How Memoir Writing Has Helped Me Heal… And Can Help You Too

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write your memoir? Have people been telling you that you “must write a book”? Have you ever felt a burning desire to write? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then maybe it’s time to get to it. You’ll be amazed by how healing the writing process can be.

Many people begin a serious writing practice when faced with challenges or traumas that they want to come to terms with. That’s how I began my life as a writer. When I was ten years old, my beloved grandmother committed suicide in my childhood home. I was home alone with her and was the one who found her. It was the 1960s, and therapy wasn’t as commonplace as it is today, and my mother was having so much difficulty managing her own grief that she wasn’t able to deal with mine as well.

However, she’d been an English major in college and had done a lot of journaling, so she bought me a red leather Kahlil Gibran journal with inspiring quotes at the top of each page. The idea was that Gibran’s words would inspire me to write down my own feelings. For me, the magic began as I set pen to paper on the pages of that journal, my first of many.

My mother suggested that I write about my grandmother and the very close relationship we’d had over the past decade. I did just that, spending countless hours sitting in my walk-in closet recording my thoughts, never knowing that one day I would grow up to be a published writer.

Although I was too young to realize it at the time, the practice I was engaged in was essentially “writing for healing and transformation.” Even at that tender age, I quickly learned that writing made me feel better. If I was hurting inside, my journal would always be waiting to listen to my concerns, without any judgments or recriminations. The journal was my safe haven, my companion. It was the place I turned to when my parents were having an argument, when I didn’t do well in school, or when my classmates taunted me about having hairy legs and buckteeth.

Then, many years later, when navigating a turbulent time as a hippie in the ’60s, I once again turned to journaling to help me deal with the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. My journal listened to me when no one else seemed to, and that’s all I really needed. In fact, that’s all that most people need when they’re going through challenging times. Then, years later, when I got married and became pregnant with my first child, I turned to journaling when my doctor told me that I’d have to be on bed rest if I wanted to carry my baby to term. I ended up chronicling the entire pregnancy and then realized that I wanted to help other women who were going through similar experiences, so I decided to write a self-help book on difficult pregnancies. Luckily, given my background as a registered nurse, this task wasn’t as daunting as it might sound. In the end, I condensed all my journal entries into the preface, and the rest of the book’s content served as a guide for others. It was called Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to Infertility and High-Risk Pregnancy, and was so successful that it went into a second printing.

A number of years after that, in 2001, when my parents were moving from my childhood home–about the same time that I received my first cancer diagnosis–my parents were going through my grandmother’s belongings and found an amazing treasure in her closet–her own journal. In it, she’d written about her life as an orphan in Poland during World War I. When my mother gave it to me, I devoured it, in the hope that I could learn why my grandmother had taken her life. I thought that maybe she’d gotten a cancer diagnosis, as I had, but that wasn’t the case.

After reading through my grandmother’s writings, I decided to pen a book about her. That became my first memoir, called Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. In that case, the soul-hack or payoff was coming to peace with my grandmother’s suicide. Writing about her life and our relationship was healing because it was my way to keep her alive, which was a blessing.

Subsequently, I decided to use my journals chronicling my breast-cancer journey to write a book to help others navigate similar terrain. That self-help memoir was called Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey. Writing has continued to be my form of daily spiritual practice.

There have been so many benefits to my writing. Not only has it helped me heal, but it has inspired others to write down their stories in order to heal themselves as well. This process prompted me to teach workshops on writing for healing and transformation because, ultimately, when there is healing, there is transformation. I’ve received many letters of gratitude from those who’ve attended my talks and read my books, including my most recent work, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life; and I feel blessed that my experiences have contributed to the healing of others. 

When embarking on the process of writing as a spiritual and healing practice, all you really need to do is find a journal and writing tool that resonates with you. Personally, I love using gel pens because they flow easily on the page. In your journal, you can chronicle your daily experiences, and you can also examine some of the life-changing or transformative moments from your past. Consider practicing stream-of-consciousness writing, where you write nonstop for about 15 to 20 minutes. This type of writing has no beginning, middle, or end. You might begin by writing about the weather and end up delving into something totally unrelated. That’s the beauty of this type of writing–you never know where your creative energy will take you, but one thing’s for sure: you will tap into your subconscious mind, and your discoveries will be illuminating and transformative. So enjoy your journey!

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