Sunday, November 20, 2011

Writing for Wellness

I write poetry, Toby. That's how I enter the world.
Tabitha Fortis, "The U.S. Poet Laureate," The West Wing, Season 3 Episode 17

Almost a decade has passed since I first watched that episode, and those words still resonate with me. Writing is how I enter the world. And it's not just me. Many people process emotions and events in their lives by writing poetry, journaling, composing sent or unsent letters, and even writing fiction. In fact, Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, acknowledges that she turned to writing fiction as a form of therapy. You can also see the growing importance of writing as a form of therapy or self-healing with the publication of books like Creative Writing in Health and Social Care; Pain and Possibility: Writing Your Way Through Personal Crisis; Writing for Emotional Balance; The Write Way to Wellness; and many, many more. In fact, Managing Stress: Principles and Strengths for Health and Well-Being, is used in some health education settings and devotes a whole chapter to journaling as a technique for dealing with stress.

Just as journaling can be a dialogue with the self so too can creative writing or fiction. William Stafford, the author of more than sixty-five books and winner of the National Book Award, said in an interview in Master Class: Lessons from Leading Writers, "I'd like to go all out on this and confront as squarely as possible those who make students feel that writing is something done with the fully conscious, already accomplished self. I think writing is itself educational, exploratory, and worthy of trust while you're doing it." 

Not only do I like that quote for acknowledging writing as a way to explore the self, I think it is a particularly useful quote for NaNoWriMo. Many of the writers attempting NaNoWriMo have already written pages of plotting and character background. If that works for you, excellent.  However, for those writers who are unsure of the direction of their novel, who don't know where their characters were born or what their middle names are, I would say that by writing not only will you learn this information, but you will likely learn something about yourself along the way.

Learning about yourself through writing as well as nurturing yourself are themes explored in The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.  The Artist's Way uses morning pages as one tool to nurture creativity. Morning pages are three pages of long-hand writing each morning. These pages are stream-of-consciousness and there is no right or wrong way to do them. They simply allow the artist/writer to vent or empty out much of the negativity and worries that block our creative energy. Most people are surprised to discover how much inner criticism they tell themselves. Morning pages allow people to deal with the criticism, fears, and worries and then move on. Another tool used by The Artist's Way is called the artist date and consists of taking time to nurture your creative self. You do this by actually making a date and spending time with yourself doing fun and/or creative things. It is a method of connecting with the inner child as well as becoming mindful.

David Richo, author of Being True to Life:Poetic Paths to Personal Growth, says:

Composing poetry is both a psychological and spiritual event, because the requirements for writing a poem are like those of psychological and spiritual progress. We must learn to live in the moment. We see them in new ways and focus on what is significant….In using poetry as a tool for growth and healing, we write in our own way and on any theme. We do not have to write perfectly or for publication (2).

As you are writing madly through the month of November and trying to make your word count, be mindful. Pay attention to what your writing is trying to tell you. That may be the most important story of all.

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