11 Ways to Use Writing for Healing in 2011

by Matilda Butler on January 9, 2011

Writing and Healing LogoPost #1 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing and Healing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

By Pamela Jane Bell

I believe that all writing is a form of healing, but this is especially true of memoir writing.

There are as many different ways to use healing in memoir as there are different kinds of memoirs. Here, as part of our “elevenses” (not the morning tea variety!) are 11 ways to heal through writing:

Writing-as-Healing, memoir writing, writingWriting and Healing #1: Healing Through Natural Selection

The act of shaping a story from the random events of a wildly unpredictable universe is a literary form of Darwin’s natural selection. You, the author, choose which experiences to expand on and which to minimize or delete. The result is evolution of the self and of the story.

Writing-as-Healing, memoir writing, writing, memoirWriting and Healing #2: Healing Through Befriending Your Inner Critic

I suspect the inner critic has been unfairly maligned. We’re all so busy trying to shut up the critic that we don’t give him (or her) a chance to be heard. You might be surprised at what your inner critic has to offer if you listen with an open mind. How is he feeling? What is she upset about? Of course your critic needs healthy boundaries. Give him or her 10-15 minutes on paper to say whatever needs to be said, and let your inner critic know you’re listening. After that, let your critic know he has to mind his manners or face a serious time-out.

Writing and Healing #3: Healing Through Humor

“I wrote a funny novel [about my divorce] though it was not funny when it happened,” Nora Ephron said of her book, Heartburn. Laughing at ourselves, finding the absurd or ridiculous in what was once painful or difficult, allows us to tell our stories in an entirely new light. When I visit schools as a children’s author, I tell kids about how I got a black eye after my daughter was born by answering the telephone in my eye (instead of my ear.) When I relate this story, everyone, including me, can laugh at how distracted and overwhelmed a new mother can feel.

Writing-as-Healing, memoir writing, writing, memoirsWriting and Healing #4: Healing Through Discovery

My family and I spent several years living in Florence, Italy. When we came back to the States, I was grief-stricken with “homesickness” even though life was far from perfect under the Tuscan sun. “What was it about Italy that you loved so much?” a friend asked recently. “I don’t know,” I answered, “but when I finish writing my book about it, I’ll find out.” Writing is a voyage of self-discovery. What lies behind that closed door, around the bend of the stairway or just over the Tuscan hills? You can find out only by writing.

Writing and Healing #5: Healing Through Perspective

In Patricia MacLachlan’s book, Arthur, For the Very First Time, ten-year old Arthur is sent to the country to visit relatives for the summer. By leaving home and his squabbling parents, Arthur gains perspective on himself and his family. In a sense the entire book is a poem on perspective:

“Uncle Wrisby handed the binoculars to Arthur.

“Look in the little end if you want to see things close up,” he said. “The other end makes everything far away.”

“Far away? Why would you want to see things far away?” asked Arthur.

“Sometimes you see just as well,” said his uncle. He looked at Arthur thoughtfully. “Sometimes better.”

When we write memoir, we’re viewing the past from a distance. This subtle shift in perspective can be immensely beneficial.

Writing and Healing #6: Healing Through Remembering

The past gets short shrift these days. We’re urged to live solely in the moment. But memoirists realize the past is a treasure, a repository of all the moments in time. Often, life goes rushing by so quickly we don’t have time to examine it, to turn it over in our hands like a smooth river stone, noting its shades and textures. When we slow down and remember, we enrich our lives immeasurably.

Writing and Healing #7: Healing By Setting the Record Straight

Setting the record straight doesn’t mean getting even. But it is an opportunity to articulate your version of the events in your story. You get a chance to speak up, at your own pace and in your own time – a rare opportunity. Take it!

Writing and Healing #8: Healing Through Giving

Memoir can be a gift or a tribute to another, and to yourself as well. Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the beloved Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy Books) series expressed her immense satisfaction at capturing her beloved family between the covers of her books. I felt this same satisfaction when I illustrated my wacky, much-loved step-mother in my memoir, and I treasure the portrait even more now that she is gone.

Writing-as-Healing, memoir, memoirs, memoir writingWriting and Healing #9: Healing Through Reliving

Writers relive the experiences they write about, whether painful, funny, or tragic. Reliving an event allows you to experience it again from a broader perspective. It’s as if there is a second you, peering over your shoulder. “Did you notice that before?” There are ways to intensify this, if you chose to. I have organized the songs on my iTunes in folders according to different time periods of my life. When working on my memoir, I listen to this music to relive the past in all its immediacy.

Writing-as-Healing, memoir writing, memoir, memoirsWriting and Healing #10: Healing Through Sharing What You Write

By writing your memoir, you’re taking your readers along with you on your journey – a journey they would not be able to take otherwise. Even close friends and family may be surprised at the things they learn about you by reading your memoir. (“Now I understand why you dropped out of college!”) Sharing your experiences and insights with strangers and friends is a gift to yourself and to others.

Writing and healing, memoir writing, memoirWriting and Healing #11: Healing Through Love

When I was writing my recently-completed memoir “What I Don’t Tell Kids: Memoir of a Children’s Book Author,” a freelance editor I was working with asked me, “Why are you writing this book?” I stopped and thought for a moment, and then I said, “For love.” For me, writing my memoir has been an act of love – love of the past and its hard, too-late learned lessons, and for the beautifully desolate suburban landscape of childhood. I love these things simply because they were. More deeply, I love the journey itself, the hard labor of restoring the past.

A Point to Remember about Writing a Memoir
Whether your memoir is funny, irreverent, or bittersweet, the act of writing is a healing one. It may be the most important journey of your life so don’t hesitate to get started.

Note: Women’s Memoirs is pleased to have Pamela Jane Bell as a regular blogger. Pamela is a memoirist and children’s author. You can follow her on these blogs:

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah Heiligman January 12, 2011 at

I completely agree that writing memoir is healing. One of the most satisfying pieces of writing I did was a memoir that was not published–and probably never will be. I am a published author, that is my life and my job, so for me to say that an unpublished piece of writing was one of the most satisfying pieces is saying a lot. The memoir was for a grant application about fifteen years ago. I wrote about my father, who had recently died, and the act of writing those pages was as healing as anything else I did–including therapy! I was able to piece together fragments of Daddy’s life that I had heard over the years but had never put together; I was able to vent on paper the injustices I felt had been done to him and to our relationship; I was able to discover the wonderful man that I never really knew before he died. Writing that memoir was a true gift and although I didn’t get the grant I knew at the time that it was the best thing I could have been doing. And although I say that I will probably never publish it, I do think that what I explored in that memoir will find its way into a children’s book I have in my to-do docket. So I encourage fellow writers to tackle memoir–for yourself, for the joy, for the healing.

Nancy January 12, 2011 at

Thank you, Pamela Jane for the bouquet of ideas I can use teaching my Life Story class! I am still laughing at the “phone in eye” incident! Yes, humour and listening instead of fighting that inner critic brings us into strength and perspective. All your suggestions ring true and are deeply helpful!!

Matilda Butler January 12, 2011 at

Deborah: Thanks for letting us see the place of writing as healing in your life. There are many facets to writing and it is wonderful to see how the healing aspect can come into the life of a writer at a point in time when it is needed.

Jacopo February 25, 2011 at

Lovely! It is liberating to know that writing a memoir can be such a healthful experience.

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