Friday, July 30, 2010

Writing as Therapy

The most satisfying work I've ever done was using writing and theater in clinical practice. I was amazed by the way writing mined the unconscious, entered the heart's depth, and allowed my students to hold their deepest truths to the light, often for the first time. At this July's Hamline residency, I had the experience of lecture as therapy. There were tears (not even from rejection slips), laughter, and contemplation.

The connection of our speakers to their work was communicated in their heartfelt presentations. Elizabeth Partridge's stories of Woody Guthrie and his tragic life, the only seeming redemption his music, pierced our hearts. Deborah Wiles opened her metaphoric home to us: her struggles, the call of books that would not abate until she read and read and wrote. She then drew from her story a larger context for us all to examine our work and our lives. And we wept with both of them: over children burned to death, a musician's mind succumbing to disease, over a mother living in a car with two children, but determined to transcend.

And this is why we write: to push aside the numb banalities of existence and enter the core of compassion.

But all was not tears: Elizabeth Bird had us amazed and amused with literary tales: whether Hans Christian Anderson would ever leave Dickens' home, whether Pooh would be x-rayed to find his inner music box, and Tony Blair's pronouncement that England would not be seeking "the return of Winnie the Pooh Bear." Her intelligence and passion for the subject transported us, as she shared the comical and tragic stories of authors and the children for whom they wrote.

And this is why we write: to entertain, to give joy, to enlighten children and ourselves. These wonderful speakers reminded us.

So how does it apply to writing? Simply this. We must feel. It's kind of does like to put it off. But it must be done. To feel is to be human. To feel is to communicate. To feel is to be a writer.


  1. And of course, we can't forget Naomi's wonderful theatrical performance that reminded us to allow ourselves to play on the page!

    And the extra gift we have (that some writers do not), is our wonderful community that gives us the opportunity to laugh, cry, contemplate--and play--together!

  2. Such wonderful thoughts, Kelly, and all so true. And the mystery that when we (I guess I ought to say I) write I don't always see the feeling. I think I'm writing about one intellectual thing and it turns out I'm writing about something completely emotion! But the question lingers for me, when is the right time to acknowledge those feelings? In the muddling middle? At the end? In revision? (Perhaps never)And then again, there's such freedom when one is done with that feeling in that book. I have to write more books to have an answer to that.

  3. Yes, Naomi's play (to play) was an awesome lesson (and experience) for all of us.

    And by all means, write more books, Molly:)

  4. Yes, therapy. Insight therapy. It's why I write. To find answers to questions that elude me no matter how hard I think or bang my head against the wall. But when I write stories... when I seek to discover what my character wants, how he or will get what he wants... Aha! Answers.

    The author's hidden treasure.