cannot at first believe.

The author is neither naïve nor does she lack cultural awareness of “the homophobic times” of her 46 year old marriage. After all, Ryder Brady is a well-educated writer, agent, teacher, and editor as well as the author of a highly successful novel, Instar, an illustrated book of adult humor called Sweet Memories, and two other books of non-fiction. The work is as honest as it is artful.

What Ryder Brady does so well is to bring the reader inside her bafflingly raw experiences after finding her husband’s gay porn when going through his things after his death. She relays her plight with uncensored candor; she’s one who feels her passionate life with a beloved, for almost half of a century, has in it many hidden rooms and unanswered questions that continue to haunt many years past the marriage’s (and her husband’s own) demise. Is her horror full of homophobic judgments? You decide.

For readers who want to understand read A Box of Darkness.

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly:

“‘It’s not hard to identify my emotions. What’s hard is filling in the gaps of a forty-six-year love affair,’ confesses Brady (A Yankee Christmas series) in her account of life with longtime Atlantic Monthly Press editor-in-chief Upton Birnie Brady.

“In 1956, 17-year-old Ryder met Upton when he cut in on a dance at the annual Boston Cotillion. Feeling an immediate rapport with the dashing Harvard student (‘our bodies fit, leg to leg, pelvis to pelvis’), she harbors hopes of meeting him again. They do, and in 1962, they marry. Soon after, Brady experiences Upton’s spiraling anger and depression, and begins scavenging for insights into Upton’s character (through Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited) and proof (e.g., a cassette of Everly Brothers songs).

“The shock of finding gay pornography in Upton’s bedside table drawer, yields unexpected gifts along with pain. Readers will be captivated by Upton’s ability to resuscitate a fading antique carpet with crayons; make elegant clothing for his wife (with whom he had four children); plan and execute formal dinner parties; and dance a hypnotic merengue. Diagnosed by his therapist with narcissistic personality disorder, Upton, in Brady’s view, is both superhero and deeply flawed man; her memoir is as searing and tender as the life she describes.”

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.

Writing About Your Family’s Faith Can Be Funny

Rhoda Janzen’s memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress begins with a double blow when her husband leaves her for a man he’s met online and a drunk driver smashes head-on into her car. Injured physically and emotionally, she retreats to the family whose faith she’s spent a lifetime rebelling against.

Janzen’s parents are devout Mennonites—a separatist branch of Christianity that forswears decadence in all its forms. Despite the fact that Janzen, an academic, had long ago abandoned “the fold,” the community, instead of casting her into outer darkness, welcomes her back with open arms.

It is no surprise to this academic of religion, gender and psychology that the Mennonites welcomed this “heathen” back into the community; they have long been peace activists. For instance, in the United States Mennonites provided an alternative to military service during World War II. From 1941 to 1947, 4,665 Mennonites, Amish, Quakers (or “Friends”) and Bretheren in Christ were among nearly 12,000 conscientious objectors who worked in areas such as soil conservation, forestry, fire fighting, agriculture, social services and mental health. Such ideas shaped a vision for The Peace Corps (introduced by Hubert Humphrey in 1957) as an alternative to enlisting as a soldier of war.

Still, in Janzen’s very personal recollections, eschewing all media, dancing, drinking and clothing fads seem to be what was remembered and mocked!

“It is rare that I literally laugh out loud while I’m reading, but Janzen’s voice singular, deadpan, sharp-witted and honest slayed me.” Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Janzen, just like David Sedaris of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, describes the characters in her own family with great candor.

In one section Janzen offers memories of Mennonite “foods of shame”—the things she was embarrassed to carry in her lunchbox, like soggy persimmon cookies, mushy meatballs made with saltine crackers and a dish called Hollapse—chartreuse or purple cabbage boiled, browned and baked. As a best-selling author, lots of freaky fans are writing to her and begging her for these odd recipes.

Like most memoirists that I coach, Janzen writes her own life history as a journey of discovery into the past and reconnects with some of the values she rejected when she “left home” decades before. Although she’s most often sardonic, Janzen’s writing is as honest as it is compassionate.


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.

How Do You Write Unflattering Truths About Your Family or Yourself?

Author Amy Chua’s third book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is a chatty, witty, intimate memoir of how she raised two daughters in hyper-severe Chinese style, despite the surrounding children of permissive American parents.

Chua’s father, a leading theorist of advanced mathematics, gave her a model for perfectionism. In eighth grade, she placed second in a history contest. Someone else was named best all-around student. She invited her family to the ceremony.

“Afterward,” she writes, “my father said to me: ‘Never, never, disgrace me like that again.'”

She pursued that model. Though generous with family fun and affection, she denied her daughters, Sophia and Louisa (Lulu), experiences that are important to many young Americans: no TV, no pets, no computer games, no sleepovers, no play dates, no grades under A, no parts in school plays, no complaints about not having parts in school plays, no choice of extracurricular activities, nothing less than top places in any school class except gym and drama, no musical instruments except piano or violin.

Here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:

* have a playdate

* be in a school play

* complain about not being in a school play

* not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama

* play any instrument other than the piano or violin

* not play the piano or violin

The truth is Lulu and Sophia would never have had time for a playdate. They were too busy practicing their instruments (two to three hours a day and double sessions on the weekend) and perfecting their Mandarin.

Of course no one is perfect, including Chua herself. Witness this scene:

According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her practicing:

1. Oh my God, you’re just getting worse and worse.

2. I’m going to count to three, then I want musicality.

3. If the next time’s not PERFECT, I’m going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them.

But Chua demands as much of herself as she does of her daughters. And in her sacrifices-the exacting attention spent studying her daughters’ performances, the office hours lost shuttling the girls to lessons-the depth of her love for her children becomes clear. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an eye-opening exploration of the differences in Eastern and Western parenting—and the lessons parents and children everywhere teach one another.

Read more about her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherHERE.


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.