Joni Keim writes technical (alternative health and wellness), spiritual (her father’s influence), and memoirs (matters of the heart)—for 40 years and counting.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write technical, spiritual, and memoirs.
I first started writing technical in 1979 for natural health magazines. At the time, I worked at the Wholistic Health and Nutrition Institute in Mill Valley, CA, and learned a lot about alternative health. I was a licensed aesthetician, so I began writing articles and teaching classes on a healthy approach to skin care and using non-toxic skin care products. Some years later, I became the technical director for a natural product company that had a skin care line and an essential oil line. I wrote about both for websites, labels, newsletters, and training manuals. I continued to write for magazines. This was my career for over 30 years.
In addition to what I wrote professionally, I also had personal projects. From 2000 to 2008, a colleague, Ruah, and I wrote three books together. The books were based on using essential oils (aromatic plant extracts) in a spiritual context. We both had studied subtle energy healing, and she was a Spiritual Director. Aromatherapy & Subtle Energy Techniques, Aromatherapy Anointing Oils, and Daily Aromatherapy were published by North Atlantic Books in Berkeley. Foreign rights were purchased by Brazil. Many years later, the rights to these books were returned to us, and since that time, 2nd editions have been written and published for all of them. In addition to the books that Ruah and I wrote, I penned two books about angels.
Now in my seventy-plus years, I have written memoirs. The memoir books are a part of what I call my Tribute series—honoring that which has been so dear to me. There are now five books in that series. A book was written for each of two special men in my life that unexpectantly passed away. The books were composed in a simple, child-like style and illustrated with cartoons. However, they were for grown-ups (and the child in all adults). Writing these books was profoundly helpful for me to deal with the grief of losing those dear friends.
What brought you to writing? I did not major in English or literature in school. Still, I enjoyed the writing assignments and found researching and organizing information rewarding. I was also an avid letter writer—back in the days before email and texting.
When I began writing for natural health magazines, my children were young. The writing process provided intellectual stimulation amidst the diapers and carpooling.
In retrospect, I realize the foundation for the desire and pleasure of writing was probably set when I was a child. I was basically an introvert, and I was the youngest. The rest of the family was gregarious and extroverted, so I never really felt like I fit in. (But I knew I was loved.) My mother used to joke about how sending me to my room was not a punishment, and she would eventually have to get me to re-join the family.
So, in this setting—being an introvert and the youngest—I didn’t have the inclination or the opportunity to talk about things I wanted to, and I didn’t feel I would be heard. Writing allowed me to say what I wanted to say. Maybe more to the point was that I HAD something to say.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The most challenging part of my writing process is accessing the “zone” when it eludes me. The “zone” is when I am so fully present, relaxed, and patient that the writing flows and my thinking is energetic, clear, and accurate. When the “zone” is not available, it reminds me of what it is like when you enter a room that smells good. As you stay in that room, you no longer smell the aroma because the olfactory sense goes numb for that scent. Interestingly, when you leave the room for a bit and come back, you can smell it again. So, when I can’t get in the zone, I leave the writing and come back another time.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my office at a stand-up desk on an iMac. I look out the wide window to the neighborhood. My dog, Paris, is at my side. I write throughout the day, every day, for a couple of hours total, on various projects.
I have a strong ability to focus and block out distractions. However, if the distraction is overpowering, I simply stop. I know from experience that trying to write when I am not fully present is not worth the time spent.
How long did it take you to write your first book? How long to get it published? My first book, Natural Skin Care: Alternative & Traditional Techniques, was published in 1996 by North Atlantic Books under my name at that time: Joni Loughran. It took me a year and a half to write it. When it was finished, I submitted it, and it was published. The same was true for the three books that Ruah and I wrote.
I feel fortunate about having had such an easy time getting published. It came about because I had met the owner of North Atlantic Books in a doctor’s office waiting room. We were chatting. I told him that I wrote for natural health magazines. He said he was a publisher and told me I should write a book. So, I did, and he published it. Now, I am self-publishing.
Tell us about your writing process. This George Orwell quote makes me laugh: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
I have experienced that sentiment. After each one of the first few books I wrote, I told myself that I wouldn’t do it again. Yet, fifteen books later, I know now that writing is a part of my lifestyle and one that I will likely continue. I haven’t run out of ideas yet.
The first tenets that I embraced when I started writing were 1) write about what I know and 2) include facts, quotes, and anecdotes. When I begin a project, I first lay out the table of contents, knowing that it may change. Then I start one chapter at a time. I also keep a document of random notes. When I am writing a book, it is ever on my mind, and ideas pop up when I least expect them. I will jot them down anywhere I can and then transfer them all into my “Notes” document. Periodically, I go through those notes to ensure I include everything I thought would have value in the book. I have found that this makes the finished book much richer than it would have been.
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