Journal Workshop with Deborah Shepard

Identify key writing strengths and continue developing those skills through journaling


Course outline

We are living through increasingly turbulent times, in an age awash in digital content that is often edifying and conducive to creativity but equally, it can be disruptive to concentration and to maintaining a calmer and more contemplative mode of living.

This journalling workshop presented by an experienced tutor and journaler Deborah Shepard offers a quiet sanctuary where you can reconnect with your inner life and find out what you are thinking through writing exercises, and discussion and analysis of the form with reference to some of the great journalers.

Session one:

A brief history and introduction to the journal form covering the great proponents of the genre including Henry David Thoreau, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Lord Byron, Thomas Merton, Etty Hillesum, John Keats, Samuel Pepys, Sylvia Plath, May Sarton, Joan Didion, Anais Nin and Kate Llewellyn.

  • Writing exercise: Tuning in and writing rapidly in the moment with reference to the work of May Sarton. Why journalling is good for emotional wellbeing: the value of using the journal as a tool for self-exploration to find out what we really think and what matters with reference to the journals of some of the great thinkers; Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Merton. Writing exercise: what is on my mind, what concerns me deeply?

Session two:

The value of keeping a journal to develop writing skills, to record notes and ideas for work in progress in other forms and to hone your powers of description with reference to the work of Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion.

  • Writing exercise: writing in relation to my specific interests/studies, using the journal to clarify and define the direction of the project/s. Writing a diary and/or journalling as an art form? Looking at examples from Samuel Pepys, Anne Frank, Etty Hillesum, Margaret Forster.
  • Writing exercise: a day in my life.

Session three:

Journalling in nature — an exercise in the outdoors with reference to the work of Lord Byron, Roger Deakin and Kate Llewellyn.

  • Writing exercise: In nature: what can I see, hear, feel, now.

Discerning my own themes — an in-depth examination of my emerging themes and preoccupations with samples from a range of journal writing to stimulate discussion followed by an editing workshop.

A mentoring session with Deborah

Session four:

Ethics: What to include? Self-revelation and how deep do we go? How to keep yourself and your journal safe. Considering the journals of Anais Nin.

  • Writing exercise: writing out the deeply personal.

Publication: the possibilities and hazards. Weighing up the value of writing a journal for private contemplation and enjoyment versus writing for publication. Writing and posting a journal online.

  • Writing exercise: Summarising what I have learned and where I am heading now

Who should attend?

This two-day workshop will appeal to people wanting to use the journal for self-exploration or to develop formal writing skills for other projects, or to chronicle and preserve your daily observations of the world, from the humble and small, to the splendid and sublime.


  • 4 x Saturday 9, 16, 23 and 30 June, 9:30am - 2:00pm
  • $310.00 incl. GST
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus
  • Presented by Deborah Shepard

Seminar presenter

Deborah Shepard

Deborah Shepard

Deborah Shepard is a biographer, oral historian, journaler and life writing mentor for the New Zealand Society of Authors with many years of experience teaching memoir through Public Programmes and the Michael King Writers’ Centre. Her books include: Reframing Women: A History of New Zealand Film (2000), Between the Lives: Partners in Art (2005) and Her Life’s Work (2009) all of which were critically acclaimed for documenting the contribution of women to the arts in New Zealand. Her journal, Giving Yourself to Life: A Journal of Pain, Hope and Renewal (2015) was described by poet, journal writer and novelist Elizabeth Smither as, “ ‘Humane, delicate and bold as the journals of May Sarton or Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s observation of her snail.’

Deborah is currently at work on a book The Writing Life: Twelve New Zealand Authors based on her oral history interviews with the elders of the New Zealand literary world. In her spare time, Deborah enjoys photographing nature and posting her photos with short stories on Instagram.

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