Have you ever experienced the healing power of writing? Even if you are not a writer yourself, maybe you have felt healing through a letter that someone wrote to you or a poem that gave words to your innermost feelings. Many spiritual directors and counselors recommend writing in journals to get in touch with those deeper parts of you or to give you greater clarity in your life. Journaling is the easiest way to get started writing because no one has to see it but you. And journaling can be healing for anyone, regardless if you call yourself a writer. If you have never tried journaling, Surabhi gives some advice on how to get started in the interview below. And if you are a seasoned writer, she even gives tips on how to get your writing out into the world to help heal others with your story. I am so happy to introduce you to this remarkable woman who is building a writing community that is breaking down borders.
Welcome, Surabhi! Thank you for sharing with us your expertise as a professional writer today. Can you begin by describing the style and genre of writing that you do?
I have published poetry, personal essays, and fiction. I even used to write greeting cards. I worked for more than 10 years in the Indian Advertising Industry as a copywriter before coming to the United States. But I am a fiction writer at heart. I love the art of story-telling.
I grew up with a big family that passed down an oral tradition of telling stories. My family loved creating stories off the top of their heads or even telling the same story different ways. In fact, certain stories I only wanted to hear from my aunt and other stories from my Grandma. They all had their different styles and perspectives and were natural story-tellers. They just did it for fun and I picked that up.
My mom said that at the age of 3 or 4, I would line up the stuffed animals and narrate a story to them. That is how I started imagining stories. As I got older, I used to tell stories to my cousin to get her to eat her food, because that is what my aunt used to do for me. I would come up with stories about her where she was the hero and had to save the day. She would beg me to tell her stories!
What a fun family tradition! I can see how your family sparked the craft of story-telling. When did you begin writing for others and what has been your journey?
I have been writing as long as I can remember and have been a professional writer for 20 years.
In high school, local newspapers published my writing—first letters to the editor, then poetry and short stories. In 11th grade, I won an essay writing contest. And I have pursued writing as a career ever since!
I got my undergrad in Journalism and my Masters in Communication, but when I graduated, I chose to focus on marketing and copywriting. Once I moved to the U.S., I decided to work on honing my craft. In advertising, I didn’t have a voice. Now I have developed my own style and a voice, and I get to be creative. Through it all, I have always kept writing my fiction stories, because that is how I started writing and that is what comes to me most easily.
What makes you passionate about it?
I am my best self when I write. I can express myself. I do not normally speak well, but when I write I can say whatever I want in the best possible way. The joy of putting my pen to paper and looking at those words come to life is…I don’t know…unexplainable. Nothing else can give me that joy! And also, I think I am really good at this. I do it well. During the pandemic, writing is what kept me afloat and connected to others.
Describe your process. Do you have any rituals that help you?
My best writing comes to me first thing in the morning. Being out in nature and going for walks are some rituals that can inspire me. Yet, I don’t wait for inspiration or a muse to help me begin my writing, because I love writing all the time! In fact, I call myself a writaholic! (she laughs) Memories, songs, photographs, magazine covers, busy squirrels and mesmerizing skies are a few things that work as ever-green prompts for my writing. Nowadays, I find myself inspired by nostalgia, and have been writing about my grandma a lot. I also like listening to music when I write, but I always edit in silence.
How have you experienced writing as therapy?
I feel very light after writing, whether I am writing something fun or writing something difficult. If I am struggling with something, writing gives me perspective. When I put the whole thing in words, it shows me where I am at and where I am going. It gives me direction and helps me to cope.
And I am a big journaler. Journaling has always helped me to understand myself better. You can always trust the page. You can tell the page anything and it stays between you and the page. It’s your secret. I have a good bond with the page in that way.
Writing groups have also been therapeutic, not just for me but for others. In the Fun to Write group that I am facilitating, many members tell me that they look forward to the group each week. One girl is in high school and needed to study for exams, but made sure to carve out the hour for our group. Especially during the time of the pandemic, this has been a social outlet for many. One boy had his birthday party with the group. We all wrote something for him. This group means so much to him. It really has become a community. The commitment has moved me. I had no idea it would become so big, and so important, for so many people.
It sounds like you met a need that was out there. And, I too, have found the supportive community of a writing group therapeutic.
Talk to me more about your experience of journaling. What are some of your favorite tips and techniques?
When I was just beginning, getting a fancy journal and colored pens that write smoothly made it more appealing.
My advice for journaling is to keep it authentic because you are just developing a relationship with the page. Just put everything out there. No one is watching you. Journaling is like vomiting on the page. What you wouldn’t tell others, or even yourself, you can tell the journal. The parts that are afraid can talk to the journal. And it is like the journal is talking back, telling you how to handle those parts. That is how it works for me.
I recommend the book Writing to Heal by James W. Pennebaker, a guided journal for recovering from Trauma. This book is a great resource for writing prompts and exercises that might be helpful for healing.
What tips and recommendations could you give to someone just who is beginning to become a writer?
1. Keep reading! The more you read the better you get as a writer.
2. Set a goal: If you can write every day then set a goal to write for a specific amount of time or for a specific word count each day.
3. Join a writing group. There are many groups offered online virtually. This gives you chance to bounce ideas of each other, gain feedback, or be inspired by other writers. Or get a writing buddy to read your work.
And advice for those who want to get published?
1. Determine if it is a piece you want to share. Save all your work and revisit it later, like in 90 days, to see if it still resonates. Read your work aloud to see how it sounds to you. And ask others for feedback.
2. Look for publications that match your writing. Which journals or magazines circulate your genre? Read the pieces in it to see if it is a good home for your writing. Does your writing match the style or content that they are promoting? Is this the audience who you want to read your work? Then read their guidelines for submission carefully.
3. Be patient. After you submit the piece, let it go.
I know that you have some offerings out there for the writing community. Could you talk about that now?
Yes, I have learned the positive impact of being part of a powerful community. That makes me want to build a strong writing community. I now aim to bring together writers, irrespective of countries, genres, gender or race to create a safe and meaningful space, to share, empower and grow together.
I recently started a virtual writing group called Writers Beyond Borders. We meet once a month for an hour. We write together, discuss our struggles with writing, and promote our finished work. The purpose of this group is to bring together writers from across the world to find support, encouragement, and inspiration from each other. As the name suggests, I want to build a community which can transcend borders or walls, and build bridges, figuratively.
Anyone who is interested to join can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Surabhi’s work has been published in several websites in the US as well as in India. You can find the links to all of her work on her blog https://surabhiwritersmind.blogspot.com