"Writing as a Way of Healing" (DeSalvo)
Have you ever considered writing your story or stories? Or perhaps thought that what happened (or is happening) to you needs expression… if only you could write. But as a would-be writer you find one reason after another not to write: I’m not good enough, I don’t have time to write, I can’t tell my story because… (insert reasons here). If so, find a copy of Louise DeSalvo’s, Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives (Harper, 1999), read the book—and try not to begin to write. Odds are strong you will write.
I read a lot of books about writers, their memoirs and/or their practice of writing—how do they go about their work, what are their writing habits, and what advice do they give to those of us following behind them? I find their stories to be refreshing after a spending my own morning trying to put one word after another. And it’s also good for me to read something well-written while I am trying to write. Consequently, over the past few years I’ve read Stephen King, On Writing (at least three time), Anne Dillard, The Writing Life, Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life, Pat Schneider, How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice, Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, and again from DeSalvo, The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity (2014).
If you are a writer or aspire to write, I would recommend any of these books. But since Writing as a Way of Healing has had my attention for the past two or three weeks, here I’ll also give my attention to this book. To begin, DeSalvo is not a faith healer or claiming that our physical problems will be solved by writing. Rather, writing will help us deal with the pain (emotional or physical) in such a way that we can find a new, healthier perspective, speak truth and resolve grievances (e.g., regarding abuse), and in some way, help our own readers in the processes of helping ourselves. The material for the book comes from her own reading, especially Virginia Woolf, Flannery O’Connor, and James Pennebaker, as well as her years of experience teaching university courses and workshops on writing (i.e., writing memoir). I was surprised to learn how many well-known authors struggled or struggle with their health (e.g., lupus, deep depression, pain, cancer) and even more surprised to find out how many authors had “saved themselves” through writing. Some saved themselves from suicide, some through reconciliation to parents, and many saved themselves from a life that suppressed its most important, life-shaping events. After giving many illustrations of these benefits, the primary theme of DeSalvo’s work is we too can achieve these results.
Writing as a Way of Healing is delightfully readable. DeSalvo tells one story after another to establish her ideas and to illustrate how writers have practiced what she recommends. The only problem I had with the book was not gorging myself by reading too much at once. Writing as a Way of Healing is best consumed in bite size portions from day to day, digesting as much as we can handle, following DeSalvo’s instructions through “What can you do now?” paragraphs at the end of each major idea, and then returning to the table when we are hungry again. So, for writers (and most pastors are writers to one degree or another), I’d encourage you to read what our best authors have to say about the craft to improve your writing and your teaching/preaching—and I would certainly include DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Life in this elite group.
Reporting from the mountains, Glenn