Writing advice from Zvezdana Rashkovich
Today my guest on ‘What On What’s Good’ is Zvezdana Rashkovich. Zvezdana Rashkovich is an American prize-nominated author, writer, poet and meditative writing coach. Writing can be difficult sometimes. The hard part of writing a book isn’t getting published. It’s the actual writing. I must confess the whole writing thing can be quite daunting. For instance, you might be writing ideas on a piece of paper and your mind goes blank. You just sit there trying to figure out where to start. Some people call this concept, writer’s block. When this happens, you panic. I find that meditation is a good way to remain calm. You don’t want to allow emotions to take over. Therefore, taking a moment for yourself is very important. I usually start by finding a comfortable spot to relax. In addition, I close my eyes and sit in silence. After that, if needed, I usually add some calming music. In other words, I walk away from my work and focus on my breathing. I find that time to reflect allows me to reevaluate my wellbeing. On the other hand, if all else fails, I reach out to a friend for assistance.
Writing advice from Zvezdana Rashkovich
1. I’m interested in knowing about your time in Portland, Oregon USA where you studied English Literature. In addition, do you have any fun or interesting stories about your time at school?
That was an interesting time because I was new to America and attending college. I was born to Serbian/Croatian parents. I grew up in the former Yugoslavia until the age of seven. Soon after my mom married her second husband. A student from Sudan, I found myself moving to Khartoum as a stepdaughter of a Sudanese.
Therefore, moving to Oregon was a huge geographical and cultural change. Luckily, I also worked with the USAID mission to Sudan for four years. During this time I was introduced to American culture.
I gained an outline into America but moving there was a much more intricate life event. However, the transition allowed me to change and to evolve. Living in Oregon offered me more freedom, less worry by the socio-cultural expectations. I was a newlywed wife, a foreign student in a strange country; and juggling languages, roles and mindsets all at the same time. Integrating into American life felt equally familiar (due to the influx of American movies music and books as well as my American connections) and also wildly unlike anything I experienced before. Also, I missed my mom and younger siblings and was intensely homesick for both Sudan and Yugoslavia.
Most of the fun experiences in college were due to meeting new and diverse people. Holidays for example, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Halloween housewarming parties and eating a corn dog for the first time were all firsts. Enjoying the shelves upon shelves of products at the stores and the amazing abundance one finds in America versus Africa is the theme in many of the stories I have written.
Working part-time at the Portland Community College cafeteria is one of my highlighted life experiences. It introduced me firsthand to the students on campus and to the elderly staff who worked at the cafeteria. Initially, all these experiences helped me find my bearings as a student and as an immigrant.
2. What can we learn from your published work that can be found in many anthologies and literary journals both in print and online in the UK, USA, Greece, Australia Lebanon, and Sudan?
My writing addresses many topics. However, the underlying denominator is identity, migration and women’s issues. The storylines and poetry settings move all over the globe. In a similar fashion to my own nomadic lifestyle. I like to think that I am blessed because of the opportunity to be so intimately connected to the people from these lands and to be able to tell these stories. I speak Arabic, Serbian and Croatian and my family is strewn across the world. These factors help me understand my characters with greater clarity and compassion. Whether set in the Balkans, North Africa, Middle East, America or the Far East… my intent is always to paint a picture of “another” way of living to those who cannot be there in person.
Also, the stories and characters I write are not often addressed in the literature. The synergy between Balkan countries (Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro) and North Africa (Sudan, Egypt) shown via local knowledge of imagery, music, mythology, and other literary devices… the story-telling basically aims to bring an understanding of other people. The story is the device and the lesson is somewhere in the story. I want people to read about those they might never meet or knew existed. The Muslim tea maker from Sudan or the communist grandmother from a Socialist era Eastern Europe… there are many who deserve to be represented in literature and are overlooked.
3. You were nominated for the literary Pushcart Prize and a finalist in the Ernest Hemingway Prize for flash fiction. What can you tell us about those prizes and what it felt like to nominated?
These are great nominations and it made me feel “seen”. It’s always nice to get some sort of recognition however small. It means the most in terms that someone is actually reading my work. That the stories are reaching people. That’s what matters the most. Of course it also looks nice on a byline or a CV 🙂 I would still write regardless of what award I have won or been nominated for which is what I have been doing my entire life, anyway.
4. Can you tell us about ‘Writing from the Heart’ Workshops?
‘Writing from the Heart’ came about after I trained as a meditation teacher and studied Journal therapy. I also graduated with that elusive Creative Writing degree at the age of 50. I have been writing and mentoring writers for a long time. Learning deeper practices seemed like an organic evolution to me. I have visited Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka in addition to my own immersion into the healing practices found in tribal customs of my homelands.
Healing is something my grandmother did as my mother does. Herbs, flowers and tinctures were always a part of my life. In Sudan my step-grandmother introduced me to the power of words in healing, through the verses of the Quran and through the protective amulets children often wear to ward the evil eye. In the Balkans there was always Poetry, folktales and song lyrics. All of these word elements are enmeshed in healing the collective soul of the people of those regions.
Through my study of American Studies I was drawn to Afro-Caribbean slave culture through the literary works of Zora Neale Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance writers as well as the work of poet Laureate Joy Harjo. The common fascination with ancestral trauma, women’s subjugation and healing also drew to Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a Mexican anthropologist and poet. These women play an instrumental role in my evolution as a woman writer who looks to writing as a healing tool – especially in women and children.
The practices of grinding soil, bark plants or minerals and the practices of sound healing, mantra changing and other modules have been universally utilized since millennia. I used storytelling to tell stories as a contribution to my own healing and an ode to my ancestors. Meditation is another healing tool and I was lucky to train under the guidance of a former Indian monk and now my guru who is based in Dubai. The teachings from the Tantras and yoga Nidra and the ancient Vedic knowledge (even though I was touching the metaphoric tip of a massive iceberg) made me realize how powerfully beautiful our minds are and in tandem with the written word they simply form a chain-reaction that can release trauma and allow creativity and life-force to flow.
Writing, Healing and Mindfulness came together synergistically. I studied the research of Professors Ira Progoff and James Pennebaker as well as others in the field of writing as a healing tool for how trauma and memory are stored in the body. They further inspired me to offer these combined knowledge parts to the people who are drawn to it. With the explosion of healing awareness and the mind-body connection in the healing of trauma and my own discovery of childhood trauma I was naturally guided to offer it to others.
Combining specific writing exercises, guided meditation to the sound of handpicked music pieces as well as movement engages all the parts in the healing process. People experience huge releases and are inspired to keep writing after the class. They write to me telling me how it made them feel free or brave or they decide to write a book!
5. Just for fun. Let’s play a game I like to call. Qu’est-ce que c’est?
In as few words as possible what do these jobs mean to you?
*US certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) = Reprogramming your Life Story.
*Meditation Coach = Bringing us to the center in order to heal.
*Writing Therapy Facilitator = Empowering people to unleash their suppressed emotions and creativity.
*Author = Word climax.
*Writer = Scribe. Legacy.
*Poet = License to Speak.
*Freelance Writer = Diversity. Knowledge
*Editor = Helping others write their Own Life Stories.
*Columnist = Stories that transport and bring together.
*Legal/Medical Interpreter = being of service to people who have undergone major trauma Offering empathy and dignity via the use of languages.
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