Board member blog post: Journalist and author Patricia Raybon on book writing

Photo by Dan Raybon

By Sandra Fish, JAWS President-Elect

Little hinges open big doors,” journalist and book author Patricia Raybon said at a talk on May 21 sponsored by Colorado SPJ Pro and the Journalism and Women Symposium at the Denver Press Club.

Raybon and her daughter, Alana Raybon, are authors of the recently released book “Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother and Their Path to Peace.” It is Raybon’s fifth book.

Their collaboration has been featured on The Today Show, the Tavis Smiley Show and more.

In talking about her career — from reporter and editor at the Denver Post to journalism professor at the University of Colorado Boulder to book author — Raybon outlined the seven hinges that led her to book writing.

Faith. The stories she learned in Sunday school as a child gave Raybon an appreciation of big ideas — think David and Goliath. It also provided the subject matter for many of her books.

Leaving your comfort zone. As a teenager, Raybon’s family moved from a largely black neighborhood to suburban Northglenn. There, she was one of few white children in school, “navigating an environment where you aren’t welcome as a teen.” But, she said, “You get to a place of doing things you didn’t know you could do.”

Reinvent yourself. Raybon developed her writing voice at crossroads in her career, including moving from news to feature writing at the Denver Post. Then at CU, her need to publish as a professor led her to memoir writing.

Humility. Moving into teaching was a challenge, but Raybon said it was important to remember that as a professor, she didn’t have all the answers. And it was also important to find at least one thing to love about every student.

Pay attention. “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott inspired Raybon in her writing — and in unraveling the snarl our ideas often begin as.

Have courage. “It’s scary to write a book out of your own life. Write the thing you don’t want to write.” That was what Raybon did when she decided to write the book with her daughter after years of conflict over Alana’s conversion to Islam. “Peace is a choice,” she said. “You make (the choice) every day.”

Always be connecting. Reaching out to people, especially potential audiences, is essential to marketing your work these days, Raybon said. So she’s on Facebook and Twitter, and she makes certain she responds to people who contact her about her work. Because who knows, as Raybon said, “It’s all material.”