Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives

Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives

by Louise DeSalvo

Paperback(1ST BEACON)

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In this inspiring book, based on her twenty years of research, highly acclaimed author and teacher Louise DeSalvo reveals the healing power of writing. DeSalvo shows how anyone can use writing as a way to heal the emotional and physical wounds that are an inevitable part of life. Contrary to what most self-help books claim, just writing won't help you; in fact, there's abundant evidence that the wrong kind of writing can be damaging.

DeSalvo's program is based on the best available and most recent scientific studies about the efficacy of using writing as a restorative tool. With insight and wit, she illuminates how writers, from Virginia Woolf to Henry Miller to Audre Lorde to Isabel Allende, have been transformed by the writing process. Writing as a Way of Healing includes valuable advice and practical techniques to guide and inspire both experienced and beginning writers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807072431
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication date: 03/17/2000
Edition description: 1ST BEACON
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 335,489
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Louise DeSalvo is the author of several books, including Adultery, Virginia Woolf, and Vertigo. She is professor of English at Hunter College and divides her time between Teaneck, New Jersey, and Sag Harbor, New York.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Why Write?

I believe that writing is an account of the powers of extrication.

John Cheever, Journals

What is healing, but a shift in perspective?

Mark Doty, Heaven's Coast

I am the only one who can tell the story of my life and say what it means.

Dorothy Allison,

Two or Three Things I Know for Sure

Writing has helped me heat Writing has changed my life. Writing has saved my life.

How often have I uttered these words, and meant them, or written them into my journal since I started writing? A hundred times? A thousand?

And how often have others -- acquaintances, friends, students, published writers -- told me that writing has helped them heal from loss, grief, or personal tragedy, that writing gave them unimaginably plentiful spiritual and emotional advantages? That writing has changed them, has helped them come to terms with something difficult, that writing has saved their lives? Often.

How often have I been reading a writer's published journal or lettersand stumbled upon an admission that, for this author, without writing,life just wouldn't be worth living, that writing has given purpose andmeaning to life? Times too numerous to remember. While I'vebeenreading the words of Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf,Elizabeth Bishop, Anais Nin, Alice James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman,Henry Miller, D. H. Lawrence, Djuna Barnes, Toni Morrison, IsabelAllende, Alice James, Dorothy Alison, Kenzaburo Oe, countless con-temporary memoirists --t he list goes on.

Thesewriters describe how they have consciously used the writing of their artistic works to help them heal from the thorny experiences of their lives, especially from dislocation, violence, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, rape, political persecution, incest, loss, illness.

The writer H. D., in Hermetic Definition, phrased it most succinctly: "Write, write, or die." And Henry Miller, the working-class writer who began his first novel after taking numerous odd jobs (selling newspapers, selling candy, working at Western Union), once admitted in a letter published in Art and Outrage, how much writing had changed him. "The more I wrote," he said, "the more I became a human being. The writing may have seemed monstrous(to some), for it was a violation, but I became a more human individual because of it. I was getting the poison out of my system." My student Melanie, a former emergency room nurse, told me that for her, now, writing was "a necessary life-support system." And my student Homer, who came to the United States from a country in the throes of upheaval, where he was persecuted, said, "Through my work, I rejoin the world."

Wounds, Shocks

In Legacy of the Heart, Wayne Muller observes that "our own wounds can be vehicles for exploring our essential nature, revealing the deepest textures of our heart and soul, if only we will sit with them, open ourselves to the pain, . . . without holding back, without blame." For many years now, I have been using writing in this way, and I have taught scores of students to use writing in this way, too. Inevitably, healing shifts in perspective occur.

Virginia Woolf said that the moments of profound insight that come from writing about our soulful, thoughtful examination of our psychic wounds should be called "shocks." For they force us into an awareness about ourselves and our relationship to others and our place in the world that we wouldn't otherwise have had. They realign the essential nature of our being.

In my case, these healing shifts in perspective often came from writing about my childhood -- a wrenching separation from my loving and caring father, who spent the war years in the Pacific, and then his return from the war, a very changed, volatile, highly strung, and angry man; my life as the daughter of a depressed mother who was often unable to care for me; a jolting move from an Italian working-class neighborhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, which I loved, to a suburb, in which I felt like an outsider; the abuse of a caregiver. The shifts in perspective came, too, from writing about profound losses in adulthood -- my mother's and my sister's deaths.

But healing flashes of insight often came, too, when, during a day's writing, trying to link current feeling with past event, I stumbled into a "moment of being" that I had forgotten. Often it was one that signified much. One -- the comfort and joy of my mother reading to me in her rocking chair at the end of the day during the war, when she would take my index finger and guide it under the words she read. This was the source, I'm certain, of my deep and abiding love of reading, of why, to me, it's as essential to my well-being as food and water. A second -- my father building me my first desk so that I could give my homework proper attention and then selecting and buying, for the drawer pull, a handle of brass beyond what he'd budgeted. Is it any wonder I'd rather be at my desk than anywhere else in the world? A third -- the taste of homemade peach ice cream fresh from a hand-cranked freezer on a holiday at Lake George at the end of the day when my father urged me to swim as far as I could across the lake as he rowed beside me to make sure I was safe. The source, 1 know, of my love of carefully prepared food; the source, too, of my ability to take on challenges.

These are some of my "shocks," my shifts in perspective that have come from writing. I've had many wounds to heal, and I've done much writing to heal them and in the process I've discovered a rich, deeply textured life I hadn't before recognized.

The Necessity of Writing

Many People I know who want to write but don't (my husband, Ernie, for example)or who want to write more than they have but say they can't find the time (my friend Marla) have told me that taking the time to write seems so, well, self-indulgent, self-involved, frivolous even.

What People are Saying About This

Sarah Ban Breathnach

"Louise DeSalvo's courageous passion for binding the soul's wounds through the mystical alchemy of words and paper always moves me deeply. Both challenging and comforting, WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING is an exquisite gift of grace. It will help you write yourself out of the widerness of pain and denial into Wholeness."

Arnold M. Ludwig

"Louise DeSalvo makes a convincing case for the therapeutic value of writing in her new book WRITING AS A WAY OF HEALING. I suspect that after reading this book many inspired readers will choose to abandon the psychiatrist's couch for the writer's desk, and do so with benefit."

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Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
KinnicChick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have now read this book twice. The first time was shortly after my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer and it just seemed like a good time. This time just seemed like a good time because I remember it being so very comforting as a writing instruction book in general - a book about telling our stories. And it has such a wealth of examples of other great pieces of literature and authors who have used writing to save themselves from destruction and helped themselves through pain and illness. There are some jewels in this book. I loved this: (Alice) Walker compares her lifesaving habit of storytelling to the tradition of native American sand painting. In Native American cultures, she reports, ¿when you feel sick at heart, sick in soul, you do sand paintings. Or you make a basket. The thing is that you are focused on creating something. And while you¿re doing that, there¿s a kind of spiritual alchemy that happens and you turn that bad feeling into something that becomes a golden light. It¿s all because you are intensely creating something that is beautiful. And in Native American cultures, by the time you¿ve finished the sand painting, you¿re well. the point is to heal yourself.¿I definitely recommend this book if you are looking for a way to help yourself through a hard time, a health crisis, sadness, or a way to heal from anything. We all have something from which to heal. Tell your story. Even if you keep it to yourself, if you follow these steps in writing it down, you can help heal your soul.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book at the local library. Anyone that has been through anykind of trauma in their lives and have tried other forms of therapy? or if they haven't tried any therapy yet? Then try this book on for size. It combines psychology and writing and journaling. Dr. Desalvo discusses the in and outs along with the correct and incorrect way to go about using art (specifically writing) as a form of therapy.