I have been a writer for more than 45 years. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, after giving me a big hug the first thing my then fifteen-year-old daughter blurted out to me, was, “Mom I see a book in this.” She knew me and how I had always used writing as a source of healing. At the time I preferred not to write a book about my cancer, however, I did write copiously in my journals. In the end, she was correct because many years later my book, Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey was published.
Not all writing needs to get published, but it is certainly a bonus if it does. When writing during difficult times you should just write and not think about what you will do with it afterwards. Thinking about publishing your work could potentially dampen your creativity. The most important thing is to just to get your feelings on the page. Whether your words remain in your journal or evolve into an essay, full length memoir or poem is unimportant. As Nike says, “Just do it.”
As mentioned, my first memoir was not published until ten years after my diagnosis when I succumbed to the recommendations of friends and colleagues who suggested that my story would be helpful to others.
In my journaling and memoir classes, I advocate writing in a journal rather than on the computer. The reason is that longhand links your body to your mind. It is important also to choose a journal and pen which inspires you and makes you want to write.
While writing for healing, you should feel better. If you begin crying or feel even more saddened, then it is a good idea to stop writing and do something different, whether it is to get up and take a walk, exercise, read a book or watch television. You should do whatever provides comfort. You can always pick up the writing again when you feel more centered.
There have been many studies attesting to the healing power of writing in a journal. Here is summary of some of the reasons:
- It releases pent up emotions without burdening others. It is a companion.
- It is a place to process what you are going through
- It records the healing process.
- It increases your awareness.
- It empowers.
- It clears the mind.
- It builds self-confidence.
- It improves communication skills.
- It improves mental health.
- It is a vehicle for letting go of cloudy thoughts.
- It encourages reflection.
The last benefit is particularly helpful when and if you decide to write your memoir, because it is this aspect of memoir which will draw your readers in and make your story compelling.
If you don’t already keep a journal, here are some tips on how to begin.
- Find a quiet, uninterrupted time and place to write.
- Choose an inspiring notebook and pen.
- Create a centering ritual (light a candle, meditate, play music, stretch).
- Breathe deeply.
- Put aside your inner critic.
- Date your entry.
- Begin by writing your immediate feelings and sensations.
- Write nonstop for 15-20 minutes.
- Save what you have written.
- Write regularly.
About the Author:
Diana M. Raab, MFA, RN is an award-winning memoirist, essayist and poet. She teaches in the UCLA Extension Writers Program, the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and in workshops around the country. She is a journaling advocate and frequently discusses the healing power of writing.
Diana has been writing from an early age. As an only child of two working parents, she spent a lot of time crafting letters and keeping a daily journal. In university she studied journalism, health administration and nursing, all serving as platforms for her work as a writer.
Diana is the author of eight books, including two memoirs, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal (2007) and Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey (2010). Her book Writers and Their Notebooks won the 2011 Eric Hoffer Award. She compiled and edited this collection of essays written by esteemed writers who journal, including Sue Grafton, Kim Stafford, Dorianne Laux, John DuFresne, James Brown and Michael Steinberg, to name a few. The foreword is written by the world-renowned personal essayist, Phillip Lopate.
Raab’s work has been published in numerous literary magazines and has been widely anthologized. She has one poetry chapbook, My Muse Undresses Me, and two poetry collections, Dear Anais: My Life in Poems For You, winner of the 2009 Next Generation Indie Award for Poetry and The Guilt Gene.
Find Diana online at http://www.dianaraab.com.