Search Results for: Writing Exercises

The Healing Art of Writing Memoir or Fiction

 

Isak Dinesen, writer

Isak Dinesen, writer

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story,” said Isak Dinesen, author of “Out of Africa,” and “Babette’s Feast.” This quote beautifully puts into words why I went to the Westport Writer’s Workshop last Saturday to teach a class called “The Healing Art of Writing.”  My goal? To help people who’ve experienced grief, loss, illness, abuse, violence, addiction, or other trauma try to turn those difficult emotional experiences into compelling fiction or memoir.  I decided to teach the class partly because I know that to do this is healing, since I drew upon my own traumatic experiences to create both a novel and now a memoir. I also journaled obsessively before conceiving my novel, “Saving Elijah,” and used pieces of that journal in writing the book, so I know from experience that expressive writing is healing.  But I’m also convinced that the discipline of creating a narrative or “story” out of the chaos of emotional experience is healing from the first draft to the last. I think most writers would to some extent agree.  I know Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) would.

Here a bit about why I think so, along with steps to help you see if this might be for you:

Expressive Writing Practice: Journaling

Begin by developing an expressive writing practice such as journaling, three or four times a week, for ten or more minutes a day.  Tons of research shows that just writing about trauma, loss, grief, or illness without any regard for the writing “product” has a healing effect and improves mental, emotional and physical well-being.  This is because traumatic or emotionally charged experience is stored in the right brain as all chaotic sensation with no logic or language. When you bring language or narrative to any emotional experience as you do when you write, you bring this experience, or perhaps the memory and associated emotions of the experience into the logical, analytical left brain.  This helps integrate the two and lessen emotional reactivity, a big part of healing. In doing therapy and facilitating workshops, I’ve even seen writing help to heal people who aren’t even particularly literate.

When you do expressive writing, knock the censor monkey off your shoulder, and express your feelings without thinking about the writing “product.”  Bring it up from your guts. Don’t think about grammar, form, or appropriateness.  Don’t worry that anyone will read what you’ve written. Banish all thoughts of I wouldn’t want anyone to see this, or This isn’t any good, or  My eighth grade teacher—or my mom—told me I stank as a writer. Also banish all thoughts like, Nothing I could ever write could communicate how I feel. Write as if you were going to burn it.  Don’t burn it though, since you’ll later find gems you can use to great effect when you write your memoir or fiction.

Even after you begin writing fiction or a memoir, begin each writing session with a few minutes of journaling or other form of expressive or free writing.

Expressive Writing Practice: Exercises

Take a “Write to Heal” workshop like the one I offer.  Many individuals, hospitals, and healing centers around the country are offering these now. In my workshop, I provide exercises to help people express themselves without regard for the writing “product,” or how a reader might react, who might read it, or who might or might not be interested in reading it.  Although sometimes write-to-heal writers produce beautiful writing, I facilitate these exercises primarily for their therapeutic value.  I take the therapist’s “stance” in this setting. I empathetically accept and embrace whatever is produced., there is no literary criticism, and I make no attempt to teach the “craft” of writing, let alone the art. Sharing is optional of course, but there is also some therapeutic value to being “witnessed” and to “witnessing.”

Also, do the exercises on this website, or the exercises in books like Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones,” Bonnie Goldberg’s “Room to Write,” or Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Again, make this a practice, several times a week.

Blogging: Is this expressive writing?

Nowadays many people blog episodically about their feelings and experiences around personal trauma, loss, or illness.  Blogging can of course be healing too, in the sense that all writing can be healing. However, I suspect most bloggers do at least some selecting and revising before they publish, and so blogging isn’t true expressive writing in which no attention is given to the product.  I hope so, because some blogs of this sort gain huge readerships.  Readers actually read ONLY because they feel moved, entertained, instructed, or compelled to READ ON; readers, even readers of emotional blogs, don’t take the therapist’s stance of empathy and compassion and acceptance of feelings whatever they are. (You can certainly see this in some comments.) Which means the blogger who has made no attempt to process or intellectualize experience, distance herself from it, and prepare it and herself for the reactions of others can find herself retraumatized as readers who don’t empathize with her feelings react to or criticize the writing.  I think publishing unprocessed emotional writing even in this confessional age can be VERY be psychologically risky. Oh my goodness, it was psychologically healing to give voice to my anger in my own journal after my son’s death, but publish that journal?  No way.

On the other hand, it is also true that no matter how many revisions and how much processing you do before you publish any piece of writing, readers are going to bring their biases, craziness, projections, interpretations, and misinterpretations to it.  David Sedaris put this brilliantly when he said:  “Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize that it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.  But even the “illusion” of control can be a good defense. Where would we all be without our illusions?

Write a memoir or fiction

Obviously not everyone can write a novel or a memoir, or would even want to, but the twenty women who came last Saturday to my class, each of whom has experienced trauma, illness, abuse, or loss, presented themselves as wanting to learn how to turn their experiences into stories in the literary form of fiction or memoir.  I treated them like writers.

Yes, it’s hard to speak candidly to someone who’s experienced something awful that lies at the pit of her soul and who lives and breathes this thing every day.  It’s hard to tell someone who’s gotten used to simply writing her feelings that there might be a more effective way to present them to help readers want to hear them. First of all, she’s been writing and knows how healing it feels to write, which is probably one of the reasons she’s decided she wants to bring her writing into literary form. Another is that she feels she has something important to share with others, some lesson learned, some hurdle crossed.  (Therein, of course, may lie the arc or even the plot of her story.  How DID she overcome that awful thing?)

I think some, although certainly not all writing teachers would find it hard to tell someone who, for example, is writing about the profound and devastating experience of losing a child that some of her words don’t compel the reader to turn the page, don’t communicate effectively, confuse, or even turn the reader off.  I am of course sensitive to this, but I am tough-minded too because I know that learning craft and bringing it to your writing helps you intellectualize and separate from traumatic experience in a very unique way.

I know that even if feedback at first feels hurtful or invalidating, it’s actually the opposite.   A reader or teacher who offers honest feedback actually validates your experience by showing she cares enough about it to help you express it more effectively, say by helping you learn the components of a scene, or by pointing out that you’ve “told” something rather than “shown” it.

And I know that every time you hear and tolerate criticism about what you have written about your trauma, and every time you decide (using your analytical left brain) to accept or reject that criticism, you distance yourself from the emotion of that trauma.

“Kill your babies,” Faulkner said about writers and their words, and the would-be memoir or fiction writer must learn to tolerate hearing that she must kill some of her babies. (You should pardon the pun.)

Yes, it’s a long grueling process, but…

  • We heal as we learn and apply writing “craft,” which after all is a discipline that comes out of left brain thinking.
  • We heal each time we rewrite or revise, because when we rewrite we rethink, re-remember, and re-imagine our experience, memories, even our whole life. Psychology and neuroscience have proposed many different models of memory, but one truth is: We do not remember our experiences, we only remember our last retrieval of our memory of our experiences.  As we gather our short and long term memories to write a memoir or fiction, we revise those memories to fit them into the emotional arc (or plot) we are creating.  Often this is a new vision of ourself as hero rather than victim in our own life story.
  • We heal each time we turn chaotic emotional experiences into work that fits within an accepted literary form, uses language in an evocative way, has narrative drive, and a beginning, a middle, and an end. Doing all this involves intellectual, logical left brain thinking and tamps down emotional right brain thinking.  No one wants to read about a victim, or at least not a victim all the way through.
  • We heal as we learn to self-observe, as we discipline ourselves to make the hard choices about which elements of lived experience to include or exclude, and how best to organize and express material in order to compel readers to READ ON.
Advertisements

Writing for Wellness Workshop

TO MY LOCAL FRIENDS, PLEASE JOIN ME:

WRITING FOR WELLNESS
A Six Week Workshop for Healing and Self-Expression
Tuesday’s 7:30-9 PM
December 8, 15, 22 and January 5, 12, 19
Jewish Community Center
1450 Newfield Avenue

Stamford, Connecticut

Write about: grief, loss, relationships, trauma, illness, spirit, life.
Exercises, prompts, and focused writing tailored to participant needs and interests.
Based on Fran’s experience as a writer, bereaved mother, and therapist.

DO IT FOR YOURSELF!

ENHANCE physical and mental well being
GAIN mastery over difficult emotions
LEARN or enhance literary techniques/craft
DEEPEN and clarify self knowledge
CREATE meaningful personal narrative,
memoir, story, metaphor and/or image.
STIMULATE your imagination.
EXPRESS and/or SHARE YOUR TRUTH

DO IT FOR FUN!

COST: $100 Members; $125 Non-Members
EMAIL: Frandorf@aol.com for more info
REGISTER at the JCC
reception desk, by calling
322-7900, or online at
http://www.stamfordjcc.org

Writing for Wellness and Healing

I just did an interview about my write to heal workshops for the terrific publication, Bottom Line/Women’s Health, so I thought I’d put a few exercises here, in case anyone reading the article is looking for more. Studies by Dr. James Pennebaker at the University of Texas and many others have definitively shown that writing about trauma enhances physical, emotional and mental well being. My own personal and professional experience bears this out. The process of writing “Saving Elijah” saved me after my son’s death, I think. Creating narrative (and/or meaningful image or metaphor) helps us gain distance from and understand our trauma (including serious bereavement) by transferring and integrating emotional memories, which are primarily stored in the right brian, into the more logical left brain.  Here’s a quote from B. S. Van der Kolk, a leading trauma researcher, “Traumatic memory is are primarily imprinted in sensory and emotional modes principally stored in the right hemisphere of the brain, as opposed to the left hemisphere, which mediates verbal communication and organizes problem solving tasks into a well ordered set of operations and process information in a sequential fashion.”  More about all that in a later post.

By the way, I’ve decided to change the basic name of my workshops from “Write to Heal,” to “Writing for Wellness and Healing,” to broaden their appeal, and because you don’t have to have experienced major trauma to benefit. Anyone who has experienced emotional upheaval can benefit from writing. (Or from any creative endeavor, for that matter.) And who hasn’t experienced emotional upheaval in life?

Here are some exercises to get you started.  Remember, with all deference to those who think our every waking thought and feeling must be laid out there for all to see, you don’t have to share what you write with anyone.  So tell the truth.

1. DIG WIDE, DIG DEEP EXERCISE 

Part 1. Begin with “I remember.” Write lots of small memories, and begin each with the words “I Remember.” Don’t be concerned if the memories happened five seconds ago or five years ago, or if they are memories about your lost child or your grandmother, a vacation you once took, or a kid from school. Don’t worry if they are happy memories or sad ones, big memories or small ones, important memories or fleeting ones. Be in the moment as you remember them and write them as quickly as you can without stopping. Try this for seven minutes.

Part 2: Now read over your list and choose one memory that speaks to you and write about it as a scene and/or in great depth, with sensory details (what did you see, smell, touch, feel). Really dig in. Seven minutes.

Part 3: Now write that memory as if it didn’t happen to you, but rather as if it happened to someone else. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to put it in the third person, instead of the first person. (Actually, this is a good alternate for many of the exercises in this list—write it in the third person.) Seven minutes.

2. DIALOGUE WITH GOD EXERCISE

For this exercise, imagine you’re walking down the road one fine day. Or you could be in your kitchen and there’s a knock at the door, or at your desk, or on the bleachers watching your child’s hockey game, or sitting down at your desk. You choose the setting, which I hope you will describe with as many sensory details as you can. And suddenly a person comes up to you whom you somehow recognize as God. What does God look like? Describe God’s appearance. I’m not necessarily looking for flowing robes, white beards and symbols of religion here, because presumably God can take any form. Choose one that has meaning to you: someone you know or don’t know, someone from your past or future, your dead child or sister, Morgan Freeman, George Burns, your long lost Aunt, a Buddhist monk. What is he wearing? What does he look like? You get to have a conversation with God. Don’t hold back. God can take whatever you dish out.

And you say to God, “Why me?” And God says, “Why not you?”

Write the scene complete with dialogue from there. Try to get past any nervousness you have about talking to God, and even consider challenging God. For example, if you don’t like God’s answer, say so. As always, feel free to write this from someone else’s point of view, either in the first person or third. Do this for seven minutes.

3.RIGHT NOW EXERCISE (MINDFULNESS)

Write about what you’re thinking and feeling right this minute. Start a list: My jeans are too tight. I drank too much coffee this morning. I feel jittery. The sunlight is pouring in the window. My arm hurts. I feel nervous. Something smells in here. ….Do this for five minutes.

4. FOUR SQUARE EXERCISE

One of the ways we can discover our writing selves is to discover unexpected ways of observing everyday objects. Think of an object. Perhaps it’s something you’re wearing, a bracelet, or a belt. Or maybe it’s a lock of hair, or a stuffed animal. Or maybe it’s something you see in the room. Divide a piece of paper into four squares. In the top left square, describe the object as specifically as you can, with as many specific details as you can. In the top right square, list all the feelings the object evokes. In the lower left, create similies of what the object is like or what it reminds you of. And finally in the lower right, put yourself in place of the object, take the voice of the object and write from the object’s perspective.

Once you’ve done that, see if you can use some of what you’ve written to create a poem.

5. WRITING PROMPTS

  • How satisfied are you with your life right now?
  • What thrills you?
  • What do you need?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • Where do you feel stuck?
  • What activities or practices help you in difficult times?
  • What do you long for?
  • What are the great sadnesses in your life?
  • What are you jealous of
  • What forces surround your life or work that are out of your control?
  • What fight or burden are you ready to give up for now?
  • What do you regret?
  • Write about a time you felt joy?
  • In what ways are you good at taking care of yourself?  What ways are you bad at it?
  • Write about a dream you’ve had.  What do you think the message is?
  • What do you hope for?

More soon.

My social work interview

This interview, along with interviews of some other social workers who are also writers, can also be found at this link: http://www.socialworkguide.org/advice/fran-dorf/

An Interview with Fran Dorf

 

Fran Dorf is a professional writer and a psychotherapist (MA, LCSW) and a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). As a therapist, she offers private, confidential counseling to those struggling with depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and trauma. Dorf has particular expertise with grief and loss and with those struggling with creative efforts. As a creative coach, she helps people come to grips with the fact that to do creative work “you must have the hide of an elephant and the soul of a child….”As a professional writer, Dorf is most notably the author of three acclaimed, internationally published novels: A Reasonable Madness(Birch Lane/Signet); Flight (Dutton/Signet) and Saving Elijah (Putnam). Her articles, essays, and poetry have appeared in anthologies, literary magazines, and online periodicals such as McSweeney’s, Forbes, Brainchild, Bottom Line, and Ars Medica. Dorf’s’ full-length play, “The Angel of Forgetting,” a family drama with a psychological (and supernatural) mystery at its core, had an enthusiastic reception at the Lark Theatre in NYC in April 2015, and another drama, “There You Are,” received rave reviews in its debut in July 2015 at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio Neil LaBute New Theater Festival.

Fran Dorf displays her dual interests with her psychotherapy website and blog and her professional writing website. Dorf speaks to groups on “Coping with Loss,” “Creating Happiness,” and “Write to Heal” workshops, from one hour to one day, to help people use expressive writing as a path to inner healing and to cope with their struggles, losses, illness, grief, and trauma.

We would like to thank Fran Dorf for taking the time to speak with us about her rich career.

1. Why did you choose the field of social work rather than psychology, counseling or another helping profession? What circumstances or influences led you to pursue a career as a social worker?

My pursuit of this field has been a lifelong effort, a back and forth between my two main interests in life, psychology and writing, and a real case of something I’d have to call “life intervenes.” I got a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1975, then got a master’s in psychology in 1985, thinking I would go on to get a PhD in psychology, and eventually have a private practice. The master’s degree sparked an idea for a novel about a psychiatrist and his patient, so instead of going on in school I returned to something I’d done in my teens, creative writing. I used a lot of what I’d learned in the study of psychology in graduate school.

In 1990/1991 my first novel, A Reasonable Madness (Birch Lane hardcover/Signet paperback), was published and sold very well, in America and internationally. Writing became my career. In 1993, my second novel, Flight (Dutton/Signet) was published, and I had a two -book contract with the publisher. Then my three-year-old son, Michael, became ill and died seven months later. It took me a long time just to get out of bed (metaphorically speaking), let alone think about going back to a career. When I did go back to writing, I eventually wrote a novel inspired by my loss, Saving Elijah, published in 2000 by Putnam. Honestly, the process of loss and the catharsis of writing that novel saved my life, and I developed an abiding interest and expertise in the writing process as a way to deal with trauma. I decided to go back to social work school in 1999, basically because I saw myself as too old to get a PhD, especially since I was planning to continue to write. After the book came out, there were more distractions, film options and so on. I abandoned the MSW, and then didn’t return to it until 2007. They accepted all my credits from 1999. Ah, but then I got breast cancer, so had to delay the second year of the MSW again.

2. How has your career grown and developed over time?

By the time I finally got my MSW in 2008, I was already 53 years old. (I was not the only “elderly” student in the class.) I worked at an outpatient clinic for four years to get the hours to get my LCSW, which I got in 2013.
Since I always knew that I was interested in doing clinical work with clients (rather than running a program or something like that), all my internships and my work following my degree were in clinics. This experience was very valuable, in that I got to work with a variety of people from different walks of life, and on a variety of issues.

I now have a small private practice and three groups, two with bereaved parents, and one for senior spousal bereavement. I also facilitate writing-for-healing workshops for bereaved, addicted, homeless, and other populations. I take an eclectic approach to working with people, using standard techniques such mindfulness, DBT, CBT, narrative therapy, IMAGO, but given my age and level of experience before I formally took this on, I rely heavily on my instincts, and sometimes, if clients are interested, I employ creative techniques such as writing exercises I’ve developed over time, techniques I’ve used myself in my creative life. I get a lot of creative people in my practice, writers, artists, and so on.

3. What do you see as the top social issues facing social workers today?

Lack of funding for social programs, low pay so that it’s difficult to keep good clinicians in a clinic. I felt overwhelmed by the amount of, and focus on, paperwork, when I worked in a clinic.

4. What advice would you give to new social workers entering the field?

Be in it to help people. Have and keep both moral and ethical standards. Use what works. Examine your own prejudices. Know your own psychology.

5. What are two or three top recommendations that can help social work graduates keep their skills current and continue learning after graduation?

If you’re working in a social service organization, you do have to be sufficiently respectful and know when to back down, but only the other hand, if you find fault with a certain policy, or especially if you feel the policy is harmful to your client(s), stand up for what you believe in.

Here’s an example of one way this played out in my situation: A few years into my work in a very large social work agency, where I was working as a contract worker with individuals and groups, I realized that they were only counting the actual hours spent face to face with clients toward my accumulating hours. Not only were they not paying me for hours and hours of work each day, spent doing paperwork, making phone calls, etc., they weren’t counting any of these hours toward getting my license.

What is permissible in terms of counting toward licensure varies from state to state, but I called the NASW office in my state and was told that ALL social work hours could be counted according to law in my state, including paperwork, phone calls, reports, case conference, etc.

I got a letter from the president of the NASW chapter detailing what was permissible, and I pointed out to my supervisor how valuable a worker I was, and that the agency was interpreting the law in the most restrictive way that was hurtful to the worker rather than being helpful. They were shocked that anyone had brought this up. Not only were they under the impression that the law said they were only allowed to count the face to face hours, they had done it this way for years.

It was difficult, but I stuck to my guns and pointed out that it would have taken me ten years to accumulate enough hours. Given my age, I didn’t have time to do that. In the end they did change their rules, and I got the hours in four years rather than ten.

There are a variety of interesting certificate programs you can get into that will help you hone your techniques and also help you get referrals, if you’re looking to do clinical work.

6. What is the key strength you bring to your career and how would you advise new graduates to mine their own strengths to further their careers?

My experience and creativity. I would advise new graduates to be open to living life fully, and learning good lessons about life from whatever comes their way.
Research in positive psychology shows that a mindset like this can contribute to happiness, anyway.

7. What can social worker students do to improve their competitive edge in the current job market?

Be professional yet approachable, courteous but strong. Seek out a wide variety of experiences and reading, personal and professional, which will contribute to your value as a worker and a person.

8. Social work can be rewarding but challenging as well. What self-care strategies do you recommend for new social workers?

I meditate five times a week at least. Get into some sort of psychotherapy yourself, so that you have knowledge of how your own issues can intrude, and how your clients’ issues can intrude upon you. Also, have a balance in your life: I have a family, friends, and hobbies, plus a half-time practice of psychotherapy, and a half-time practice of writing. Try to find something outside of your work that moves you and involves you in a collaborative effort.

9. Can you give an example of an interesting project or case that you have worked on and your role in helping to achieve a positive outcome?

I feel particularly good when I am working with clients and I see progress that is going to help them move forward more successfully in their lives.

10. Is there any further advice you would share with students concerning social work as a career?

Get a good supervisor. The supervisor relationship is very important for people just starting out.

The “Write-To-Heal” Method

WRITE-TO-HEAL

Over many years I have developed the “write to heal” method, which involves a variety of interactional writing exercises.  I have conducted group workshops using this method with the bereaved, people suffering from addictions, the homeless, and others.  I can also use the method with my individual clients.  The theory of writing for healing is that when you’ve had a trauma or other emotionally upsetting experience, the part of your brain that deals with emotion is over-activated, even many years after the actual event, but in order to write about it you must create narrative out of the chaotic emotional landscape which forces you to engage the logical part of the brain, which tamps down all that out-of-control emotion, and integrates the two.  The method is completely “process-oriented,” which means the healing benefits accrue in the writing process itself, not the outcome, or what is produced.

Call me for a psychotherapy and/or “write to heal” consultation at 203-536-3531.

WRITING COACHING

I also have particular expertise in working with writers to create self-healing fiction or memoir.   As a successful and experienced writer as well as a therapist, I can work at the intersection of healing, art, and craft. I can work with creative blocks; I can help you use literary techniques and imaginative exercises that engage and integrate the emotional with the rational parts of the brain; and I can help you focus on process rather than outcome. I can work with you on an existing manuscript, either memoir or fiction; help you bring an idea to fruition; and/or teach you self-editing techniques I have gleaned through a lifetime of writing, reading, and working with brilliant editors.

To contact me for a consultation or manuscript evaluation, please call 203-536-3531 or email me.  

Below are some of my favorite prompts and writing exercises.  They’re useful if you’re just looking for a writing jump-start, and/or if you’re writing to cope with trauma, illness, grief, addiction, or any other difficult experience. Remember you don’t have to share what you write with anyone, and the healing effect of writing remains. That’s why I call it word therapy.  So tell the truth.  Also remember to knock that censor monkey off your shoulder.  Don’t worry about outcome, grammar, whether anyone will “like” it, rejection, and anything else.  Just be in the process.

1. DIG WIDE, DIG DEEP EXERCISE 

Part 1. Begin with “I remember.” Write lots of small memories, and begin each with the words “I Remember.” Don’t be concerned if the memories happened five seconds ago or five years ago, or if they are memories about your lost child or your grandmother, a vacation you once took, or a kid from school.Don’t worry if they are happy memories or sad ones, big memories or small ones, important memories or fleeting ones. Be in the moment as you remember them and write them as quickly as you can without stopping. Try this for seven minutes.

Part 2: Now read over your list and choose one memory that speaks to you and write about it as a scene and/or in great depth, with sensory details (what did you see, smell, touch, feel). Really dig in. Seven minutes.

Part 3: Now write that memory as if it didn’t happen to you, but rather as if it happened to someone else.The easiest and most effective way to do this is to put it in the third person, instead of the first person. (Actually, this is a good alternate for many of the exercises in this list—write it in the third person.)Seven minutes.

2. DIALOGUE WITH GOD EXERCISE

For this exercise, imagine you’re walking down the road one fine day. Or you could be in your kitchen and there’s a knock at the door, or at your desk, or on the bleachers watching your child’s hockey game, or sitting down at your desk. You choose the setting, which I hope you will describe with as many sensory details as you can. And suddenly a person comes up to you whom you somehow recognize as God. What does God look like? Describe God’s appearance. I’m not necessarily looking for flowing robes, white beards and symbols of religion here, because presumably God can take any form. Choose one that has meaning to you: someone you know or don’t know, someone from your past or future, your dead child or sister, Morgan Freeman, George Burns, your long lost Aunt, a Buddhist monk. What is he wearing? What does he look like? You get to have a conversation with God. Don’t hold back. God can take whatever you dish out.

And you say to God, “Why me?” And God says, “Why not you?”

Write the scene complete with dialogue from there. Try to get past any nervousness you have about talking to God, and even consider challenging God. For example, if you don’t like God’s answer, say so.As always, feel free to write this from someone else’s point of view, either in the first person or third. Do this for seven minutes.

3.RIGHT NOW EXERCISE (MINDFULNESS)

Write about what you’re thinking and feeling right this minute. Start a list: My jeans are too tight. I drank too much coffee this morning. I feel jittery. The sunlight is pouring in the window. My arm hurts. I feel nervous. Something smells in here. ….Do this for five minutes.

4. FOUR SQUARE EXERCISE

One of the ways we can discover our writing selves is to discover unexpected ways of observing everyday objects. Think of an object. Perhaps it’s something you’re wearing, a bracelet, or a belt. Or maybe it’s a lock of hair, or a stuffed animal. Or maybe it’s something you see in the room. Divide a piece of paper into four squares. In the top left square, describe the object as specifically as you can, with as many specific details as you can. In the top right square, list all the feelings the object evokes. In the lower left, create similies of what the object is like or what it reminds you of. And finally in the lower right, put yourself in place of the object, take the voice of the object and write from the object’s perspective.

Once you’ve done that, see if you can use some of what you’ve written to create a poem.

5. WRITING PROMPTS

  • How satisfied are you with your life right now?
  • What thrills you?
  • What do you need?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • Where do you feel stuck?
  • What activities or practices help you in difficult times?
  • What do you long for?
  • What are the great sadnesses in your life?
  • What are you jealous of
  • What forces surround your life or work that are out of your control?
  • What fight or burden are you ready to give up for now?
  • What do you regret?
  • Write about a time you felt joy?
  • In what ways are you good at taking care of yourself?  What ways are you bad at it?
  • Write about a dream you’ve had.  What do you think the message is?
  • What do you hope for?

More soon.

This entry was posted on September 11, 2012, in . 1 Comment

“Write to Heal” March 13th, 2-4 PM

Presented by Fran Dorf, writer and therapist

Sunday, March 13, 2 – 4pm, Dew Yoga, 123 High Ridge Road, Stamford, CT 

You do not have to be a “writer” to explore writing as a mindful and powerful way to heal.   To register, call 203-744-9642. Or online at www.dewyoga.net


Writing is a process by which the human soul can reveal, express, and heal itself…using words as tools.

Writing can be a medicine that helps us integrate our most frightening or difficult feelings and experiences, and even transform them. Research shows that writing has a beneficial effect on emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

In the Write-to-Heal Workshop, Fran creates an atmosphere of warmth and support, and all are welcome: practiced writers, novices, and those simply wanting to explore this way of healing. Fran meets each writer where he or she is, distinguishes between “process” (the healing part) and “outcome” (a whole other thing), and uses a combination of exercises and literary techniques she’s developed over many years to help people mine, discover, or even reclaim their deepest feelings and memories, and to give them voice, either directly or indirectly, using metaphor, image, and/or narrative.  You will be surprised at your own power.
Bring a notebook, a pen, and a small meaningful object. Space is limited to 10. Registration is required, $45/person. Sign up by phone or online today!



Dew Yoga: 123 High Ridge Rd. (3rd Floor) Stamford, CT (203)744-YOGA(9642) | http://www.dewyoga.net | info@dewyoga.net

The Inoculation Effect of Big Time Grief

I’ve been thinking for a very long time about the inoculation effect of grief. This is a term I believe has relevance to the experience of “high” grief, or as I call it in my novel “big time grief.” I’ve never read or heard anyone use the term. Here’s the general definition from the Oxford:

Inoculate: The deliberate introduction into the body of a micro-organism, especially in order to induce immunity to a disease; vaccination.

What does this have to do with grief? Here’s what. I think of the pain I suffered during my bereavement almost as a kind of inoculation against future pain. Not that I can no longer feel anything, just that I can handle it now. It seems to me that I became aware of this effect after quite a lot of time had passed, and I do think one has to have done the grief work in order to feel the effect, but the truth is, no matter what trauma I’ve faced–and there have been a few since my son died–I’ve always kept myself on a relatively even keel, emotionally. I’ve consoled myself by thinking that nothing could be as devastating as what I’ve already been through. What could? If I survived that, I can survive anything. I mentioned this notion to the group of bereaved folks I wrote with last night, and I saw recognition in many of their faces. Of course, we wish we had our children back, but life only goes one way and we are forced to learn those lessons that are given to us. I wonder if anyone else has felt that serious grief can inoculate us, so that we are able to face whatever else lies ahead.

Initially, a few of the bereaved parents in the group last night seemed somewhat resistant to the idea of writing as a way to help us explore, understand, and express our inner worlds, especially when I said I had written a novel. One man asked “Is your novel fiction or non-fiction?” I explained that all novels are fiction, and he said, “But this is REAL LIFE.”

Meaning, what can YOU–a fiction writer–possibly know about the REAL pain I’m feeling?

I explained that I too had lost a child, and that my novel had been inspired by the experience. That seemed to appease him, and I didn’t feel the need to explain that I would be employing exercises that used fictional techniques. Once I told him that I too had lost a child, he seemed willing to trust me. I was a member of the club that no one wants to belong to. I so well remember the feeling of being resentful, even suspicious of anyone who hadn’t lost a child, who hadn’t been where I was but would presume to tell me how to feel, what to do, how to act.

I want to share with readers a poem the group last night wrote. The group’s thoughts are listed in no particular order. They composed this poem after I read them a wonderful list poem by Elaine Equi called “Things to Do in the Bible” and we then composed:

Things to Do When You Lose a Child:

Cry – Get Mad – Yell at God – Cry – Pray – Yell at God – Try to Breathe – Freeze and shut down – Pray for help – Find your center – Look within for wisdom – Count your blessings – Comfort a wife – Cry – Bang the Steering Wheel – Cry Cry Cry – Find Spirituality – Figure out how to survive – Talk talk talk – Scream and swear at God – Listen for his voice – Fight with your husband – Get Back to Work- Honor His Memory – Resent everyone- Celebrate his life – Pray – Give to Others – Light a Candle – Hate Life – Cry – Look at Pictures – Eat – Cry – Spend time with a husband – Cry – Talk to friends – Get Help – Cry – Scream – Take a bath – Hug a friend – Swim a mile – Try to sleep – Walk in the woods – Eat your heart out – Go to Bed – Not get dressed – Rage at the moon – Hate everyone – Hate God – Swim upstream – Ignore your living children- Feel guilty – Write a book

The last one was mine, of course. Not everyone can write a book, obviously. But writing CAN be therapeutic, I’m convinced of it. Here’s a poem I composed at some point, among the first semi-coherent writings I managed. I think it gives a good idea of how grief feels. Or at least how my grief felt. A version of this poem appears in Saving Elijah.

I am a clobbered egg
ex orb exploded
white shard in your eye
it hurts.
There there.
This sweet yellow yolk
rots now,
threaded with bloodeous black,
glutinous maximus,
sweet rot drips
all over the imported linen,
sticky on the gold rimmed China,
soiled with the grotesque muck
of my child’s grave.
There with my child, so cold.
I sweat this stuff in your face,
all placid and complacent as a baby’s toes.
I yield up nothing you want.
No angel wings,
No down for your bed,
No meat.

Speaking/Workshops

I am available to speak to or conduct a workshop with your group or meeting on “Coping with Loss,” “Write to Heal,” or “Emotional Well being.”

Call 203-536-3531 or email Fran Dorf

Rates available on Request

 PRAISE FOR FRAN’S WORKSHOPS and SEMINARS

“Enlightening”…”Inspirational”… “Touching”…”Informative”…
“Engaging”…”Fran should be a regular speaker at this university.”

– Attendees and Students

“Dear Fran….I am so very grateful for your generous spirit and your encouraging presence on Monday evening. Those who gathered really learned a great deal from you. Thank you so very much for being with us.”

– Pat M., Bereavement Group Facilitator

“I found the workshop to be very cathartic. Every class has triggered something. More than just words, it’s helped me to get inside myself, writing things that I normally wouldn’t write about…helps you move toward resolution.”

– A Participant

ONGOING:

Support Group for Bereaved Parents – Center for Hope, Darien, CT

Support Group for Seniors who’ve lost their significant other  – Center for Hope, Darien, CT

Contact me for info.

UPCOMING:

“Emotional Well Being” Workshop October 27th, 2014, in Westport, Connecticut.  Details to follow.

Support Group for Bereaved Parents in Westchester County, NY, begins again in September.  If interested, contact me at frandorf@aol.com.

October, 2013

“Emotional Well Being” Workshop:  Jewish Family Service Wellness Symposium, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Darien, CT.

May -June 2013

“The Healing Art of Writing:” Westport Writer’s Workshop, Westport, Connecticut

October, 2012

 

Shining a Light on Grief   Tuesday, October 23 • 7 p.m.
Helping Children and Families: Carole Geithner, LCSW and author of If Only, a fictional story of dealing with grief through the eyes of a thirteen year old girl. PrEditesented by Jewish Family Service in partnership with Stamford JCC, Den for Grieving Kids and the Center For Hope. Presentation and panel discussion with Fran Dorf, MA, MSW; Linda Weatherseed, MSW, and Amanda Romanello, LPC. Questions and answers to follow.
Writing to Heal by Fran Dorf –  Wednesday, November 7 • 7:30 p.m.
Writing to Heal, a workshop for the bereaved, professionals, or those struggling with any trauma or difficult life experience. Presented by Jewish Family Service in partnership with the Stamford JCC, the workshop will be facilitated by Fran Dorf, MA, MSW who is a writer, bereaved mother and therapist. No previous writing experience is necessary. Free and open to the community.The panel and the writing workshop are open to the community free of charge. For more information, please email me, or Eve Moskowitz at 203.921.4161 or emoskowitz@ctjfs.org.

Loss comes along with each and every human being on this planet on the journey of life.  Fran Dorf, using her unique set of skills, first hand knowledge of major grief, long time study of psychology, formal education and experience as a psychotherapist, has prepared a 1 hour to 1 hour and 1/2 interactive powerpoint presentation designed for a general interest audience to provide an overview of the types of losses we all face and a toolbox of skills to help people recognize and identify loss for what it is, prepare the mind to accept loss as a part of life, prevent people from denying their feelings, and teach coping techniques and strategies. Losses people face might include:

  • Loss of someone close (through death of family member or friend, or through circumstance, also pet loss and miscarriage)
  • Loss of significant other or spouse (through death, divorce, breakup, or circumstance)
  • Loss of health (through accident or illness, or a loved one’s accident or illness)
  • Loss of culture (through immigration)
  • Loss of cherished dreams or ambition
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Loss of safety after a trauma
  • Loss of job, income, lifestyle, or financial stability
  • Loss associated with life-stage changes (including loss of childhood, transition to adulthood, “midlife crisis,” aging, loss of “beauty”
  • Loss of privacy or autonomy
  • Loss of innocence

Write to Heal Workshop/Statement of Purpose

A process-centered writing workshop suitable for either a general audience or a loss-oriented audience. Fran has presented the “Write to Heal” Workshop with parents who’ve lost children, addicted individuals, homeless, chronically mentally ill, and general audiences. The workshop, while not a literary craft seminar, employs exercises and literary techniques, and includes some fiction techniques Fran explored in “Saving Elijah,” a novel that uniquely distills the psychological process of grief. “Write to Heal” is designed to help people cope with the complex emotions surrounding grief, loss, illness, addiction, aging, and other traumatic or difficult life experiences. Can be combined with the general presentation, for a half day event

MY TESTIMONY

My personal story is testimony to the power of writing to heal. When my son, Michael, died in 1994, I was already a successful writer, a paperback version of my second novel having just been published. For about three years I stopped writing, angrily rejecting all counsel to do otherwise. Paralyzed with grief, I firmly believed that I would and could never write again. One desperate day, I bought a composition book, secretly, because I didn’t want anyone to know that I had taken that step, which along with my continued existence seemed like a betrayal to my son. Did I still want to be a professional writer? No. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to live without my son. Since publishing was the furthest thing from my mind, I didn’t have to think about content, form, or logic, let alone tact or accuracy. In that composition book I began to give voice to my deepest emotions through uncensored writing, and it was through that extraordinary process that I found what I’ve come to call my healing muse, and began the long journey that enabled me to reinvest in my life, even without Michael. Eventually I turned that incoherent, raw journal into an unconventional novel called “Saving Elijah.”

Writing is a process by which the human soul can reveal itself and find expression. When we are deeply wounded, writing can help us turn the chaos of emotions into narrative.  Real scientific research, has shown that this process, which involves a transfer from the emotional/reactive part of the brain to the logical/reasoning part of the brain,  is remarkably effective in promoting both physical and mental wellbeing, and can reduce debilitating and destructive emotional reactivity, especially that which results from trauma, grief, illness, loss.

Be in the present.  Turn emotion into a story.  Write.

This entry was posted on April 28, 2008, in .