7 Ways Writing Can Be Therapeutic

therapeutic

© Diana Stevan – My Writing Desk

After being away in New York, I am slowly getting back into my writing mode.

Writing revives me. If I don’t write, I feel as though something is missing. Writing is also very therapeutic.

Over the years, I have filled many journals with my private thoughts and feelings. One of these days I’ll have to go back and see what I wrote.

I thought I would re-publish a post  (now slightly edited) that I did on  C. S. Laikin’s LIVE, WRITE, THRIVE.

My Background

I discovered how therapeutic writing can be during my twenty-five years as a family therapist. During that time, I guided individuals, couples, and families and helped them deal with the pain that brought them into my office. I’ve seen my share of personal problems: mental illness, addictions, post-traumatic stress, domestic and sexual abuse, family and marital breakdown. I know that being normal means carrying both good and ugly feelings inside.

We humans have a lot to contend with during our life’s journey. Each one is unique. And sometimes there’s nowhere to turn and no one to hear our story. And that’s where writing comes in.

Writing can be therapeutic when strong emotions trouble our mind. We can’t sleep, we can’t think straight, and we can’t get on with the joys of life.

Here are 7 ways writing can be therapeutic:

1. Straight Thinking

When you’ve been assaulted by someone’s words or deeds, writing down your feelings is a form of stepping back. Getting some emotional distance.

therapeutic

© Diana Stevan – My Journals

By writing down your overwhelming feelings, those hurtful thoughts, the fear, the anger, the words that can get you into further trouble if spoken out loud, you can think more clearly about the steps you need to take.

Writing down feelings and experiences can do much to alleviate the pain. Not that writing is a substitute for therapy but it’s one way of getting the “garbage” out. It’s not unlike keeping a diary or a journal.

2. Sleeping Better

Going to sleep with troubles on your mind is certain to give you a restless night. Keeping a notepad by your bed gives you the opportunity to write down whatever is troubling you—before you fall asleep or even if you wake up in the middle of the night—so you can address it in the morning.

In this way, while you sleep, you’re keeping your worries off your mind. At least for a few hours. Sweet dreams!

3. Making Sense of Dreams

Have you woken up wondering why you dreamt what you dreamt? Whether it’s a nice but confusing dream or a nightmare?

By writing it down, you can begin to put the pieces together. Often what we dream is what is most pressing to us. By writing it down, we bring our unconscious to the surface. I love that about dreams; it’s another resource in life’s toolbox.

4. Dealing with Unfinished Business

How often have people left our lives—through death, dementia, or divorce or any other way—and we find we’re frustrated and sad because we didn’t get the chance to let them know how we felt when they were with us?

Writing a letter to your departed mother, father, child, or anyone else who was important to you is a way of discharging those frustrating feelings. Writing down what you couldn’t say when they were with you soothes the heart and softens the hurt.

I remember when my dad passed away. I wasn’t there when he died, and I needed to write him and apologize. It wasn’t the same as being there, but it did give me some relief.

5. Minimizing Conflict with Difficult People

As we go through life, we can encounter difficult people from time to time. They might be members of our own families or just acquaintances—these people who don’t listen or for whatever reason can’t hear what we’re saying. It can be infuriating, especially when they are people we love, people who bring us joy but also incredible pain by their actions and words.

Rather than confront them directly, which can lead to escalating arguments and possibly outright rejection, it helps to step back.

You can’t talk to anyone who is emotionally upset—so worked up that all they want to do is get their point across. Sometimes it’s better not to add fuel to the fire by arguing. Better to leave before the problem gets worse and write down afterward what you wanted to say but knew in your heart you couldn’t deliver.

Writing allows you to express yourself on paper and avoid a confrontation that doesn’t serve anyone, least of all yourself. It can prevent the situation from festering like an untended wound.

6. Healing Old Wounds

I find writing fiction very therapeutic; it can heal old wounds. There’s something about letting out your thoughts and feelings on the page and giving them to your characters, especially ones that are troubling.

Say you’ve had a difficult experience, and it’s still sitting in your craw. You can write it into a story or a poem or a song and discharge it that way.

therapeuticI found writing my last novel, THE RUBBER FENCE, cathartic. It was inspired by a work experience I had on a psychiatric ward. It was a challenging job that didn’t go as I expected, and I met with considerable opposition.

I left after nine months, but the system I worked in and the feelings I had stayed with me. I got rid of those troubling thoughts by giving them to my protagonist, a psychiatric intern. Though I wrote a fictional story, writing it was like wiping my hands off the hurt and disappointment that was weighing me down.

So, joy of joys, I used what I learned from that tough time and wrote a book and a screenplay, and at the same time got some relief.

7. Paving the Way to Better Relationships

All of us have had those times when a relationship has soured. And it’s not because either you or the other party are difficult by nature. It’s just life. Misunderstandings crop up.

Writing can help you prepare what you want to say to improve the relationship, whether it’s with someone at home or at work or elsewhere. Sometimes in arguments, what is hoped for gets lost. It gets lost because one or both of the parties involved is too busy blaming and not listening.

If you can write your feelings down, and then edit them so that you can express what you want to without blame, you’ll have a greater chance of being heard.

Rehearsing those written words, keeping to the script, can help you deliver a coherent story.

How about you? Do you find writing therapeutic? In what ways?

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Rei Kawakubo Gets You Thinking Outside The Box

Rei Kawakubo

Order / Chaos

I had never heard of the Tokyo-based designer,  Rei Kawakubo, whose work is on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Checking out any gallery of note is often what I do when I travel. Viewing art is one way of shaking up what is routine and expected. It makes room for new ideas and thoughts.

If you’ve been following my Facebook Author page, you’ll know that my husband, Robert, and I were recently in New York. It’s my sixth time there and each time I go, I uncover more layers in this amazing place, like what’s on display at ‘The Met’.

As an aside, and as many of my readers know, my debut novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP, is partly set in Manhattan, and this time, I relished going to the places that my protagonist, Catherine Fitzgerald, visited before she headed to Ireland to cover the hunt for one of the lost ships of the Spanish Armada. Manhattan is a place she loves but can longer live in for various reasons. In case you’re wondering, Catherine does not go to ‘The Met’. Maybe I’ll have her visit in a sequel. 🙂

Rei Kawakubo Shakes Up Old Perceptions

Rei Kawakubo

Good Taste / Bad Taste (by Rei Kawakubo)

But I digress. What got me thinking outside the box this time was an art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rei Kawakubo artfully installed many mannequins dressed in ways that are hard to describe and yet they make a statement that she describes as “In-betweenness”.  Is it the in-between, where we find that creative spark? The spark that ignites expression in a unique fashion.

I was particularly drawn to this exhibit not only because of its esthetics but also because I used to be a professional model. I modelled everything from inexpensive catalogue items for Eaton’s of Canada (think Macy’s) to haute couture for the travelling shows from Paris.

Rei Kawakubo

Fact / Fiction (by Rei Kawakubo)

So, fashion continues to be of interest to me even today, when many of the new designs no longer work for an older woman. Though they don’t work, I can still admire them on the young. This exhibit presented outfits that stirred my imagination. It was theatrical to say the least.

Rei Kawakubo questions fashion–what it says and what it doesn’t. The handout that was provided by the Metropolitan Museum of Art gave an overview of what she was trying to say with her work. “These …ensembles…reflect Kawakubo’s enduring preoccupation with blurring the boundaries between body and dress. Visitors are encouraged, however, to forge their own paths and experience the exhibition as a voyage of discovery.”

So Many Possibilities

Rei Kawakubo

Child / Adult (by Rei Kawakubo)

And discover I did. Rather than foist my thoughts on yours, I wonder what you see when you view these images. There are endless possibilities when we think outside the box, whether it’s through our writing, filmmaking, painting, dancing, theatre, or music. Or through what we wear and how we wear it. Design allows us to make a mark, for design is a mental plan, which again is what we do before we create and it’s also what we do when we execute what is on our minds.

Now that I’m back home, I’m itching to get going on all the writing projects I have in mind. Seeing this exhibition has freed me up that much more.

And What About You?

What helps you think outside the box? Is it travel? A piece of music? A book by another writer? A   painting? Or simply an overheard conversation? All comments are appreciated.

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Desert X’s Installation Art Inspires This Writer

As a writer, I’m always looking for new inspiration, and found it at Desert X, an installation art exhibit in the Palm Springs area, where my husband Robert and I recently spent a few weeks. Internationally renowned installation artists had set up their work for the public’s enjoyment and study. We weren’t able to get to all the sites, but here are a few that made an impression.

Mirage by Doug Aitken

installation art

© Photo by Diana Stevan

installation art

© Photo by Diana Stevan

This installation, set in the desert, was the most outstanding and the one most visited by tourists and locals alike. Though the Desert X exhibition formally ends at the end of May, this one will remain until the end of October.

Doug Aitken’s design is basically a bungalow covered in mirrors inside and out. What struck me as I ventured into the building behind many others was the odd feeling of seeing myself in nature.

The contrast between nature and what man has built is striking. Nature is not solid and unbending like a house.  As well, in nature man does not see himself when he takes in a view or a photo of a flower or a landscape.

installation art

© Photo by Diana Stevan

But at this installation, I felt the artist was asking us to consider our place in nature. How do we fit in? Are we so absorbed with ourselves that we don’t see the beauty around us? We don’t see the fragile nature of our planet; how much it depends on us.

There is much to ponder here, as we consider the environment around us.

The Circle of Land and Sky by Phillip K. Smith III

installation art

© Photo by Diana Stevan

Robert and I were fortunate to find the artist on site when we visited this extraordinary offering. Phillip K. Smith III had erected vertical mirrors (yes, mirrors played a part here as well) in a circle like Stonehenge. Each one of 300 vertical columns was taller than any man and positioned at a 10 degree angle. We saw it in the evening when there was a full moon.

installation art

© Photo by Diana Stevan

A good number of visitors had brought lawn chairs and were seated within the circle. The artist said that he had constructed it in hopes of stimulating a conversation and encouraging a gathering.

Given the fact that so many today are glued to their cell phones or tablets when they are out in restaurants or standing in line at a movie, his statement seemed more than appropriate.

installation art

© Photo by Diana Stevan

How did we get to this point where people find it more interesting to stare at a small screen than have a conversation with their families or friends? Yes, they chat on Snapchat, over Facebook, Twitter and the like, but it’s not face to face conversation. Are they really seeing who is in their circle of life?

Curves and Zigzags by Claudia Comte

installation art

© Photo by Diana Stevan

installation art

© Photo by Diana Stevan

Claudia Comte’s freestanding wall in the desert gives the illusion that it’s straighter than it is. It appears differently depending on what angle it is viewed.

It reminds me again of how true it is that we don’t always see what there is to see. Or what we see is different from what others see. It all depends on our point of view. And as a result, we come up with a different understanding. That is the beauty of art.  There is no one way of looking at things.

As I’m writing about Comte’s work, I’m thinking of what’s going on right now in Washington. Each news station is trying to make sense of the daily mixed messages out of the White House. If you are a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian or a combination of any of these or something else, you will view what is being said and what is being shown differently. Because of your viewpoint, you will interpret what you see and hear in your own way.

installation art

© Photo by Diana Stevan

The curves and zigzags of the artist’s wall also reminded me of what heat waves look like. I’ve seen their undulating curves above the ground on a very hot day.

What About You?

After seeing these wonderful installations, I was inspired to write and tell my stories, to reflect back what I see and understand.

Does installation art, or any other art for that matter, inspire you? Inspire you to consider your perspective when you write? Thoughts and comments are always appreciated.

 

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Upcoming Events in Campbell River and Vancouver’s North Shore

Now that I’m back from our trip to California (photos to follow soon), I’m gearing up for a few upcoming events. One is at the end of this month and two are in early May.

Authors for Indie Day

upcoming eventsFirst up is Authors for Indie Day at Coho Books in Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Saturday, April 29, 12-2 pm.

Coho Books is an independent bookstore that supports local authors and caters to the needs of the community. Lois and Jane, co-owners, have done a great job of stocking books that readers love.

On this day, right across Canada, authors are appearing in indie bookstores to support these booksellers who are brave to be competing in a marketplace where so many readers buy online.

There is nothing like going into a bricks and mortar bookstore and picking up a novel or a non-fiction, reading the back cover and maybe the first page to see if it appeals or not. Plus, if you’re stuck, indie booksellers can advise you on what to pick that you’ll enjoy reading. Or recommend a book as a gift for someone you care about.

If you’re in Courtenay, you can also find my books in Indie bookstore, The Laughing Oyster Bookshop where Evelyn and her staff are sure to help you out.

Free Novel Writing Workshop

Then, I’ll be giving a Novel Writing Workshop at the main branch of the North Vancouver upcoming eventsLibrary, Wednesday, May 3, 7-8:30 pm. I was supposed to do it in February, but there was a storm so we had to postpone it.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned along the way. I’ll be giving special attention to character and setting and looking at what other authors have done as well. Those who’ve written classics and those who’ve penned contemporary bestsellers.

There will also be an opportunity to do some writing exercises.

To sign-up you can CLICK HERE. This is a FREE workshop.

Book Signing At Chapters Indigo

upcoming events

My Novels at Chapters Indigo

And I’m doing a Book Signing at Chapters Indigo, Park Royal Shopping Mall, West Vancouver on Saturday, May 6, 12-2 pm.

I’ll be signing both novels, A Cry From The Deep and The Rubber Fence. I love meeting readers. It’s a pleasure I hadn’t anticipated when I first began writing.

If you can’t make it in then, there are some signed novels available at the bookstore in Park Royal mall, and in Coles, in Courtenay, Driftwood Mall, a store that’s part of the Chapters Indigo chain.

Next post, I’ll be showing what inspired me artistically and in my writing while I was away on our trip down south. And for those who’ve signed up for my Book News (see sidebar), I will be sending out the next chapter of Along Came A Gardener within the next week or two.

Have a great spring!

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A Writer Takes Stock In February

writerAs a writer, I’ve enjoyed February so far, even though the early weeks brought some disappointment. It was a rough winter by Pacific Coast standards. We normally get little snow, but this year the big snow dumps did some damage. We were lucky though to get away with just a few broken branches and a bent-over global cedar that may straighten up with time. Now the snow in town is mostly gone and our crocuses are budding.

A WRITER’S DISAPPOINTMENTS

Tough winter conditions also meant that I had to miss two book events: one in North Vancouver, the other, in Canmore, Alberta.

I was scheduled to give a novel writing workshop at the main branch of the North Vancouver Library; I had 46 writers sign up, but we had to cancel due to a red alert storm warning.

And the next day, Rob and I were going to drive from West Vancouver, where we have an apartment, to Canmore, Alberta for our good friends’ son’s wedding. This time we got highway alerts. The road out of the city was icy, therefore hazardous. Of the two main highways to Alberta, one was an ice-covered mountain highway with steep ascents, and the other, also mountainous (crossing the Rockies), was closed due to an avalanche. So we had to cancel our plans, which included a book signing at Café Ltd, a cute bookstore/coffee shop in Canmore.

A FEW BRIGHT LIGHTS

But going forward, life looks brighter.

writer

Being interviewed by Pat Redhead at CFUW luncheon. Author Betty Annard at far right.

On Feb. 21st, I read from my novel A CRY FROM THE DEEP at the Comox valley branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women’s luncheon. I also talked about my second novel, THE RUBBER FENCE.

There were three other lovely authors, who also read from their works: Betty Annand, author of THE GIRL FROM OLD NICHOL, Katherine Gibson, author of TED HARRISON: PAINTING PARADISE, and Florence Kaeffer, author of BACK TO THE RED ROAD-A Story of Redemption and Love.

The other authors were so inspiring, especially Betty Annand, who turns 90 soon. THE GIRL FROM OLD NICHOL is her first novel, beautifully written. She’s also planning on another this October. I figure if she can do it, then I have quite a few books left in me.

My novel writing workshop has been re-scheduled for Wednesday, May 3rd. So any writer wishing to attend needs to register at the North Vancouver Library website. Hope to see you there. 

writer

 

ON STORE BOOKSHELVES

I got my books into two Chapters Indigo locations. My novels are online nationally in that Canadian bookstore chain, but it’s a challenge for any indie writer to get their works onto bookshelves. Now Coles (part of Chapters Indigo) in the Driftwood Mall in Courtenay and the one in Park Royal, West Vancouver have my signed books in their stores.

On Coles Bookshelf

WRITING AGAIN

I’m back to writing again after a long break. Working on some short stories and will soon tackle the next chapter in ALONG CAME A GARDENER. If you haven’t signed up to get your FREE chapter, you can sign up here. 

And I’ve polished up Lukia, the true life fictional story about my grandmother in the years 1915-1929, set in what is now western Ukraine. I’m currently pitching it to agents in the U.K. and Canada. We’ll see if there’s a good match and if not, I’ll publish it under my own imprint, Island House Publishing.

Hope you’re all having a great month. Would love to hear how your February is shaping up.

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