Writer, Heal Thyself
Our writing can make us laugh--as well as others--and certainly everyone can agree: laughter makes us feel better.
But what about sorrow? What about anger? If those feelings are expressed in our writing, are there any benefits?
Everybody has stuff they have to deal with. Since most of us have to deal with some dysfunctional family dynamics at least occasionally, consider writing about it.
For example, I have a creek of mental illness watering my family tree. My birth mother killed herself because she couldn't deal with her depression and she didn't see herself getting any better. Several of my stories deal with her life (and death). An unstable pair of grandparents is also part of the matching set.
Now, if I'd just written the same thing over and over (My birth mother had an awful life. My birth mother had an awful life) it wouldn't help move me forward. In fact, it'd probably just keep the wound open and festering.
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However, if a writer can find meaning in the horrible things that happen to them, if they can use words like "because," "understand" and "realize" in their writing, they just might start getting healed... and there are studies and more studies to prove it.
A few years ago, my life became a mess. A family member was hooked on painkillers and after more than a decade-long addiction, relationships were in shambles.
At the time I was working on a manuscript that was more-or-less a memoir, cloaked in fiction. After dealing with the real-life grief ineffectively, I decided to fictionalize it even more.
I changed the ending. Instead of missing out on saying good-bye to a parent before they died, in my story, I got to the hospital in time. Instead of having so many things left unsaid, in my manuscript, I got to express what was in my heart. Instead of getting reduced to becoming a walking vat of sorrow and rage, I found a way to forgive.
And that's one of the weird things about writing. In the story I was crafting, I knew what the ending was going to be. The main character (Maggie/me) was going to have some revenge-filled fun... fun that was going to result in a maggot-of-a-man being permanently disfigured. However, when it came to the end of my manuscript... well, let's just say there was a twist in the plot just as there had been a twist in my life.
Natalie Goldberg says, "As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second chance at biting into our experience and examining it..." I've been privy to brave stories from writers. Stories about abuse. Stories of assault. Stories of drug use. And each time a writer delves into their life, they're making more meaning out of their experiences. They're working things out...
... on paper.