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Writing Is Good Therapy

Copyright Marilyn Henderson- All Rights Reserved


The doctor is in. Please be seated—at your computer!

I recently attended a meeting of a group designed to encourage people who were dealing with vision loss to tell their stories. They were basically non-writers, and their stories would eventually become part of a book to help those losing vision realize the obstacles of blindness can be overcome.

The group members were encouraged to write or tape the assignments the coordinator of the group gave each month.

Also as part of each session, the leader read an article or passage from a book to inspire them or at least help allay their fears about writing. That day, she read an article she had found on the Internet about how to write a memoir.

Fascinated, I listened to the author of the article recommend exactly the same things I had written in a critique of a novel the day before, advice I have given writers ever since I began teaching. Show, don't tell, weave in descriptions of people and places, write in the active voice, create emotions in the reader.

Listening to the article underscored the fact that all good writing is based on the same basic principles or techniques. If you think about that, you realize that we have been reading, viewing and listening to instructions on how to write a novel for most of our lives.

When we read the newspaper or a magazine, we create images of what is happening in the articles. If we read a how-to book on how to create origami decorations, we mentally fold a square of colored paper into a delightful bird. When we watch television or go to a movie theater, our vision and hearing transform the pictures into real situations so our stomachs lurch when the car we seem to be driving careers down a twisting mountain road.

Why then are those techniques difficult for many writers to master? It may well be that we believe that because we want to do something we haven't done before, we must learn new techniques that work for writing a novel.

Actually, all we need to do is apply something already embedded in our subconscious minds to a conscious approach to our new venture. That's an over-simplification, but it can be helpful nevertheless.

Depending on how well you can visualize, create your own mental picture of the scene first.

Practice by Taking time every day to notice details, colors, sounds, Smells like the dust or rain pounding on a hot sidewalk.

Then picture yourself in the time and place of the most frightening moments you can recall. How did your body feel?

Muscles tense? Nausea in the pit of your stomach? Cold sweat on your forehead? Write the scene you just visualized.

Now do the same with the happiest time you can remember. See the place and situation and people. Feel your smile and laughter, excitement or pride.

These little exercises will show you how quickly you can write scenes that make your fiction show instead of tell and come alive for the reader.

And when you clap your hands with delight and laugh because that tough, hard-to-reach goal was something you knew all along, write that scene, too, and put it in your notebook so it's handy when you write your own memoir.

Happy writing.



Marilyn Henderson, 42-year novelist, coach and mss critic



         Last updated: February 19, 2007