Keeping a Journal

Journaling. As Martha Stewart says, “It’s a good thing.” I’ve attempted many times over the years. For some reason, I never stick to it. 

Recently I enrolled in a writing class and the first assignment was to write in a journal a minimum of three times per week. Getting started was difficult, but after about six entries, it didn’t feel so intimidating. 

I didn’t realize there are tremendous benefits to spending as little as five minutes, three times per week putting your thoughts or dreams on paper. People from all walks of life are journaling and quietly reaping the rewards.

The top five reasons for me keeping a journal are: to boost memory and comprehension, to strengthen self-discipline, to spark creativity, to achieve my goals, and to solve problems.

Boosting memory and comprehension.  When you write something down, you’ve told your brain it’s important. It can be your hopes and dreams or something less exciting. Boosting memory and comprehension goes hand-in-hand with sparking creativity. 

Strengthen Self-discipline.  When you actually commit to writing in your journal (make an appointment if you have to), you are putting value to your writing. You’ve made it a priority. Not only for writing in your journal, but that same self-discipline can spill over into other aspects of your life. 

Spark Creativity. Writing in a journal the old-fashioned way (pen and paper) helps to spark ideas. There is a correlation between the hand and brain that typing on a keyboard does not capture. This is why many writers prefer to hand write their first draft. 

Many times, journaling drums up old memories and feelings. These can be bouncing-off points for that novel you’re working on. Once you start writing, the ideas seem to come at you more freely.  

Achieve Goals.  When you write out your goals, it’s like a plan of action. You know more about which direction to go to make it happen. You will discover what you are truly passionate about and pursue it.

Solve problems. Many times writing things down will help you to see the big picture. Maybe things aren’t as bad as you thought. Seeing your problems in written words may give you the courage to tackle problems head on. Maybe it will give you the will to forgive or to fight. Whatever the case may be, many therapists recommend journaling as a coping mechanism. 

These are only a few of the benefits of journaling. Other benefits are:  you may feel calmer, gain clarity, build empathy, decrease the symptoms of arthritis, counteract stress, and heal physically and psychologically. People from all walks of life are journaling. It’s the “in” thing. 

With so many wonderful advantages to keeping a journal, why would you NOT do it?

An interview with author Dr. Lisa Marotta

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Lisa, welcome to Read Local OK.

First of all, congratulations on your debut picture book, Suki and Sam, AND for winning first place at Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. in the Juvenile Book Category. You must be very happy.

I am incredibly happy that Suki and Sam won an award this year at OWFI. Writing a children’s book has been an interest of mine since I began reading them as a child! The story idea for Suki and Sam has been my longtime companion while I’ve learned about the craft of writing, submitting a manuscript, and publishing. Now the finalized version of Suki and Sam is helping me continue to learn about how to get the book into the hands of readers. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey?

The idea for Suki and Sam gave me the courage to “step out” as a writer. I was an established psychologist working with children and kept my writing life very separate from all but my family members. Wanting to write the best version of this book about grief for children encouraged me to begin to attend writer’s conferences, which taught me very quickly how much I needed to grow as a writer. Apparently, a great idea is not enough! How to convey the idea took me a great deal of time.

I am a social person, and writing is done in isolation. It was surprising and helpful to me that the conferences not only gave me access to essential information, they also connected me to a community of creative people. I joined a critique group early in my journey, The Inklings, and these kind writers gave me the feedback my story needed to evolve into the full-fledged book that just won an award. I also met my publisher, Marla Jones of Doodle and Peck, at a conference. 

Where did you get the idea for Suki and Sam?

It is difficult but rewarding work as a psychologist to work with grieving families.  I have always been drawn to the transformation of a grieving person as they come to accept their loss and develop a new relationship with their deceased loved one. 

The idea for Suki and Sam came while I was folding laundry and watching television when my baby was napping. On the TV there was an artist who was demonstrating his art live in the studio. George Rodrique was an artist who created the blue dog series, a group of paintings that had a blue dog as the central theme. When Rodrique was interviewed, he shared that the inspiration for the image of the blue dog was his childhood dog. I thought that this would be an interesting way to show the transformation of grief in how he painted his dog back into his life, one canvas at a time. 

Through my writing journey, I learned how to convey the heart of the story of how grief impacts children and inspire the hope I see through my clinical work. The napping baby is now a married woman, it took a while for the inspiration to become a book—but it was time well spent. 

Suki and Sam is a poignant read. What has been the response from readers?

Readers sometimes cry when they read the book or tell me that they want to read it later so they can cry privately. It is written and illustrated with the intention of evoking the emotion of grief in the reader. I’ve had readers tell me that they have given Suki and Sam as a gift to a child or adult who is mourning the loss of a pet or a family member. I am grateful that the book finding its way to help people where they are in their life. 

Do you use Suki and Sam in your practice?

In the earliest versions of Suki and Sam, I would tell the story to children who were grieving, and it was helpful. Currently, there are school counselors and private practice therapists who are using the book in their work with grieving children. I have received feedback that it has been therapeutic, which is very rewarding. 

Honestly, it is a little awkward to pull the book from my shelf and read it with a child, since I am the author. I don’t want a child to feel pressured to tell me that they like it because I wrote it, I want them to focus on the story and how it resonates with their experience. Over time I expect I will find a smooth way to reintegrate the book into my practice, but for now, I have it in my waiting room along with many other Oklahoma authored children’s books. 

Your illustrator, Dorothy Shaw, did a wonderful job on the artwork. Did you collaborate with her? How much input did you have?

The inspiration of a grieving artist painting his emotions was a strong part of the story. I IMG_3445chose to put “notes to the illustrator” throughout my manuscript to give some idea of the pictures I had in my head without writing them into the words. I knew all along that someone else would have creative license to do the illustrations. All illustrators have a choice about whether to follow the notes or not, as they are creating from their own imagination. Some of the notes were followed, others were improved and expanded from my original thoughts. I am thrilled with the result, which felt very collaborative. I am so grateful that Dorothy Shaw made the story come to life. She is delightful to work with and I consider Suki and Sam our book.

Do you belong to any writing groups or organizations? If so, how have they helped you?

I believe I thrive in a creative community. I belong to Oklahoma Writers Federated Inc. (OWFI), which is for all genres of writing, and the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). OWFI has a yearly conference, which I have attended since 2000! I recently made some changes to my work schedule so that I can get more involved in SCBWI. They have informative monthly meetings, regular retreats,

and great webinars. My critique group, The Inklings, participates in some online and face to face meetings monthly, and we have two retreats a year. The writing community has been welcoming, inspiring, and also helps me with accountability. I work best with a balance of alone time to write and connection and deadlines to move me forward from that first draft. 

What’s next for you? Do you have other things in the works?

I am eager to begin school visits for Suki and Sam with illustrator Dorothy Shaw. Sharing the story and sparking a conversation about grief has always been the goal of writing the book. 

My writing career plan is to write feeling-centric books that evoke emotion and show ways to express and manage the feeling for children. My day job gives me an advantage in understanding the emotional life of children and the challenges of modern-day life for families. I recently starting writing a story about anxiety. I’m excited to begin the journey again!

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Dr. Lisa Marotta is a clinical psychologist and writer. She has a thriving private practice and writes healing stories for children and their families. A sought-after speaker, Dr. Marotta regularly shares mental health information at schools, churches, and other organizations in the Oklahoma City area. Her parenting advice has been featured in MetroFamily Magazine, and her essays and poems have won numerous awards. Dr. Marotta hopes her debut book, Suki and Sam, will help children navigate the complex feelings of grief. Follow her website, www.drlisamarotta.com, where she blogs about positivity, creativity, and happiness.

Finding Time to Write

So, you want to be a writer, but do you have the time? Today’s world has become increasingly more hectic and constant pulls in every direction can leave you frazzled. Can you possibly add one more thing, like writing, into your schedule? After all, writing time is an unrealistic luxury, right?

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Like many others, I struggle to find time to chase my dream. Constant interruptions cloud my day. Ding! It’s the dishwasher. Ding! The mailman is at the door. Ding! The dog wants out. ( Yes, she really does ring a bell). Ding! The dryer is finished. Ding! Ding! DINNNGG! The dog sees a squirrel. Need I go on?

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Let’s face it, for most people, time is limited and writing is hard. Staring at a blank computer screen, searching for the perfect word, letting the world see your work…it’s all terrifying. It’s risky. And sometimes, it’s enough to make you give up before you even get started. Then the biggest problem creeps into your mind. Can I justify spending time doing something for myself?” In a word, YES! But how do you free up a tiny sliver of time when there is none left in the day? 

What if I told you, it is possible to write daily? I’ve listed some tips to help push you in the “write” direction. Hopefully, you’ll be completing that novel before you know it!

  •  Set goals. How much do you want to accomplish per day or week? Is it a word count, finishing a manuscript in progress, editing your work, brainstorming for ideas, researching factual details for a story idea? Everyone is different. Don’t compare your goals to other writer’s goals. Comparison kills your creativity!
  • Set a timer. Whether it’s 30 minutes or 2 hours, turn off your phone television AND social media (Those cat and dog videos are addicting)! When you are on the timer, make that specific writing time, no interruptions. This might mean going into a room and closing the door or a trip to the library or coffee shop.
  • Decide what you are willing to give up. Is it your favorite television show? Your bubble bath? An hour of sleep? Anywhere you can shave off some time, take it! You’d be surprised what you can accomplish in as little as 15-30 minutes.
  • Have a dedicated writing space. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, schmancy office. Sometimes a corner of the kitchen table will do just fine. Claim it as your own. Many times, a routine atmosphere will make your writing come more frUnknown-2eely, plus you don’t have to figure out where you’re going to write. That can drive the desire to squeeze in just a bit more time on that manuscript.
  • Schedule your writing time. Are you more mentally alert first thing in the morning? Maybe you need to set your alarm an hour earlier and spend that time writing before everyone else is awake. Maybe you need to stay up later at night. Make an appointment. Yes, write it on the calendar and stick to it.
  • Take advantage of every minute. Even as busy as we are, there’s a lot of time we spend waiting. Waiting for your kids in the carpool line at school, waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting at the drive-thru, etc. Carry a notebook and put that wasted time to good use. You can even dictate into your phone while you’re driving. make wasted time, quality time.
  • Remind yourself, YOU ARE WORTH IT! The dishes, laundry, vacuum, etc. will wait.
  • Have an accountability partner or critique group. You’ll push yourself to get more accomplished if you know others are depending on you.
  • If you don’t FIND writing time, MAKE it! If it’s important to you, you WILL make it happen!images

If you want to be a writer, roll up those sleeves, get your behind in the chair, and write something! Don’t let anything hold you back.