Memoir Author Interview: Shani Raviv talks about writing her new memoir

by Matilda Butler on September 14, 2011

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #61 – Women’s Memoirs, Author Conversations – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler



Memoir Author Speaks About Writing Her Memoir

Kendra Bonnet and I are pleased to welcome Shani Raviv to Women’s Memoirs. We invited Shani to share with us how her theme — anorexia — became a character in her memoir, how she made use of her journals, her advice to women memoir writers, and more.

Here’s our first question:

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: Your book, being Ana: a memoir of anorexia nervosa, is more than your personal story. It seems as if you have almost created anorexia nervosa as a separate character. Did you set out to do this or did it evolve that way over time?

Memoir, memoir writing, memoir author, author Shani Raviv, biography, journalingShani Raviv:
I realized early on in the writing process that I was automatically personifying Anorexia (Ana) because although it’s a psychological disorder it manifests on multiple levels (emotional, physical, mental) and changes who you are. At first in the book, Anorexia is more an entity than a character, kind of hiding in the sidelines, and yet the deeper I go into the disorder and the more the story unfolds, Anorexia becomes the main character and I fall by the wayside. Or rather I start to inhabit this other person or become “possessed” by Ana––I become her and she becomes me. We actually meld into one character until I surrender and break away to try to become my own person again.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs:Shani, we noticed that you used your journals as you wrote your memoir. Have you always journaled? Why did you start journaling? What advice do you have for women who want to use their journals as a resource for their memoir writing?

Shani Raviv:
I have journaled since age 12 when I got my first little red diary with lock and key. I’ve always been naturally inclined to confiding my thoughts to paper. Journaling is just a part of my life like doing laundry, but more pleasurable.

I am so grateful now that I journaled a lot during my Anorexia because I didn’t realize at the time that it would serve as the foundation for my memoir. The very first thing I did, when I got this wild idea in my head to write a book, was to transcribe all my old journals from those days and see what it helped me remember.

The excerpts I included in the book are verbatim and unedited because I wanted to lure the reader into a raw, frantic, chaotic immediacy that was my headspace at the time. Some readers love them and feel it helps them understand my mental anguish, whereas others feel it distracts from the narrative and they may skim over them, which is fine.

I believe that using your journals as a resource for your writing is an invaluable tool and can help reshape all kinds of memories that can otherwise get very distorted through the passage of time. However, I don’t feel all journal entries should go into a book. There must be a valid reason to include them otherwise it can be tedious and trite to read someone else’s ramblings.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: In your memoir, you go deeper than the surface story of someone who was an anorexic and have created, as you say: “The story of one young woman’s fight to find strength in vulnerability, truth in her identity and meaning in being herself.” It seems that this introspection into the boarder and more universal theme makes the memoir of interest to a much wider audience. When did you begin to see that you were writing a broader story that would help many people look anew at their own lives?

Shani Raviv:
During the writing of my memoir I was so over-focused on ensuring that the entire story was being written through the prism of Anorexia that I didn’t realize it would be of interest to general readers and not just readers who had a vested interest in understanding the complexity of Anorexia Nervosa. It’s partly why my subtitle says, “a memoir of anorexia nervosa” because, for me, that was the whole focus of the story––I wanted to convey what it was like being Ana.

It’s only now that it’s published and people (including men) from all walks of life––many of whom have no interest in the disorder of Anorexia––say they still connect with the story. So, I feel blessed that in post-production it’s my readers who have enlightened me to the fact that it has broader and more universal themes that anybody can relate to. That said though, I always knew deep inside that the book is ultimately about my search for Self and am thrilled to hear that people get that despite its title.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: You have worked as a journalist. Do you think the skills you’ve learned in that profession have influenced the way that you researched and wrote your memoir?

Shani Raviv:
As a journalist or memoirist you still have to edit and rewrite, which is where the writing really starts to take shape. Personally, I love creative writing and preferred writing opinion columns or human interest stories rather than standard newspaper reports because I was able to indulge in creative writing techniques. The same can be said for my memoir––I utilized not only creative writing techniques but literary techniques that I was taught in the last six months of the writing process, once I hired a writing coach.

There are many memoirs out there on the subject of Anorexia but the majority are written by unprofessional writers who haven’t learned the skill and so although they have published books, in my opinion they aren’t literature. To call something literature, it needs to be crafted and skilled otherwise the author may as well just publish her unedited journals, which a lot do. I don’t think being an author makes you a writer. But I do think that authors who take the time to learn and practice the art of writing can succeed in producing literature. If anything, journalism allowed me to practice the writing craft, which definitely helped me write my memoir.

memoir, memoir writing, journaling, autobiographyWomen’s Memoirs: As a last question, Shani, we wonder if you have any advice for a woman starting to write her memoir?

Shani Raviv:
My advice to women starting to write their memoirs is to keep a strong focus on a particular theme or subject matter rather than writing about general events as this will help hone the writing and keep the narrative tight. Also, to realize that to “perfect” a book-length memoir you need to know from the start that you are passionate about your subject because it’s this passion that will motivate you to completion. I also think that it’s easy to fall into the sentimental realm with writing memoir but from my perspective that makes bad writing because it becomes soppy and irrelevant to readers. Readers need to be able to connect with someone else’s memoir and this means writing with honesty and integrity but leaving extreme emotions such as anger or sadness off the page and becoming almost a witness and scribe to your own experiences, which takes hard, hard work to accomplish.

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Thanks Shani. You’ve given us much to think about.

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Shani Raviv is a South African freelance writer, writing teacher and author of the award-winning coming-of-age debut book, being Ana: a memoir of anorexia nervosa. Ten years ago she surrendered and began her healing journey and now considers herself fully recovered. Shani gives talks and readings for being Ana and leads creative writing and mini-memoir writing workshops because she believes in the healing power of sharing our hearts through our words. To read more or to read an excerpt from her book please visit www.shaniraviv.com





{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jamuna Advani September 15, 2011 at

Thank you for this information I would like to read this book.

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