Writer, Heal Thyself

Sunday, December 11, 2016

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.

photo by pexels.com

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.


Margo Dill said...

I agree with you! I love the idea of using fiction to work through bad events and changing them how we want them to work out. I have a short story like that! I also started my blog for this reason and often post about personal stuff here too. It helps when people share with me after a post like that.

Val said...

So true! I definitely work things out through my writing. If I can poke fun at a situation, it reduces any anger that might have accumulated otherwise, and I can move on.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Is your short story published somewhere? I'd love to read it.

Yeah, I was in an abyss when I started my blog. It helped. It was like therapy via a keyboard. I don't think anyone was listening (reading) but I WAS opening up...

Val--You angry? I can't imagine that EVER happening...

Renee Roberson said...


Yes, writing is definitely therapeutic for me! I haven't gotten very personal in my blog in the past because I feel like no one is really reading it anyway. That is completely my fault though for not being consistent with it! I'm revamping my blog/website right and now and will hopefully remedy that soon.

I read "Hungry Heart," a collection of essays by author Jennifer Weiner recently and I could quickly see how she took certain situations in her life, added a dash of humor and the absurd, and made a mint off her stories. I think you are on to something here.

I don't usually take a humor angle when writing fiction, but I did add some funny scenes into a middle-grade novel I wrote and it was a fun way to work through the bullying I went through in fourth/fifth grade. My daughter seemed to love it. so I think I will take your advice and do it more often!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--I've read at least one Jennifer Wiener book that I enjoyed. I'll have to check out "Hungry Heart."

Yes, humor is a way to back-door some things.(And if you ever need a beta reader for one of your manuscripts, I'm volunteering. :)

Linda O'Connell said...

The best thing about writing fiction vs. personal essay is you get to decide how you want it to be, not just report how it was. Writing is cathartic even if it leads to a piece that is FYEO (for your eyes only.)

Pat Wahler said...

I really believe that most writers put something of their own lives in what they write regardless of genre.

Their work is part of who they are.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Linda--You are so right. Writing IS cathartic. And I love your idea of "how you wish it is/was."

Pat--I agree. I don't think writers can help it. Some of them seeps into their lines, and it's not under their control.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Sioux, I didn't know that your birth mother committed suicide, or maybe you did mention it a while ago... You know my mother did too, and it's definitely an underlying theme in my writing. I did the same thing as you did--fictionalize the true story. I love the idea of having things work out on paper, changing the story to deal with grief, to make things different. That's beautiful and definitely therapeutic. I would like to know why she did it, and perhaps I could explore that in writing. I've been avoiding that manuscript for a while, but it would be good to face it and work through it. Maybe we need to face our fears to truly get to the great writing.

Mary Horner said...

Sioux, this is a powerful post. Everyone has something in their past that they wish they could change, and I think many artists/writers pursue art to explore the possibilities. Thank you for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading this and appreciate your honesty and ability to share something that many of us can relate to.

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