Writing for Bliss by Diana Raab

For Diana Raab, writing has been a way of coping with all that life has thrown at her, starting with her grandmother’s suicide and also including her daughter’s drug addiction and two bouts with cancer. She’s written poetry, memoir, and various books on the writer’s craft, with the latest, Writing for Bliss, specifically centered around life writing and mindfulness. In particular, I could see this one being helpful supplementary reading for those who have enjoyed Francine Prose’s Reading like a Writer and Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir.

Some keywords Raab emphasizes are patience, journey, healing, and transformation. Writing is often a long process, but it can also be a therapeutic one. It’s important to find a sacred space of one’s own – whether literal like Virginia Woolf’s room of one’s own, or simply a repurposed space that has been made conducive with candles and family photos. Raab encourages would-be memoir writers to look at the patterns in their lives and to focus on writing about moments that are relevant to the story of their personal growth.

As to the nitty-gritty of getting words onto the page, she insists that life writing is just as much about storytelling as fiction is. Fleshing out a story is more important than chronological accuracy, and she advises striving for a mixture of narrative, dialogue, scenes and reflection so that the resulting book does not seem like just a list of facts and events.

Raab also issues warnings. One is about causing offense by revealing family secrets. She suggests consulting the family members you intend to write about beforehand, and later running a rough draft past them for their approval. Another is about the danger of seeking one’s self-worth in publishing. Not all books lead to traditional publication, so it’s better if you write out of love and for yourself, simply because you find fulfillment in creativity.

This is a practical as well as a theoretical guide: 50 writing prompts are dotted through the text, and there’s also an appendix full of more. I’m someone who doesn’t necessarily aspire to write fiction, so I usually skip over such sections in a book about writing, but I think many of these could make a great launch pad for writing a personal essay. The book also ends with a terrific 15-page inventory of further reading, including a list of recommended memoirs.

My rating: 

Writing for Bliss was published by Loving Healing Press on September 1st. My thanks to the author for the free e-copy for review.


I’ve hoarded a number of books about writing on my Kindle, including:

  • The Hero Is You by Kendra Levin
  • Scratch, ed. by Manjula Martin
  • Part Wild by Deb Norton
  • Process by Sarah Stodola

Have you read any of these? What other books about writing have you read that you can vouch for?

I’ve read a lot of the classics – Dorothea Brande, Stephen King, Anne Lamott et al. – but I’m always interested to hear what similar books people have found to be helpful.

9 responses

  1. Aside from the much lauded and often-cited Natalie Goldberg ‘Writing Down the Bones’, I would also recommend John Gardner’s less well known but very subtle On Becoming a Novelist (very craft heavy). On a completely different way of thinking about creativity while struggling with the demands of motherhood, I enjoyed ‘The Rainbow Way’ by Lucy H. Pearce.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the suggestions! I’m likely to gravitate towards more generalist writing books as I don’t currently have intentions of writing fiction.


  2. I’ve got this one on my TBR…maybe it was included in the Poets & Writers newsletter (do you get that? it has at least one book in each week’s recommendations and following the author’s link sometimes reveals more) or maybe I just spotted it somewhere. Good to know it was worthwhile for you. Gardner’s book is a classic and one I’d like to reread too. My most recent favourite was definitely more applicable to fiction, but now that I know you’re writing, I’ll let you know if I come across some others which are more general or leaning in the NF direction. None of the four you’ve got in line are familiar to me, so I’ll be very interested to hear how they work for you. Margot Livesay’s recent one is on my radar but I haven’t even peeked at it yet!


    1. No, I don’t get the Poets and Writers newsletter. Do you think I’d find worthwhile? When I say ‘writing’, I mostly mean book reviews, blogs and the occasional book-themed articles. If I were ever to write a book, it would be likely to be in the biography or memoir arena. I haven’t attempted poetry or fiction since high school!


  3. Hello! I’m looking for some new blog friends, and I found you after you commented on Naomi’s blog, Consumed by Ink. I’ve read many writing memoirs and guides, but I’ve never heard of the ones you listed, so that’s helpful to me! I taught creative writing at the University of Notre Dame one semester, and I found great use in Bird By Bird and On Writing, though those are the two that everyone’s heard of.


    1. Hi there! I did a summer theology course at Notre Dame as an undergrad. I love the King and Lamott books.


      1. Cool! I look forward to reading more from your big and hope you’ll visit Grab the Lapels. Who taught the Theo course?


    2. This was back in 2003. The program was called Traditio and I think was taught by external scholars (whose names I have now, shamefully, forgotten!). I enjoyed spending time on the Notre Dame campus, though. I have relatives local to there in South Bend.


      1. That’s so neat! I went to Notre Dame for my MFA in fiction. I now teach at Holy Cross College and LOVE IT.


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