I'm excited to be featuring journal keeper and author and #JournalChat Live supporter, Danielle Hanna, on Refresh Daily where she shares about the details of her book, Journaling to Become a Better Writer, as well as ways she authentically refreshes herself with writing fiction!
You can read more about Danielle in her Bio below as well as details on her book giveaway!
Here is our conversational interview which was fun, insightful and inspiring to do with Hanna. Enjoy!
Dawn: What prompted you to start keeping a journal? How old were you and what were the specific circumstances? What was the greatest immediate benefit you experienced when you first started out?
Danielle: I started keeping a journal when I was five years old. I'd already been reading and writing for a year before that. (I was jealous of my older brother. Something about a crying tantrum and my mother sitting down to teach me then-and-there.)
The journal happened in the department store one day. I saw a pink diary with a fluffy white cat on the cover. It was the cat that lured me! (Born animal lover.) I begged my mother for the diary, and she caved, though she didn't believe I would actually use it. Well ... I did.
Under my specific circumstances ... I'd have to say the immediate benefit was practicing how to hold a pen! I love looking back at those very first entries. Sometimes, they make absolutely no sense. But I wrote about what was important to a five- six- and seven-year-old child. I envy how happy and care-free I was then.
Dawn: Since that day when your Mom got you your first journal, how has your journaling practice evolved over the years? What purpose has journaling become for you? How much has changed and what has stayed the same? What keeps you going with journaling?
A: From writing sporadically when I was little, I moved on to faithfully filling out one page every night when I was in my early teens, to faithfully filling one leather-bound journal every year in my late teens and early twenties.
Just a few years ago, I began journaling via computer. This was a major development, because now I tend to go back over recent entries and edit, just like I would a novel. This was where I really started learning how to use my journal as a tool to perfect the craft of writing.
As for my purposes in journaling? So many! These come to mind:
I've heard that some people struggle to "develop a journaling habit." Unfortunately, I have the opposite problem. I can easily lose an entire day to nothing but journaling. What motivates me is that same need to "tell the story." I never want to forget the minute details of what happened. What someone said. The look on their face as they said it. How I felt in that exact moment. How it all shaped the larger story of my life.
Though I'm still young, I've already experienced loss. Journaling has become a way for me to give a sort of eternity to the moments and the people that meant the most to me. I usually will have written a journal entry within a few days of the events I describe. Re-reading old entries becomes a way to revisit those special moments. To bring the past to life again. To remember.
Dawn: I love what you shared about journaling to tell our story, because that's truly what it is, and in a way only we can tell it. And the more detail the better!
Do you experience your journaling practice as a part of your personal self care? If so, how does journaling enable you to appreciate yourself for Who You Are, Validate your emotions and feelings and Nurture your soul?
Danielle: Absolutely. Unfortunately, I grew up in an environment that was more critical than supportive and left me with a very low opinion of myself. It was also a bizarre upbringing, in that we were largely isolated from the world, due to my parents' extreme devotion to moral purity. Kind of like a Utopian society, but with my immediate family as the sole members. The demands of that environment left me with such a low opinion of myself that I eventually played with the idea of suicide.
In the midst of all that, my journal was the one "person" I could talk to. I found that it never criticized my ideas or desires, but simply sat and listened while I filled page after page. It was where I sorted out "what my parents said" versus the real me that was dying to see the light of day.
"Validating my emotions" has definitely been a big part of what I accomplished in journaling. Day after day, I learned from my parents that how I felt didn't matter. Writing about how I felt brought those emotions to the forefront, where they could no longer be shoved away. Seeing them in black and white made them real. More firm.
Journaling was one of the most important things that lead to me claiming and embracing the real me and embarking on my unique path in life.
Dawn: Wow. Journaling has certainly been a catalyst, a life-changing tool of the up-most for you. I'm so glad you discovered the power of this practice so that it could make such a profound difference in the quality and direction of your life.
With Journaling as your tool, how has it enhanced your life specifically as a writer, both in the writing process and as an author? What was the main initiator toward writing your book, Journaling to Become a Better Writer?
Danielle: Again, journaling has influenced my writing in just as many ways as it has affected my personal life. Most of all, it taught me how to "work from life models." The illustration I use in the book is the artist in the park, sketchpad on her knee. She's learning how to hone her observation skills and her drawing skills to capture real life in a way that's both authentic and powerful.
I find that journaling does the same thing for a writer. You observe real life, then you put it into words, using the same skills you study in any writing how-to book.
I've specifically identified seven areas in which journaling has helped me become a better writer:
As for what brought about the writing of my book ... LOL. Get ready for this.
At the age of twenty-six, I had finally escaped "utopia." I came out of that life with a deep mistrust of people, particularly "family," and I swore I'd never let anybody near me again.
Then I found a stray dog and called the sheriff's department. The officer who responded - Sam - helped me get the dog home ... after which I helped him get his patrol car out of the snow ... after which we kept in touch. But when he came a weeeee bit too close to my super-sensitive boundaries ... I had an epic meltdown on him.
Making matters even more complicated? My father had died when I was two. The ONLY relationship I still craved was a dad. So while part of me said that Sam was a stalker ... the other part of me said he was the Daddy I'd been dying for.
While trying to sort out that mess, I journaled A LOT. And I sent hundreds of pages to my writing partner, a.k.a. my "Grandma" Steph, for her advice and solace. She was awesomely supportive.
She also told me she couldn't wait for the next "installment" in my story.
That's when I looked at my journal and realized how much it was written like a novel. And that I'd been using my journal my whole life long to practicing my writing techniques. (I knew at the age of seven that I wanted to be an author.)
As soon as my life was back on both feet, I wrote the book. And since honesty was the key theme ... I decided to include entire excerpts from my personal journal. It's much of the same material I shared with Grandma Steph, telling the story of how I learned to trust again. I did it not only to illustrate the storycrafting skill you can achieve in your journal, but to show exactly what I mean by being honest and authentic.
In the book, I alternate pages from my journal with lessons from journaling, the lessons explaining a concept that was illustrated in the journal excerpt. So the book is literally half how-to and half memoir, with a big, huge dollop of self-help. And yes, I'm having major problems figuring out how to categorize it!
Dawn: Your book sounds seriously multi-faceted, covering core issues like honesty as well as providing structure for the writer and examples for folks to follow from your journaling practice. I could see why the category would be a challenge!
In regards to the power of journaling and how it has enhanced your life as a writer and author, do you have any other activities that you engage in in conjunction with journaling that help with that appreciation, validation and nurture of Who You Are in a creative sense? What do you do to activate your creative center, where the core of your creativity shines and flows for you?
Danielle: I live life. And beyond that, I introspect.
I live life with my eyes wide open, soaking in every drop. From there, I ask never-ending questions. I ask "Why?" and "Who is this person at his or her core?" and "What if?" and "What next?"
I ask the same questions of my fictional characters. If my character has been divorced, I ask, "In what ways do you still love her?" If my character has survived a traumatic injury, I ask, "What have you lost, besides mobility?" If my character has been in prison, I ask, "What part of you hurt so much, that you didn't care?" I dip into the real world and learn as much as I can about people who have actually been there. And I weave what I find into my characters.
Many activities help me get at the answers to my endless questions. My favorites are hiking and camping. I never spent much time outdoors when I was a child, and I'm amazed what I was missing out on.
I take my dog to the river, and we walk for an hour or more. She runs from one interesting smell to the next, while I let my mind wander from one interesting thought to the next. When I'm camping, I find there are few things so introspective and peaceful as sitting by the fire, your dog sleeping at your feet, and watching the flames move and the stars come out. And I start asking questions again. And I keep asking until I find at least one revelation or two.
Dawn: Ah, the great outdoors! What an inspiring place to get introspective and discover some of the mysteries of life. I appreciate your desire to really know the heart of things, of people. What we lose and gain is part of the ebb and flow of life.
As you make time to introspect in the great outdoors and enhance your life with your journaling practice, has this approach helped you gain clarity on self-identification? How has your self care in this manner enabled you to define Who You Are in regards to not having a father figure during your formative years?
Danielle: Journaling, in particular, has helped me clarify Who I Am as an individual. But as a matter of fact, I think it was writing fiction that defined Who I Was more than journaling or spending time in the outdoors. When I was in my teens, I stepped back to look at all the various stories I was writing, and I discovered a common theme: They were all about daughters and dads. That's when I realized that my subconscious was trying to tell me something. Basically, that my father's death - an event I was too young to remember - was a big deal to me.
So I continued to use fiction to explore my feelings about being a fatherless daughter. I lost myself in the personas of my main characters and let them play out every facet of the father-daughter relationship.
What I tapped into subconsciously in fiction, I later addressed directly in journaling. But to this day, my revelations about Who I Am typically come out first in my fiction. Through my characters, I've come to understand that the deepest part of me is still a little girl, longing to be with her Daddy.
Dawn: How does your journaling practice help you to identify and initiate positive change in your life? Does this process open the pathway to personal empowerment for you, enabling you to leave your effective and meaningful mark in the world?
Danielle: Whenever I find myself faced with a conundrum, I turn first to my journal. I find that putting my problems into words helps me nail down the exact nature of the conflict, which helps to suggest solutions. Likewise, writing down the possible solutions clarifies my options. From there, I can arrive at a decision and move my life forward.
As for empowerment - oh, yes. My journal is the one place where I can hear my own voice and no one else's. It boosts my confidence in myself - in the fact that I can know my own mind. It gives me the courage to be me.
Dawn: It's amazing to me how through your fiction writing--your stories--that you found a deeper connection with your subconscious awareness and then used journaling to address your discoveries. That is truly empowering and life changing.
It is vitally important that we have a place to speak and hear our own voices, validating our point of view and our life experience, seeing them as truly valuable.
Danielle, do you have a specific journaling routine that you follow, such as where and when you journal, and do you have specific techniques you use regularly that help you Honor Your Preferences and your individuality as a journal keeper and writer? Any recommendations for other journal keepers to try?
Danielle: My journaling "routine" lately has been sporadic. Within the context of my new family - Sam and his wife Jen - I'm in the process of re-learning essentially everything I knew about life. I have volumes to journal about, and absolutely not enough time to get all that journaling done, while launching my writing career.
Because so many of my issues run so deep, I eventually concluded that I would never be successful in any aspect of my life until I sorted out my problems. So if I need to take an entire day to journal, I do. If I need to spend a few hours walking by the river with my dog, I do. And most of all, any time my surrogate parents invite me to spend time with them - even on a work day - I do.
As I sacrifice time to take care of me, I continue to improve and become both a better author and a better business person.
For anyone who's never kept a journal before, I think making a goal of just writing every day - even if it's only one sentence - is a great start. That's where I started my regular journaling practice when I was thirteen, and now ... a single entry can run ten pages or more. LOL.
For anyone looking to go deeper with their journaling, I recommend learning how to become deeply honest with your own emotions. An exercise I explain in my book involves asking yourself three questions:
These three questions are the absolute root of knowing myself better, getting at the core of my personal issues, and being supremely honest with myself. They are the root of my self-therapy through journaling.
For fiction crafting, they are also the root of knowing my characters better and even being able to describe a setting in a way that rivets the reader's attention instead of just filling the page.
Dawn: As a concluding question for our readers, Danielle, can you share final thoughts on the importance of being true to Who You Are and taking time out to refresh yourself in the most authentic way possible, allowing you to honor your preferences, your personality and purpose in life? And what a difference it makes for you when you nurture and nourish the core of your being and activate your creative center? And How that initiates loving yourself from the inside out?
Danielle: I cannot stress enough the importance of being true to yourself. I grew up in an environment that stressed conformity and looking good above authenticity, and it was so crazy-making, I longed to end my life.
(However, I want to make it clear that I don't advocate freedom to "be yourself" when doing so harms others. Sad that I have to include that disclaimer.)
During the time that I was trapped in my old life, the only relief I found was in long walks through the hills with my dog. And in journaling. And in story writing. Those activities allowed me to shut out the confusing outside voices and tap into my own feelings. Once I was deep inside myself, I was able to make choices that were in no way easy (and still aren't), but which liberated the person I was trying to be.
If I were still trapped in my old life, I wouldn't have been able to publish my first book. If I were still trapped in my old life, I wouldn't have been free to embrace my need for a Dad - and to reach out to one when his path crossed mine. My modes of refreshment and inspiration - along with the support and advice of good people in my life at the time - empowered me to turn my life around completely.
While I still have challenges to face (who doesn't?) I'm finally at peace about who I am, what I'm doing, and the people I call my family.
Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Dawn. I've really enjoyed this conversation!
Dawn: I so appreciate your honesty, forthrightness and courage to share your story; I know it's not an easy one to share. Yet, it such a hopeful, empowering message! Love it!
That concludes this Refresh Daily Interview with Danielle Hanna.
Comments for the Book Giveaway are now closed. And the winner is Jen Morris! Congratulations to you, Jen!
Comments are still open for general posting, if you are thus inclined. :)
[Now it's time for you to leave a comment so you can be in the drawing for a free copy of Daniellle's new book, Journaling to Become a Better Writer! You're welcome to share your thoughts on journaling, refreshment and Honoring Who You Are or writing as Danielle has answered so beautifully. Comments for the drawing will be closed on Friday, April 3 at midnight. The drawing will take place on Monday, April 6. ]
And also check out Danielle's Bio and social media:
Danielle Hanna learned how to read and write at age four and knew she wanted to be an author by the time she was seven. She writes crime fiction under the tagline “Hearth & Homicide”—not specifically for the excitement of guts and guns, but as a means to explore the true experiences of real people who have survived traumatic events and are looking for answers.
When she's not riveted to her computer, you can find her camping, hiking, and biking with her dog Molly in their home state of North Dakota.
www.DanielleHanna.com | Twitter | Pinterest
And here are links to where you can purchase Journaling to Become a Better Writer.
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Smashwords
Dawn engages in many roles: As Writer/Blogger and Artist/Creative and Founder of Refresh with Dawn Herring: Where Art and JOY Align, She enjoys sharing from her vast experience as award-winning, life-long artist and leader in the field of written journaling, offering encouragement and proven tips to other journal keepers. Dawn's focus is on written journal keeping, artistic expression and finding your Creative Voice, and positive change that leads personal empowerment, encouraging you to leave your authentic and positive mark in the world. Dawn is a Commercial artist, hand letterer/illustrator and writer/blogger and enjoys sharing insights, humor, and encouragement as she shares from her life experiences as a woman, wife, mother of two grown daughters and as a Grandparent to a special needs grandson. She enjoys keeping a journal and reading spiritual texts to help keep the light on. May JOY Align with Your Creative Heart.