Writing For Wellness
Guest Post by Diana M. Raab, MFA, RN
Every October I facilitate a workshop at the Wellness and Writing Connections Conference in Atlanta. The subject of this year’s workshop will be, “Memoir: From Notebook to Manuscript.” Most of the people who attend the conference are therapists or those who look to writing as a means of healing. Early bird registration is already available at: http://www.wellnessandwritingconnections.com/
A lot of research has been done on the healing power of expressive writing and how it reduces stress and strengthens the immune system. When you write your deepest thoughts about a stressful event, your heart rate goes down and you experience a deep feeling of well-being. Writing personal stories also frees up buried emotions and thoughts which can eventually lead to revelations.
Psychologist, Dr. James Pennebaker is a pioneer in studying the healing power of writing. He’s found that those who write regularly encountered 43% less doctor visits and showed better health than those who did not write regularly.
Over the years, quite a few well-published writers have used their notebooks and/or writing as a way to heal. Many have gone on to publish their work, including Walt Whitman, Andre Lorde, May Sarton, Hilda Raz, Donald Hall, Elizabeth Berg, Jane Kenyon, Isabel Allende and my favorite diarist, Anaïs Nin who began her first journal as a letter to her estranged father who left the family when she was ten years old. Writing that letter was her way to help heal from the pain of losing him. Nin went on to become an avid diarist and today many volumes of her journals have been published.
Nin wasn’t the only writer who has used letter writing as a form of healing. For example, novelist Isabel Allende also began her writing career by writing a letter to her grandfather when he was nearly 100 years old. At the time he was dying in Chile where her novel, House of Spirits is set. She admits that in many ways, writing that novel saved her life.
Maintaining a healing notebook for personal use and/or future publication, has numerous benefits including:
- it’s a place to capture and record memories
- it’s a place to clear the mind
- its’ a place to build self-confidence
- it’s a place to empower
- it’s a place to witness the healing process.
Having the proper tools is essential to keeping a notebook. It’s important to have a notebook which inspires you in a size that meets your personal needs. It should resonate with your personality, as should your pen.
The best way to start is with 20-30 minutes of free-writing first thing in the morning. This practice involves writing without lifting your pen off the page. Begin by writing about an experience which has deeply affected your life or one which has been an obsession for you. If you are still stuck, just write on the top of your page, “Right now, I feel …”
It’s good to get into the daily habit and with time you might find you will write for longer periods of time. One thing to keep in mind is that if while writing you start crying or the pain becomes too great, it is probably a good idea to stop. Try to take a break and do something different like take a walk or some other form of exercise.
In summary, the best part about keeping a writing for wellness or healing is the ability to turn a negative into a positive and that’s a good thing!
Diana Raab is a memoirist, essayist, poet and author of seven books and editor of two essays collections, including the latest, Writers and Their Notebooks (2010) with an introduction by Phillip Lopate. She is a journaling advocate and teaches in UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and in various conferences around the country. Her forthcoming book, Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey is forthcoming from Loving Healing Press in June 2010. Visit Diana Raab.