Writing for therapy or publication?

Writing as therapy can be a marvellous release. Sometimes writing about our life’s experiences, heartbreaks – and even traumas – can gift us a healing distance.

I once participated in a feature-writing class where everyone, at some time during the year, wrote about a personal loss, and many even cried as they read their stories to the class. I’m pretty sure that none of those pieces ever saw the light of day – or the validation of publication.

The truth is, what is significant in our lives may not be seen as valuable to an audience other than you, or perhaps a small number of family or friends. That can be hard to face. You have spilled your guts out onto the page, yet you meet utter indifference from the publishing community.

No one likes rejection, but the truth is, many people writing about their own experiences do just that: write about their own experiences and don’t give readers a chance to insert themselves into the story, whether by similar experience or by writing that grips and won’t let go.

Many of my students write about heartbreak. Only the luckiest of us have never suffered in this way, yet too many aspiring writers fail to open their stories outwards. They get stuck in the minutia, the ‘but why did he say this, when I said that?’ moments, and fail to tap into the universal vibrations that hum through the human heart.

If you want your story of pain, loss or trauma to reach a wider audience, there must be more than a minute-by-minute exposition of the terrible experience.

Consider The Upside of Down by Susan Biggar. She writes of her family’s struggles to cope with her two sons’ cystic fibrosis. There is humour, travel and much more, making the book fascinating for a broad audience yet at its heart is a potentially fatal illness.

Read Sara Henderson’s From Strength to Strength – a best seller about Sara’s coping against the odds after her husband died.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is a book that opens with the death of Didion’s husband and chronicles her first year of widowhood including the death of her daughter. The writing is exquisite and while few of us can relate to her particular story, she, Henderson and Biggar each speak directly to other human hearts.

That is what you must do if you want your “therapy” story to go further than your bottom drawer.

Your life has been scarred. What if its written form doesn’t find a publisher? Does that matter? Or is the act of writing enough? For many it will be and I hope that their efforts will bring them some release.

May your words pour onto the page,