At the age of ten I would sit in my walk-in closet, writing in my journal. My grandmother committed in my childhood home and the only way my mother knew how to help me cope was to buy me a journal. I poured my grief onto its pages. Journaling was the only way I was able to come to grips with one of the biggest tragedies of my life. That journal, and the many which followed over the following forty-five years, have saved my life during difficult times.
Over the years, I’ve learned that when life takes an unexpected turn, writing can become your best friend. Whether you choose journaling, poetry, fiction or nonfiction, you can reap the benefits of your predicament. Many published authors have used writing as a catalyst for survival during difficult times. Some of them include: Anaïs Nin, Joan Didion, Reeve Lindbergh, Tobias Wolff, D.H. Lawrence, Isabel Allende, Vivian Gornick, Kathryn Harrison, Sue William Silverman, and May Sarton. For these writers and many others, writing has given purpose and meaning to their lives. It has given them a reason to wake up in the morning and continue on with their day.
D.H. Lawrence sat at his mother’s bedside and while she was dying, he wrote poems about her. He also began writing an early draft of Sons and Lovers, his novel which explored their complicated, loving, painful and close relationship. Marcel Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past while sick in bed with asthma. Flannery O’Connor wrote some of her best stories while dying from lupus.
I wrote my first book, recently updated under the title, Your High Risk Pregnancy: A Practical and Supportive Guide, back in 1983 while on bed rest with my first child. I began the book as a journal typed on my Smith Corona mounted upon a specially-designed bed table my husband built for me. After my daughter was born, I condensed the journal into the book’s introduction and then the book evolved into a self-help reference book for other women having similar experiences.
Journals are a good way to vent both small and large issues, whether they are difficulties with you boss, the loss of a loved one or a change in life. The load will lighten if we express our fears and concerns on the page.
Journaling is a cathartic way to spill your feelings. If you are angry, for example, it is much easier and probably healthier to direct your anger to the page rather than to the person. My attitude is: “Direct the rage to the page.” I have a writing colleague who says, “If it hurts, write harder,” and for years those words were posted above my computer, until they simply became a part of me.
Whether you’re affected by change, loss or pain, finding the time to write is critical to your healing process. Some people prefer to journal about their experience, while others may prefer writing fiction or poetry to help them escape their own realities. Whatever your preference, once you try it, you’ll see that writing, in any form, can be empowering!
So pull out your journals and start writing. Below are some tips on how to begin, taken from my latest self-help memoir, Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey.
Ten Tips on Writing For Healing
Find a quiet uninterrupted time and place to write
Choose an inspiring notebook and pen
Create a centering ritual (light a candle, meditate, play music, stretch)
Put aside your inner critic
Date your entry
Begin by writing your feelings and sensations
Write nonstop for 15-20 minutes
Save what you have written