Writing to Heal Takes Courage, Strength, and Honesty

On Wednesdays, the goal is for me to post about my works-in-progress.

Notice something? Blank space. This is my work-in-progress. Not very inspiring, is it? But it’s exactly how I feel at the moment. I do have a memoir that I am working on and I can proudly say I have over 20,000 words completed so far. It’s the next 20,000 or so that I haven’t made progress on lately. I’ve hit a spot in the very middle of my memoir that I’m not sure how to write. I know what I want to say, but I don’t know how to say it. I’ve blogged before on being stuck in the muddy middle here so I won’t belabor the point.

But it’s been weeks since I’ve worked on it. I haven’t written a word related to it. I think I’m afraid. I was blogging my memoir daily at The Good Wife, but when I hit this part of the book, I balked at putting it online for the world to see. As much as I thought I was ready…I discovered that the fear of judgment still quivers inside me. As much as I’ve worked through things regarding my memoir, there are still times when it stings. I still remember the crushing heartbreaks, the snarkiness and blatant judgment of others, the casting out and having everyone I know and loved turn their back on me.

Writing a memoir is personal. It’s about something that happened to me or in my life that I’m sharing with the world, or at least my small part of it (I’ll admit I’ve dreamed of the movie options and who would play my part).  Reality is that I’m not sure I want everyone to read about my life! Which surprises me. I’m typically a very open, easy-going person who is not afraid to bare my sins, so to speak. Ask me a question and I’ll answer you honestly, even if you don’t like the answer. I’m not ashamed of who I am. But I’m ashamed of what I’ve done in the past, especially regarding my marriage. To put that on public display invites ridicule.

from Ophelia by Lisa Klein

But it also invites healing. Power. Self-esteem. The chance to help others. Writing memoir can be very healing if I (we) allow it.

Dr. James Pennebaker, who did the major research on writing as healing, points out that once we write a story, we no longer remember what “really” happened—we remember the story of what happened. The story inhabits us, and we are different as a result. Our imagination and the art of the story have created a new reality.

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
Thomas Merton

Carmen Ambrosio, author of Life Continues: Facing the Challenges of MS, Menopause & Midlife with Hope, Courage & Humor, shares that “Giving voice to emotions and memories, unspoken and unwritten for too long, and the ruts those events left, was extremely hard for me. Weeks passed before I was content with the chapters I had written. Initially, I could not articulate the voids. The scars are old yet remain painful and relatively raw. I had entombed the hurts of that year and deliberately shoved them far beneath all other feelings and experiences to permit me to function in the years since.” But she persevered in writing her memoir.

Ambrosio believes writing a memoir (writing to heal) takes courage, strength, and honesty “to delve into the gamut of unpleasantness, absurdities and indignities; to recognize all sizes and sources of joy; and to recover and renew hope.” She has attempted to examine a broad spectrum of her own past in hopes of inspiring similar introspections and excavations by others.

I, pen in hand, or fingers atop the keyboard before me, seek additional and periodic introspective forays inside. I reach for my journal especially when symptoms arise. And, I brace myself for life quakes that may leave my life shattered or cracked, fissured. I have moved from anger and denial to acceptance, but not defeat.

Hope is the sustenance that fuels and compels me to give voice, to try to mend my mind-body-spirit—all—one, as best I can. Thus I write.

Because the piece of writing is “complete” when you read it (I’m thinking of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, or Mrs. Dalloway, or Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, or Fitzgerald’s memoir of his nervous breakdown at thirty-nine, The Crack-Up),it isn’t immediately obvious that these famous writers were once in pain, struggling with life experiences, using writing as their “sturdy ladder out of the pit.”

Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives opens with these lines:

Writing has helped me heal. Writing has changed my life. Writing has saved my life.

She says that writing has helped her friends, students, and other writers heal from loss, grief, or personal tragedy. Writers who have endured personal trauma turn to their diaries, or write memoirs, fiction, poetry, and biographical essays as a means of making sense of what happened to them.

So, I will continue to pursue my memoir as it pursues me…

And maybe…just maybe…I’ll share some of it with you.



Carmen Ambrosio quotes – http://womensmemoirs.com/writing-and-healing/how-do-writing-and-healing-come-together-for-you-8/

2 thoughts on “Writing to Heal Takes Courage, Strength, and Honesty

  1. Wow, this was an incredibly powerful entry. The one thing that really, really stood out “I’m not ashamed of who I am. I am ashamed of things I’ve done.” Boy, if that doesn’t hit home for all of us on some level. Thank you for these amazing posts. Off to let my followers know about it. Good luck with the next words. Just remember, no matter what you write you are moving forward. You can always edit.


  2. I think writing is incredibly healing and it has been one of the few things helping me to regain a sense of understanding. It is scary putting things which are so painful and intimate out there for the judgement of others, but those that truly love you should support you regardless of what you write. It’s your story. I’m sure you’ll find your way in words to say the things in your heart real soon. Best wishes.


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