November 21 Live Interview with Karen O’Connor


Mary: is me, Mary Rosenblum, your web editor

Karen: is Karen O’Connor. Karen is an award-winning author of forty books for children and adults, a speaker and writing instructor from San Diego, California. Karen is also a wife, mother, and grandmother who enjoys hiking and walking in her spare time. She has a new book out on the shelves: 'Help, Lord! I'm Having a Senior Moment: Notes to God on Growing Older' from Servant Publications, and a book in progress: In Step With Your Stepchildren: Building Strong One-on-one Relationships (Beacon Hill Press, 2003)

Names: Are members of the audience.

Welcome everyone!

Mary: We're here with Karen. She's here tonight to talk to us about how our journal keeping can serve as a springboard into publication. Welcome Karen!

Karen: thanks, Mary! It's great to be here. Hi everyone.

Mary: And welcome all of you, out in the auditorium. I'm sure we'll learn a lot. We already have a question.

sandra1255: My main questions are how do you index the journal to make it useful for writing I have so much to say to myself

Karen: I don't do any indexing. I like journal writing to be free-flowing.

Mary: How do you keep track, if you want to find something later? Do you just remember where it is?

Karen: If I write about something that could be the seed of any article or story, I mark it and come back to it later.

sandra1255: Well after the flow then do you sort it out into some sort of order?

Karen: I don't always use my journals for my professional writing...I find it to be a time of reflection, a kind of emptying of my mind so I can think and write clearly during that day. But I do try to be aware of things I may want to include in a book or magazine article. To me, journaling is a release so that I can get to the task of writing without emotional baggage keeping me stuck.

mbvoelker: Could you explain the nature and technique of journaling? I have a notebook with me always (several actually in different rooms and different bags), but I don't do any formal journaling time. I have wondered if I ought to and how journaling would differ from noting down ideas as they struck me and my pen and paper pre-writing.

Karen: In the morning I find it useful to jot down any thoughts or feelings that are lingering from the night or from the day before. For example, suppose I had a disagreement with a family member or I was worried about something in my life, whether it be money, or my parents, or my grown kids. I would write down those concerns and feelings then put away the journal until the next day. The 'dumping' is a good mental and emotional exercise. I keep several going at once--one for spiritual growth, one for my hiking experiences in nature, and one for my grandkids. There is no ONE way to do this. Make it personal and useful to you.

sandra1255: I wonder though if the baggage doesn't sometime help?

Karen: What do you mean? Can you explain?

Mary: I assume she means that the 'emotional baggage' that you are able to shed in the journal might in some way power your writing.

Karen: I agree that emotions are useful in our writing. But I find that I have to express them first and then I can use them in my writing.

tigger: Do you journal at the same time each day or just do it whenever a thought comes that you want to preserve?

Karen: I write at various times of the day--and sometimes no at all. It depends on where I am and how I'm feeling.

mlh: has it always been a release for you? I used to journal as a kid but now I find it more of a chore and have no desire to go back and read what I've written.

Karen: Many people feel this way. I think it has to do with our getting a bit 'jaded' as we age. We get caught up in our chores and responsibilities and are reluctant to let go. But I think it's worthy of our time. We often access thoughts and feelings we didn't even know we had and it can be freeing.

Mary: So how did you first get started writing in your journal, Karen?

Karen: I was having problems in my marriage and I went to see a counselor at my church. He suggested I begin writing down my ugly, judgmental thoughts about my husband so I could see more of myself than I had been willing to look at before. This was enormously painful at first, but then freeing, because I realized I had a whole set of expectations that were unrealistic. This helped me see my husband for who he is rather than who I wanted him to be.

Mary: That's interesting. Have you applied that to your writing...perhaps as a means of dealing with writer's block?

Karen: I've never had writers' block and I think that's because I keep a journal. I just put words on paper even if they don't make sense to me or seem useless. Invariably they help me clarify my thought process so I can write something useful to others.

tigger: This may seem silly, but I have been hesitant to journal because I worry that someone else will read it! Like my two curious little boys. ) And that could be embarrassing.

Karen: That's not silly at all. Many people worry about this. I do too. You could write and then destroy the pages if you wish. Some people do that. They like to rid themselves of the stuff that bothers them and that they don't want anyone else to see and when they are finished, they don't need the pages anymore.

Mary: You really seem to be using the journal as a means of emotional self-support. Now that's a good reason for keeping one!

sandra1255: How could you journal, say, for humor's sake?

Mary: Sorry. That was another freeze. Hi, Karen! Welcome back!

Karen: I wanted to answer the question about humor. I think that's a great comment. I sometimes put humorous thoughts, lists, ideas into my journal. They have served me well in one of my recent books, Help, Lord! I'm Having A Senior Moment: Notes to god on Growing Older.

tigger: What kinds of markets are there for the kinds of pieces you could write starting from a journal entry?

Karen: I don't think we can expect to use our journal entries for publication. They are simply idea starters. For example, I write a lot of personal experience articles for the religious and family markets and I find that journal entries about my step-kids or grandkids or about our family life provide me with anecdotes for a few quotations or humorous events that I can use for the article.

Mary: The ability to go back and look at personal reactions should help your characterization.

Karen: Certainly you could find ideas for fiction, for memoirs, for nostalgia. And yes, if you're writing about people in your life, they can become the models for fiction characters. I remember a situation my father-in-law used to tell us about--something that happened when he was a kid. I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget it after he was gone. Later I incorporated it into one of my books and into many articles on the subject of gratitude--one of my favorite subjects to write and speak about.

Mary: So what is the difference between a journal and a diary?

Karen: A journal is a place to write out your feelings, ideas, thoughts, perspectives on life. I think of a diary as more of a chronology of a day's events.

Mary: What are some other ways that your journaling has affected your writing?

Karen: It has helped me see deeper into myself. For example, when I was writing my book, ‘Squeeze the Moment: 31 Days to a More Joyful Life’, I turned to my journal for experiences I had had with my husband on our daily walks in the park, and how just being in nature made me more conscious and appreciative of the little things that make my life happy and joyful. I was grateful for these detailed notes because they helped refresh my memory. I could have easily forgotten the details if I had not written them down.

Mary: So how can journaling help a nonfiction writer?

Karen: I'm a nonfiction writer so I'm a good example of how journaling helps with articles and nonfiction books. Another example would be my book on grandparenting and my most recent one--just completed--on stepparenting. I have notes in my journals about both of these experiences and they have been a source of writing that has been both personal and inspirational for readers.

Mary: What about fiction? What are some ways that a journal could be useful to a fiction writer?

Karen: I think I mentioned earlier that one could use notes about the people in your life as models for creating characters that are both realistic and believable.

nikkisangel1: I have 3 journals, a daily one, an angel one, and a dream one. Then I look up the dreams in the dream dictionary and review them. It’s great to see how, in days past, the dreams come true.

Karen: Great idea of keep track of your dreams. That is one area I'm unfamiliar with. Dreams could be the source of story ideas, it would seem to me.

Mary: Do you ever make things up, or are your journals strictly factual?

Karen: Mine are factual, though I see no reason why someone couldn't doodle a bit and let his or her creative energy help establish a story-line for fiction.

nikkisangel1: It's also fun, and it turns out most bad dreams have positive outcomes.

Karen: I love hearing that!

Mary: What kinds of things do you include in your journal?

Karen: I write letters to God, notes about a vacation we took, feelings about an event such as a visit with our family or a trip to he desert, or my reaction to a particular bit of news I've heard. For example, maybe you received an award and you want to relish it by writing about how you feel, or perhaps a loved one died and you want to write down what that person meant to you....that sort of thing.

jim: I never kept a journal of experiences, but I do have journals of everyone I met over the last 35 years with their attributes and descriptions. They are my characters now.

Karen: Fabulous! I'm going to pass that on to some of fiction writing students. What a clever idea!

nikkisangel1: I have a stepdaughter 10, do you have any tips for finding time?

Karen: Maybe you and your daughter could spend the same time with each of you writing in your own journal. What a wonderful way for her to learn to express her deeper self and to see her mom doing it too.

Mary: Is it important to write in your journal every day?

Karen: I don't like rules when it comes to journaling. I write when I want to--sometimes daily for a week and then sometimes not for several days or longer. It's really up to each one of us to use our journal as we wish. Author Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way) would disagree with me, however. She feels it's important to write three pages a day first thing in the morning--no matter what.

Mary: Karen, do you have any tips or exercises that will help people get started with a journal?

Karen: I suggest you write a letter to someone you want to communicate with...but don't want to send. Write a list of things you love or down what you hope to accomplish that day...take a walk and then write down what you noticed, felt, smelled, heard, etc.

Mary: Journaling really seems to be getting popular now. Why do you think this is so?

Karen: People today seem more in touch with their inner selves. They want to know more about what makes them tick and journal writing is a way to do that. There is also a magazine for journal writers produced by Writer's Digest and there are myriad books on the subject. So our attention is drawn to this in a way it wasn't even ten years ago.

tigger: The way you have described things you journal about, Karen, makes me think that I actually am journaling already, but on separate pieces of paper, not in a bound book. I would like to write some devotionals based on my journal "notes." Are there magazines out there that will accept single devotionals?

Karen: Good point. If you're writing, you are journaling. It doesn't have to be in a bound book, and yes, there are religious magazines (see Writer's Market) that take short devotionals. There are also web sites. Do a search on using the word devotionals and see what comes up.

nikkisangel1: I journal because when I am gone, I want someone to read it. Maybe my family can keep it.

Karen: I love that idea too. I'm keeping a journal for each of my grandchildren. I write in their books after we've been together or when I have something I wish to say to them that I want them to keep. It's not daily or even weekly, just when I feel like it. I hope I live long enough to present them to each one when they get married or leave home.

Mary: Do you use real people from your journals in your writing, or do you change them?

Karen: I state real names--although I remember using initials in a couple of cases--because my comments about that person were not too nice!! :-)

Mary: How has journaling impacted your life as a woman and a writer?

Karen: It has helped me see myself as a woman more clearly than almost anything else. I have given myself permission to be who I am--nothing held back--when I write in my journal. I don't worry about correctness, just focus on saying what's on my heart. I have found the good and the bad within and all of it has helped me accept myself for who I am and also to be willing to change those parts I'm not proud of.

nikkisangel1: I also have post tramautic stress and use journaling for therapy

Karen: I use journaling for therapy too. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, it was my counselor who first recommended it and I actually balked at first because I was already writing (as an author) everyday and I didn't want to have to do more writing, but I was soon to find out that journaling is very different from writing for publication under a deadline.

Mary: So what is the link between your journal and published prose? Can you use a 'journal style' in a nonfiction piece?

Karen: Journaling, for me, has helped me be more expressive in my nonfiction writing. I'll give you an example. I received an e-mail today from a woman who used my personal story of recovering from an unwanted divorce, following my first husband's affair (twenty-some years ago). This friend has published a book on recovering from grief. She said she has received several comments (notes, etc) from readers saying how much they liked my personal story because it was self-disclosing without being pitiful or sentimental. In other words I came across as a real person with real feelings. I believe that came about because of my letting it all out in my journal.

nikkisangel1: Was it Lovely Bones?

Karen: I’m not sure what you mean by lovely bones. Can you explain?

nikkisangel1: 'Lovely Bones' is a story about grief. My therapist recommended it.

Karen: Thanks. I'll look for it. The book I'm referring to is a collection of personal true stories from a variety of people. The book is about recovering from grief but I'm forgetting the title at the moment! Sorry.

Mary: Karen, do you worry about family members reading your journals?

Karen: I don't worry about family members reading my journal because it's only my husband and me at home now. He isn't likely to snoop around in my private book case!

Mary: How could keeping a journal benefit children? Or students?

Karen: My oldest daughter kept a journal for twenty years--and still journals. She also encourages her children to keep journals and includes it in her home-schooling curricula. We both believe it helps children take a deeper look at themselves and to stop and pay closer attention to the people, events, and experiences in life.

Mary: Can you recommend any particular books about the process of journal keeping?

Karen: Yes. ‘Journal Keeping’ by Luann Budd, (for those who wish to write for spiritual growth). An old favorite of mine titled Journey Notes by Richard Solly and Roseann Lloyd and Dialogue with God by Mark and Patti Virkler.

tigger: It sounds like you are very transparent in some of the things you write for publication, Karen. Do you ever have friends or family members who read your pieces/books and are surprised or shocked about how you feel about something or someone?

Karen: I don't write in a way that damages or hurts people. I own my experiences. For example, when writing about my divorce. I wrote about how it affected me rather than about what someone did to me. Most of my writing, however, is quite joyful and uplifting. My purpose statement for my life is the following: opening hearts and connecting lives through writing and speaking. That's my goal--to help others live authentic lives, to tell the truth, to be grateful for everything--no matter what--and to find the joy and humor in everyday life.

Mary: What about procrastination, Karen? Will a procrastinating writer find help in a journal, or will it become a way to procrastinate?

Karen: I don't believe there is such a thing as true procrastination. I find that people who put off doing things simply lack passion for that thing or they'd do it. Therefore if you find yourself procrastinating, maybe you just don't want to do it...and you should go to something that you are passionate about. Journaling might not be for everyone. I have many friends who can't stand the thought of it and that's okay.

Mary: It does occur to me, that of the writers I've known who suffered from writer's block, the problems seemed to come from within them. If you are using journaling as a way to explore your feelings it might actually help keep any kind of block from happening, by putting you more in tune with your own feelings.

Karen: I agree. But sometimes one is in such pain or confusion or anger that even sitting down to write about it can be too painful so we put it off. In that case, it can be useful to join a support group so you can begin by TALKING about the feelings first...and then writing may come more easily.

Mary: I think, in the interests of your sanity, considering our frequent screen freezes, we'll close a little early tonight.

Karen: Just say when!

Mary: Why don't you tell us a bit about your writing and your new book coming out. Then I think we'll call it a night and leave the stage to the cyber-gremlins!

Karen: I am having fun with writing humor--something new for me. My book on senior moments has been very popular and in fact, the company asked me to consider doing another book on humor for seniors. I also have a book on step-parenting coming out next summer and I am writing a lot of magazine articles, devotionals, pieces for the web.

tigger: Karen, just in case we get "frozen" again, I just wanted to thank you for coming tonight. You have inspired me and given me a few things to think about. Thanks! )

Karen: Thanks so much. I'm glad it was useful to you. Your words mean a lot. Any other questions before we check out?

Mary: I think you've covered the topic really well, Karen, and I want to thank you for being such a good sport about the software problem.

Karen: Thanks, Mary. I enjoyed our visit--despite the freezes.

tigger: I just had a comment. I think it's neat that you have a statement of purpose for your life, and I think it's a neat idea for us each to have a statement of purpose for our writing.

Karen: Great. Then I hope you'll invite me back sometime.

Mary: I'll do so. When I can promise no crashes! And I ditto Tigger. Your statement is great!

Karen: I agree. I learned that at a workshop and heard it again at a seminar this morning. Knowing and living our purpose can make all the difference between a life that is mere existence and a life that is lived with meaning and joy.

Mary: Thank you, Karen, for coming, and for sharing your insights on journaling with us! We've enjoyed the conversation.

Karen: My pleasure. Good night everyone!

Return to Transcripts

Home | Writing Course | Short Story | Full Story Writing Test 
Send Me Full Info | Enroll | Our Instructors | Our CredentialsSample Lesson 
College Credits | Tax Deductibility | From Overseas  | Writer's Bookstore  
Free Writer's News | Life Support for Writers | Chat Room  | Live Forum | Writing Craft
Calendar of Events | Professional Connection | Transcripts | Post a Note | Surviving & Thriving
Student Center | Privacy Policy | Web EditorComments | Writing for Children 

LongRidge Writers Group
91 Long Ridge Road, West Redding, Connecticut 06896
Telephone: 1-800-624-1476 ~ Fax: 203-792-8406

Copyright © Writer's Institute, Inc., 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
No part of the electronic transmission to which this notice is appended may be reproduced or redistributed in any form or manner without the express written permission of Writer's Institute, Inc.