An Interview with Writer and Instructor Margo Rabb
Margo’s three-hour workshop, From Idea to Page: How Keeping a Journal Can Change Your Writing and Your Life, will be held April 6, from 1PM to 4Pm at St. Edward’s University. Registration for From Idea to Page ends April 2, so be sure to register before the class is full!
What inspired you to create a class on keeping a journal?
Margo Rabb: I started writing in a journal when I was fifteen years old, and I’ve been keeping journals regularly ever since. My immediate inspiration back then was reading The Diary of Anne Frank—that book affected me deeply in so many different ways. Anne’s diary was a friend to her, a source of comfort, and the primary way that she made sense of her life and of the world.
I have nearly a hundred journals now. Keeping a journal has been an essential resource for me both as a writer and as a person. My mother died when I was nineteen, and I treasure the journals that I kept while she was alive; I didn’t know then that they’d be the only account I’d have of my last four years with my mom. I also didn’t know then that they would inspire short stories, essays, and novels many years later. I use my journals as a way to record what’s happening around me, but even more importantly as a way to make sense of what’s inside me, what I see in the world, and what it means.
Do you prefer to write in journals or on a laptop? Do you think there is something rewarding about physically writing in a journal?
MR: I always write in my journal by hand. I believe it’s important for a journal to be a private place where you can be utterly honest and completely free from judgment and criticism—it’s very different from a blog. Though some ideas and experiences that I write about in my journal will later appear in print in a revised and edited form, I treasure the knowledge that when I write in it, it’s for myself only.
What was your writing process for Cures for Heartbreak?
MR: Cures for Heartbreak is about a family recovering from the sudden death of their mother. I re-read my journals as I wrote the novel, and as I wrote it I also used my journal as a place to work out ideas and characters, to troubleshoot problems, and to keep myself motivated to finish the book.
I read that you have over ninety journals. How do you keep track of them?
MR: Years ago, I went through them and organized them by date and numbered them. I often refer back to them so that made it a lot easier.
What role did your journaling play in the completion of your works?
MR: I actually don’t use the word “journaling” because I feel it’s often used in a way that separates the practice from more “serious” types of writing. A journal is an art form that can be as central to a writer’s life as any other kind of writing—as it was to Anne Frank, Virginia Woolf, and Dawn Powell—and should be taken as seriously. Keeping a journal is such a vital part of my writing life that I could never live without it.
How should writers prepare for From Idea to Page, and what are you expecting them to take away from your class?
MR: All they need is a journal or notebook and a pen; the class will give them the tools and inspiration to start and maintain a regular journal writing practice. My view of a journal writing practice is a forgiving and flexible one—it isn’t something that must be done every single day at an exact hour for a prescribed number of pages. This class is about how to make journal writing a part of your life, no matter how hectic your schedule is. It will help writers unplug and disconnect from the chatter and chaos of modern life, to slow down and focus on the essential joys of writing.
Margo Rabb’s stories have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Zoetrope: All Story, Seventeen, Best New American Voices, New Stories from the South, New England Review, One Story, and elsewhere, and have been broadcast on National Public Radio. She received grand prize in the Zoetrope short story contest, first prize in The Atlantic Monthly fiction contest, first prize in the American Fiction contest, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award. She grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two children.
For more information about Margo, Cures for Heartbreak, and Margo’s other published works, visit her website, www.margorabb.com.