Inner Outings: The Diarist's Deck of 33 Cards and Book of Exploration
by Charlene Geiss and Claudia Jessup

New World Library, 2002. ISBN 1577312201.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 06/22/2007

Nonfiction: Life Lessons

Each week I tutor a learner though a local adult literacy program. Lori is a friend who wants help with spelling and grammar, as well as writing a book about her healing journey. Recently we've been using cards from The Diarist's Deck as writing prompts to help get us started. There are 33 cards from which to choose. While these cards, and the accompanying book, are described as "adventures in journal writing," they can also serve as a doorway to the larger story waiting to be told in the form of a memoir.

It's often difficult to write about relationships, such as with a parent, but a card with a prompt as a writing springboard helps us begin. Then the parent story is reached, not directly at first, but from a meandering writing path. The cards in The Diarist's Deck also act as a visual stimulus to creativity. The cards are large, measuring five by seven inches, with collage creations by Charlene Geiss.

"Each of the topics was selected to invigorate your mind, stir your soul, and make you eager to write," the authors write. And yes indeed, Lori and I are eager to write with the help of the cards. We're always amazed and surprised by the writing journey inspired by them.

The cards fall into three categories: introspection, investigation and purification. The introspective cards include such phrases as, "I Remember," and "When I Was a Child," to allow one to write in a contemplative manner. The investigative subjects include "Heart Song," and "The Masks I Wear." In this category your writing "will be more descriptive, even exploratory or questioning."

The purifying topics "are meant to cleanse, liberate and heal." They include "My Greatest Fear," and "I Forgive," which may inspire you to give voice to suppressed fears or problems, allowing them into your consciousness. "The effect," as the authors write, "is enormously therapeutic and can bring closure."

The accompanying book called Book of Exploration has a chapter on "Keeping a Journal. The Inner Outings Method, Using the Diarist's Deck, and Hints and Writing Tips."

The latter chapter offers descriptions of many writing techniques including the imagined letter, rage writing, non-dominant hand writing and postcards.

The authors remind us that "the diary is being used increasingly for both therapy and healing." Each of the card prompts has a chapter designed to help you "pursue your unique self with abandon." The chapter entitled "Celebrating My Strengths" is a good boost for personal awareness and growth, as are all the chapters. Each chapter includes several questions for delving deeper into your story.

If you don't know where to start, or need a nudge now and then, these resources, The Diarist's Deck and Book of Exploration, will give you lots of ideas and encouragement. You can use the set on your own but getting together with a friend to write and share your writing is especially gratifying. As valuable as these tools are for diarists, I think they are a wonderful resource for the writing you want to share with the world such as that memoir you've been intending to write or the short stories that have been bubbling for a while.

As a sixth-grade teacher for more than ten years, Charlene Geiss kept a file of illustrations clipped from magazines to use as creative writing prompts. Then she began to design cards with single words or phrases to help diarists focus on a single topic to explore during class. She spent a long time meditating on and designing each one. The Diarists' Workshop was born in 1997 when Geiss started teaching evening classes. Within a year the workshop moved into its own studio space where students can work at large tables and have access to all her supplies and writing materials. Geiss teaches journal-writing classes and the introductory level of the Diarists' Workshop at Santa Fe Community College. Her classes inspire her students to use the diary as a tool for inner exploration, creative expression, and the recording of one's personal journey.

Claudia Jessup is the author of five novels (under the pseudonym Meredith Rich) including Bare Essence which was made into a CBS television mini series. She has also written The Women's Guide to Starting a Business as well as all kinds of non-fiction and magazines articles.

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