Journaling to Become a Better Writer: Author Interview with Danielle Hanna

I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Hanna, a woman who is an author, but not exactly a romance author. She’s the kind of author that writers like: she writes how-to books. While I love to support my fellow romance authors, I also love to expand my own personal boundaries, and Danielle’s interview was so much fun, I had to blog about it.

When I asked Danielle to tell me a little about herself, this is what she had to say:

I begged my mother to teach me how to read and write when I was four years old because I was jealous of my older brother. She gave in, and It’s all been down-hill ever since. I started writing stories immediately, began keeping a journal when I was five, and I knew by the time I was about seven that I was going to be an author. DSC01646 (3) (481x640)

 My other loves are my pets and the outdoors. I go hiking, biking, and camping with my dog Molly (German Shepherd/Rottweiler) as often as I can, and I’ve even been known to take my cat Juliean along. Although “hiking” with a cat is remarkably non-directional, my dog puts up with it marvelously. 

While today we are focusing on her book, Journaling to Become a Better Writer, I asked Danielle if she writes any other genres, and here’s what she said:

If I had to pidgeonhole myself in two words, I’d say “crime fiction.” But while there’s plenty of action and murder and mayhem going on, my books are constantly exploring the idea of family—loving families, dysfunctional families, broken families, and every variation you can think of. Hence my tagline, “Hearth and Homicide.” 

 I’m also working on non-fiction titles geared toward other authors—how-to books and collections of notions and techniques that I’ve developed along the way. 

I then asked Danielle if anything specific inspires her. How did she come up with the idea behind her most recent book?

My upcoming book for authors, Journaling to Become a Better Writer, was inspired by my own journal, which I’ve been keeping since I was five. I write my journal exactly as if it were a novel written in first person—dialogue, narration, showing versus telling, tension building toward the climax … the whole bit. During a recent low in my life, I regularly shared my journal with a good friend. In addition to offering support and advice, she commented that she couldn’t help looking forward to the “next installment” of the story.  

I began to realize then that I’d been using my journal as a place to hone my writing skills, and that keeping a journal had helped me develop my technique and style in a myriad of ways. I first wrote a series of blog posts on the subject, then decided to expand them into a full book. 

I love it. I love the idea of accidentally stumbling upon the realization that one ought to be a writer. I then wondered (out loud) how many books she’s written, and Danielle said:

I have been produced as a playwright, but have since retired from that niche. My novels—somewhere around twenty of them—are all in various stages of dvelopment. I’ve finally bit the bullet and decided to polish them up and put ‘em out there. But my non-fiction title, Journaling to Become a Better Writer, will be my first published book. Pretty excited! 

I’m excited for her! I truly think this is a great concept. Makes me want to bust out my own journal and see if I can pull any ideas from the musings of an angst-y teen. But I digress. Let’s talk about Journaling to Become A Better Writer:

In each chapter of Journaling to Become a Better Writer, I’ll present a specific technique that can be practiced in your journal, such as recognizing the elements that make a story worth telling, making use of basic story structure (conflict, climax, resolution), getting in touch with and writing your emotions, honing your observation skills, etc. Each chapter ends with a suggested “homework” assignment so you can go give it a try. 

The beauty, I think, of practicing story craft in a journal is that you are relieved of the burden of creating a world and a story from scratch and can focus on the art of describing that world and telling that story in a compelling way. 

 An analogy I reference often is the artist sketching in the park. Her sketchpad is filled with brief studies of the duck pond, the old man on the bench, and the flower growing out of the crack in the sidewalk. What is she doing? She’s practicing her craft by working from life models. She’s training her eye to capture life with accuracy and detail and to recognize art in the everyday world. Then, if she chooses to go draw something from pure imagination, it will have increased realism because she practiced on life models beforehand. 

Keeping a journal is the writer’s answer to drawing from life models. 

And since I’m a strong believer in using examples, the book contains several excerpts from my own journal—many of which are unashamedly honest about my lost childhood and longing for real family, espeically someone I could finally call “Daddy.” 

Fascinating! And because I am a romance author, I always ask how steamy a book is, from 1 (behind closed doors) to 4 (erotica). Danielle’s answer made me laugh:

Mmm … I’d put it at a zero. 🙂 Here’s the teaser: 

 You’ve heard it said: Good writers keep journals. But are you getting more out of your journal than just word count? Your journal is the ideal place to practice your craft, from capturing life in stunning detail to recognizing a story worth telling at all. Learn how to turn your mental meanderings into powerful storytelling. 

Great advice! I then asked Danielle if this was one of the favorites of all the books she’s written:   

It certainly holds a special place in my heart. I’ve kept a journal almost my entire life, and I credit that journal as one of my major tutors as a writer. I’m passionate about journaling, about discovering the stories in your own life, and about exploring and expressing those stories through the power of words. Beyond that, the excerpts I include from my own personal journal tell the story of the best plot twist ever to happen in my life. 

When I asked if it has been released, Danielle said:

I had certainly hoped it would be out by now. The original concept was for a short booklet—but the book itself has demanded otherwise! I’m just now beginning to appreciate the true scope of this project. All I can say now is that it will be out before 2014 is up. It will be available first as an ebook on Smashwords (which will also distribute the book to other popular sites such as Barnes & Noble, Apple iBookstore, and Kobo). After that, I’ll explore putting it on Amazon and possibly even creating a hard version of the book. 

 For anyone interested, I’ll be posting progress reports and release updates on my blog, www.DanielleHanna.com

I plan to follow. I am intrigued by this concept. Here’s an excerpt:  

Journaling cover 05 600 02A car whipped by with wrong-colored license tabs. The sheriff’s deputy hit the lights and shot into the highway traffic. The force of our acceleration threw me back against my seat, but I didn’t flinch. I was just along for the ride—whatever the ride may bring. 

Sam caught up with the little ‘90’s-something Toyota Camry and pulled it over to the shoulder. A young couple sat inside. Teens, early twenties. 

Sam radioed in his stop, then pause  before getting out of the patrol car. “See that massive collection of air fresheners hangin’ from the rear-view mirror?” 

I nodded. 

“That means they’ve got somethin’ in their car. They’re tryin’ to mask the smell.” 

The way he said “somethin’,” I knew what he meant. Drugs. 

I cocked my head like a dog. He could tell that from air fresheners? 

Sam got out of the car. Glanced at me. Locked the doors. 

***

Sounds like an excerpt from my latest novel, right? 

Nope. That’s a snippet out of my journal. My first sheriff’s ride-along. 

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was five. Yep. Five. I’d already been writing fiction for a year before that. (Beware the four-year-old who demands to be taught how to read and write. They may be choosing their life career.) 

At some point in my early teens, I heard it said that good writers keep journals. At the time, I wasn’t sure how jotting down events from my boring little life could possibly affect my ability to pen a novel. But since I was already keeping a journal anyway, I filed the tidbit away in the back of my mind and waited to see if journaling would contribute anything more than word count. 

A couple of decades and more than a million words later, I now credit my journal as one of the primary tools that helped me become a better writer. (My penmanship has also improved drastically since I was five.) 

I am hooked. If you are too, here’s how you can stalk Danielle:

Now, whenever I do these author interviews (which I love to do, by the way, so if you’re an author reading this, contact me and we’ll set up a date…), I like to ask the interviewee to ask the readers a question. Feel free to provide your answer via the comments below. And thank you for joining us today! Now, for Danielle’s question:

Do you keep a journal? Do you think keeping a journal has helped you become a better writer, or that it could if you started one? 

Thank you, Danielle, for joining me today! Now, for the important question: How can we read your books? 

Once the book is available for sale, all the info will be right here: www.daniellehanna.com/for-writers/.

Like this blog post? There’s a new one every week. I also blog over at #writingwenches. If you still can’t get enough, I write books too. Check them out by clicking the links above. And if you like them, please considering leaving a review where you purchased them or on Goodreads. Thank you!

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5 thoughts on “Journaling to Become a Better Writer: Author Interview with Danielle Hanna

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  1. Great interview! A lot of fun to read.

    Danielle’s question:
    Do you keep a journal? Do you think keeping a journal has helped you become a better writer, or that it could if you started one?

    My answers:
    I do keep a journal. Several in fact. One for each story, one for each painting (I’m an artist, too), a personal journal, a general writing journal, a general studio journal (which doesn’t see much activity), and a prayer journal.

    I’ve been keep the personal journal the longest. I started that December 1, 1989.

    Has it helped me become a better writer? By virtue of the fact that it has meant I write, yes. But it’s been a glorified diary more than a writing tool or writing teaching tool.

    And that’s what makes Danielle’s method of journaling so intriguing. A couple years ago, I set a goal of writing my journal entries in a more creative fashion. That resolution didn’t get very far off the ground. I’m looking forward to Danielle’s book as a motivation to set that goal again for 2015.

    Thanks again for the sharing the interview!

    1. Hi, Carrie! Thanks for reading. I firmly believe there’s no wrong way to journal. Whatever method you use, it’s about you being you in a comfortable environment. That’s what journaling is all about.

      The specific technique I discuss in the book is just one method amongst many, but one I think can be quite helpful for writers, as you are literally turning the events of your own life into a story, practicing your storycraft on real life models.

      Thanks again for stopping by! Happy journaling!

      ~Danielle

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