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.
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?