Writing to Heal: A Personal Journey

By Linda C. Wisniewski, M.S.L.S. —

Take a walk through any bookstore, and you’ll see that memoirs are among the most popular books being sold today. People from all walks of life are putting their stories together for their families, friends and for publication. We love to read real-life inspirational stories. But did you know there are very tangible health benefits to writing?

In the 1990s, Dr. James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin found that people who wrote about emotionally traumatic events showed reductions in blood pressure and heart rate and improvement in conditions like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

You may have experienced these benefits yourself after writing in a diary or journal. And if you’ve shared a personal story with a friend, you know the comfort of a sympathetic ear. Even if you write only for yourself, putting your story down on paper can change your life. You will reflect on its meaning, gain perspective, and discover, after a time of writing and reflection, that the worst events no longer have power over you. You no longer feel the old pain when remembering.

The journey to healing emotional wounds through writing is one we can all travel. All you need is something to write with, a comfortable space, and the time and willingness to look within. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Write in a place where you feel comfortable and safe. I’ve used a spare room in my home, a bench in a park, and a quiet coffee shop.

Listen to comforting music as you write. I like smooth jazz, but many people like pop instrumentals or classical favorites.

Use props — photographs, recipes, keepsakes, even articles of clothing. Set one in front of you to jog your memory as you write.

Be honest. No one is always the hero or heroine. We all have flaws. A balanced story is more healing than one with cartoon-like characters.

Let the words flow. Don’t even think about editing yourself until you’ve done a first draft. The real meaning of my stories often appears at the very end, surprising me with an insight.

Look for the positive aspects in your story. Even the worst experiences can be turned into a work of art on the page that heals your own soul and inspires others to go on when life is hard.

A truly wonderful thing can happen when you write about your life. You begin to see how miraculous it is just to have lived it. Every event, whether happy or sad, has within it, an important truth about being human and alive that grows in beauty when shared.

Linda C. Wisniewski is a writer and teacher of memoir workshops. She is available to speak to groups about the healing power of writing. Her book, Off Kilter, can be ordered through Amazon, your local bookstore, or the publisher at www.pearlsong.com/offkilter.htm. Visit Linda’s website at www.lindawis.com or call her at 215-297-5104.

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  • Linda, This is great–to see you spreading the word about how writing heals. As you know, we are both fans of Dr. Pennebaker. Let your audience know about the first Writing to Heal Virtual Teleconference on April 23 through the National Association of Memoir Writers–Dr. Pennebaker is one of our guests!
    Your tips are very good ones–to let each story guide the writer to unexplored parts of the self, and through writing, finding hope and healing.
    Thank you for writing this, and for your wonderful book!
    Linda Joy
    President, NAMW