Thursday, May 12, 2016

Journaling with Claire De Boer at Canadian Authors Vancouver

Last night Claire De Boer was the guest speaker at Canadian Authors Vancouver. After studying originally in the United Kingdom, Claire emigrated to Canada. She is a mentor at Southbank Writers' Program in Surrey and a certified Journal Therapist.

She also writes and edits for SheLoves magazine and teaches journaling for personal development and for memoir writing.

Memoir, says Claire, is a difficult genre to write, and is quite distinct from journaling. Yet keeping a journal is a practice that helps the memoirist uncover the universal themes that move a story beyond its mundane details.

When we allow the pen "to dance across the page" in a journal nobody else will read, we free ourselves from the critical editor and are able to access great material from the subconscious, which is 90% of our minds.

Claire recommended many techniques for the practice of unbridled expression. She also interacted warmly with the audience as she listed her suggestions and then solicited the experience of audience members to various kinds of structured journal keeping.

For those who get stuck when faced with a blank journal page, Claire recommends springboards. These are sentences that can be kept handy for moments when we feel uncertain of what to write. For example, we may want to ask ourselves, "What do I want to overcome?" Or perhaps "What do I need today?" Using the springboard starter "If I spoke my truth, what would I say?" can uncover things we need to learn about ourselves, and help us face conflict and negative feelings.

Another method is to use a dialogue format. There are plenty of choices available; we can write both sides of a dialogue between self and other, self and self, or even self and God.

Longhand is preferable for journaling, she advises. Something magical happens when the hand moves steadily across the page, never lifting until the writing exercise has come to completion, and what needed to be uncovered has appeared in writing.

A moment of stillness is also useful before plunging into the exercise. We may choose to meditate, do yoga or simply breathe deeply. Ask a question and the answer will come.

For a would-be memoirist, journaling can uncover challenging emotions that a writer must face in order to finish the project. It raises awareness of these emotions and helps the writer handle them, and ultimately use them to create a text that will engage the emotions of readers.

Journaling can also help a memoir writer uncover and work with the "stepping stone moments" we all have in our lives. These crucial experiences change us deeply at the core, and are different for different people. Besides obvious life events like marriage or the birth of a child, stepping stone moments may include seemingly small events like hearing someone say something that makes a deep and lasting impression. For a memoirist, knowing what these moments are helps to structure the individual story in a way that others can relate to, giving it universal appeal.

Having the courage to be vulnerable can also help others, even when this is not our intent. Claire used quotations from famous journal keepers to illustrate how this daily practice can deep our lives. For William Stafford, it meant each event of his life "recognized itself, and passed into meaning." Cheryl Strayed said of her popular memoir Wild, "it was my job to make it about other people."

Claire ended her presentation with a reading from a memoir she is currently working on.

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