Ever since her mother gave her a journal at age ten to help her cope with the suicide of her beloved grandmother, Diana Raab has used writing as a way of navigating life’s challenges and joys. She believes it can help you, too.
Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life is rooted in the psychology of healing, spirituality, and transformation. The book is, in part, a how-to guide, but even more so it is an expression of an attitude toward writing, toward life, and toward writing for your life.
The process of writing for bliss is not always blissful. The expression “follow your bliss,” coined by Joseph Campbell, is, as Raab notes, “another way of saying to follow your heart or listen to your authentic inner voice.”
It is about “bringing into your life all those things that bring out your potential and help you live your life to its fullest,” Raab says.
Facing your fears and your traumas, and owning up to your “shadow” self that you might prefer to keep hidden, can be painful, but it can also be healing.
Raab has taught workshops on writing, and has authored memoirs and poetry. Those experiences show. For example, in her chapter on preparing to write, Raab describes rituals for writing, and how writers can find their own ways of feeling calm, confident, and ready to write.
Recurrent themes in Writing for Bliss include helping readers to write with authenticity, emotional grounding, purpose, and the dilemma of trying to please others. Toward those ends, Raab offers chapters on self-awareness, speaking the truth, and examining one’s life. Those are steps two through four of the seven-step plan. The other steps involve finding one’s form (do you want to write memoirs, essays, journals, letters, blogs, or something else?), poetry, and sharing your writing.
Writing for Bliss includes the types of advice that are familiar to those who have taken writing workshops or read other writing guides (for example, “show, don’t tell”). Raab repeatedly reminds readers of something beginners do not always realize — that one of the most important steps to becoming a good writer is to be an avid reader. Novices might not know what exactly to do with that advice, but Raab offers a wonderful resource in her long list of recommended memoirs. She also includes lists of books on writing, as well as books on writing memoirs, fiction, and poetry.
Diana Raab has a PhD in transpersonal psychology, and for her doctoral dissertation she interviewed memoirists about the processes of healing and transformation in their work. Writing for Bliss benefits from the insights Raab gleaned from those writers, as well as other authors she has met or studied.
Recounting a conversation with Mary Karr, for example, Raab noted that Karr “said that all the great memoirists she knows sound on the page like they do in person and that their voices make you feel close to them.”
The final section of the book is about making choices about where to submit your work. It is comprised of just six sentences. Most aspiring writers will be eager to learn much more than that. The claim that nonfiction writers probably won’t need an agent is not true of authors hoping to be signed by a major publishing house.
Writing for Bliss is a personal book. Readers learn a lot about Raab’s life, and how writing has helped her. A lot of it is inspiring. As a lifelong single person, though, I was disappointed by her apparent assumptions that everyone wants to marry and everyone does marry. For example, she tells the story of how she kept journals of the questions posed by each of her children during the first ten years of their lives, “vowing to share each one’s journal with them on their wedding day.” So if they didn’t want to marry, or did want to marry but never found a suitable partner, they don’t get their journal?
That sort of issue, though, is hardly specific to this author. It is part of the uncontested ideology of our time. In just about every other way, Writing for Bliss is a valuable addition to the literature on writing the story of your life.
Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life
Loving Healing Press
Paperback, 218 pages