How to Make Your Life Story Life-Changing
Ever since my mother gave me my first journal when I was ten years old to help me cope with the loss of my grandmother, I’ve used writing as a form of healing, and have tried to inspire others to do the same.
In fact, writing for healing and transformation was the focus of my PhD research. What eventually led me to compile this material was that when I was teaching writing workshops, many participants asked me when I was going to write a book.
They wanted a reference they could refer to after the workshop. So, I’m excited to have written a book that will be available before, during, and after my workshops.
My Journal is My Friend and Confidant
I have endured many losses in my life, and since it has been said that survivors are very often seekers, my experiences compelled me to record my feelings and impressions.
Also, the creative impulse is connected to a sense of longing. Some people reach out to religious or spiritual paths to help them understand their experiences. For me, writing is my spiritual practice. It’s my “go to” place during both good and bad times.
My journal is my friend and confidant, helping me release whatever is bottled up inside of me. It is liberating for me, because by releasing my secrets and sentiments, I become free and have more control over my life. Writing also helps me find out what I don’t know; and increases my awareness of myself, others, and the world at large.
Writing to Find Out What You Don’t Know
In addition to being a container for one’s thoughts and a way to release tension, writing about feelings and experiences is an excellent way to find out what you don’t know.
In my research of writers who have written memoirs, many confessed that they began writing their memoirs for one reason, and during the writing process realized they were writing for a completely different reason.
For example, one author wrote in order to figure out why his brother had committed suicide, but by the time he’d made it to the end of his book, he realized that writing about his brother was a way to keep him alive.
Stories help us understand and make sense of our lived experiences, the lessons we’ve learned, and our dreams for the future.
The stories of difficult life situations or experiences are often complicated, but they are stories that must be told. In fact, there are few things more important than acknowledging and writing our own personal narratives as a way to examine our lives, in terms of what happened, what they were like, and where we are now. Studies have shown that this type of writing allows us to change our perspective, which in the end leads to more self-awareness through deeper insights and, thus, recovery.
Tips for Getting Into the Writing “Zone”
I meditate twice a day, which usually coincides with the time before I write. Prior to actually sitting down to write, I usually make sure I have a glass of water and a cup of tea or coffee beside me. I clear my desk of any distractions, shut off my cell phone, light my white candle, and take some deep breaths in and out.
Sometimes I enjoy listening to classical or spiritual music, but it depends on my mood or what I’m writing about. In Writing for Bliss, I share additional tips for getting into the writing “zone.”
I’m inspired by reading writers and poets I love, such as Anaïs Nin, Balzac, Flaubert, Billy Collins, Leonard Cohen, and Thich Nhat Hanh, to name a few. I’m also inspired by my students, and listening to the stories of others. I love being in nature and taking hikes. I have a fountain outside my writing studio and love hearing the sound of running water when I’m working.
Do Writers Need an Audience for Their Writing to Be Transformative?
The simple answer is no. However, it’s also very rewarding when others read your work and are inspired to release or share their own. For many writers, sharing their stories is also one of the most gratifying aspects of writing.
From a personal standpoint, writing releases us from our stories and empowers us toward healing and transformation. It also helps us transcend our own experiences. Writing begins the conversation about our past and helps inform our future decisions. From a universal standpoint, sharing our writing with others helps readers navigate their own personal journeys.
Some writers are inspired by higher forces and aspirations, so their goals tend to include sharing their writing with others. And, from the perspective of preserving a legacy, writing can be a gift to loved ones. Telling our stories for future generations to read creates a bridge from the past and present to the future. It is also a way to honor our ancestors.
Advice for Those Considering Writing Their Life Stories
I discuss a lot of this in Writing for Bliss. Writing is a process, and it’s important to enjoy the journey and not think about the destination.
You need to be courageous and fearless. When you release your fears, you accept what happens in your life, and a sense of wonder follows. When writers encounter writer’s block, typically it means that fear is showing its ugly face, and the unconscious mind is trying to take control.
Although it’s okay to experience some fear and uncertainty when writing, keep in mind that fear can be immobilizing and limit your joy and bliss. Chances are that if you’re fearful, then you’re not living in the moment.
Living fearlessly can take your feelings to a more peaceful and grounding place. For example, when pondering your fear, think about whether it is based in fact or is something you’ve imagined. Sometimes our minds can be very powerful in choosing our direction — or lack thereof.
While writing about painful subjects can be cathartic and is definitely healing, some people feel triggered by having to relive traumas of their past. This is perfectly normal, and seeing a therapist or hiring a writing coach can help.
Exposing raw subjects is scary and can lead some people to have emotional breakdowns. Before he passed away, I was helping Thomas Steinbeck (the son of author John Steinbeck) write his memoir. He found that he had a tendency toward depression when he was writing about some difficult situations from his past. When this happened, I encouraged him to take a break from his writing. Sometimes the breaks would be one day; other times, weeks.
Writing Is a Way to Nurture Yourself
Writing is healing and transformative because it’s a way to nurture yourself. Free-writing, in particular, which is writing without lifting your pen off the page, can be liberating and healing because you go wherever your mind takes you. Author Virginia Woolf called this “stream-of- consciousness writing,” and it simply involves going with the flow of your words.
One of the beautiful parts of this type of writing is that you sometimes don’t know what’s bottled up deep inside of you until you begin engaging in self-expression. For example, when journaling, you might begin by writing about your day at work, and then before you know it, you’re writing about the issues you had with your mother. Free-writing is also one way, in addition to dreams, to tap into your subconscious mind.
Transformation may be defined as a dramatic change in your physical and psychological well-being. Writing poetry transforms, because if you write about a particular event in your life, you might have revelations about it that can lead to transformation.
The deeper you go into writing about a certain subject, the greater the chance for transformation. If you share your writing, others can be transformed by your words, especially if your story resonates with them or they’ve navigated similar journeys.
Ultimately, healing, transformation, and empowerment are all parts of the same path — leading to self-awareness, self-discovery, growth and, eventually, bliss.
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Diana Raab, MFA, PhD, is a memoirist, poet, blogger, speaker, and award-winning author of nine books and numerous articles and poems. She holds a PhD in psychology, and her research focus is on the healing and transformative powers of personal writing. Her educational background also encompasses health administration, nursing, and creative writing.
During her 40-year career, Dr. Raab has published thousands of articles and poems. She’s the editor of two anthologies: Writers and Their Notebooks and Writers on the Edge. Her two memoirs are Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal and Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey. She’s also written four collections of poetry. Her latest book is Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Program for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life (September 2017).
Dr. Raab facilitates workshops in writing for healing and empowerment. She is a regular blogger for Psychology Today, Thrive Global and PsychAlive.
Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life: A personal narrative can truly have healing and transformative powers. In her inspirational new book, Writing for Bliss, Diana Raab, Ph.D., examines how life-changing experiences can inspire you to write a compelling narrative of your life. A how-to guide for anyone interested in growth and personal transformation, Writing for Bliss will take you on a unique journey of self-discovery, and guide you to your own personal bliss.
Geared for the emerging writer, the seasoned writer, and those in academia, this book leads spiritual seekers down the path of self-discovery through writing prompts, tools for journaling, and embodied and reflective writing techniques; and offers ways to find the best vehicle for profound self-expression.
Those who can benefit from writing a life narrative may have been exposed to early-life trauma, loss, or addiction. Writing your story is a way to reclaim your voice, reveal a family secret, or simply share your story with others. Journaling is a cathartic and safe way to work through your feelings and “direct your rage to the page.”
With the help of this indispensable guide to therapeutic writing, you’ll understand yourself better and be able to deal with various challenges in your life, such as depression, anxiety, addiction, loss of loved ones, diseases, and life transitions.
Offering step-by-step practical exercises for journaling your thoughts, emotions, and memories, along with techniques to jump-start your writing, Writing for Bliss will help you achieve the therapeutic results of writing for healing, and provides essential information for using this technique to transform your life in a meaningful way.
Available at Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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Originally published at:
www.writingandwellness.com on September 7, 2017.