5 Ways Writing to Heal Helped Me Grow
The Writing to Heal Immersive is an immersive program designed to give nonfiction students a deep dive into how the writing process can serve as a healing tool for adversity. We are now accepting applications for the 2022 - 2023 immersive. Apply here by Monday, August 1st at 11:59pm ET. Fellowships are available!
Writing a story about your own life is a form of narrative medicine, one that facilitates the process of storytelling as beautiful, healing art. Yet it can also be daunting – delving deeply into your life and creating a story is no small task. For me, GrubStreet’s Writing to Heal Immersive, taught by Jennifer Crystal, provided the community and the skills I needed to shape a healing narrative out of my life experiences and shift my mindset to looking at life as art. Looking back at my experience in Writing to Heal, I’ve found several ways the program helped me grow as a writer and as a human being.
I will admit, I was a little nervous starting out the program. Questions like “What will I write about? What will people think of me? Can I really write about that moment?” rang in my head. Yet through my experience in Jennifer’s class, I learned to ask instead, “How can I be kind to myself while also revising something I’ve written? What craft techniques can I use to turn my story into art?”
The harmony that came to me as a writer from this class is immeasurably valuable, and truly helped me tell a more streamlined narrative, incorporate workshop feedback, and, most importantly, feel more comfortable with myself as a writer, storyteller, and artist. Committing to an intensive workshop class spanning several months is certainly not a small endeavor, but participating in this workshop class allowed, for me, an abundance of personal growth. Here are five ways Writing to Heal helped me grow:
1. Examining Life Experiences As Art
Have you ever felt like you have a story to tell, but it’s maybe too…personal? Much too focused on something sensitive, traumatic, or just plain difficult to tell? Or a story that perhaps shows others in your life in a less-than-pleasant way? Sometimes the hardest part of storytelling is simply just giving yourself permission to tell it. And that’s exactly why taking Writing to Heal felt like an opening of the closed doors in my mind. One of the first class discussions we had was focused on how to take ownership of your life experiences – practicing giving yourself permission to tell a story that’s happened to you.
Giving myself permission to write about my life with no filters really became one of the biggest tools I needed to start looking at my own nonfiction narratives as art. While Writing to Heal is not necessarily meant as a therapeutic tool, it gave me the artistic lens I needed to craft creative nonfiction stories that could examine important themes in my life and, rather than ruminating on trauma, tell a story about it. Looking back at people and events in my life not just as stagnant moments in time, but as elements of a story, helped me grow into a relationship with myself as an artist and my life as a story. Taking the first step just to say, “Oh, okay, yes, I can write about this” felt incredibly powerful, not only in my personal healing journey but also in my journey as an artist. Letting myself feel I’ve written something beautiful and powerful is incredible, especially when the writing stems from traumatic events I’ve often wished hadn’t happened to me. Once I’d given myself permission to write, I by default had permission to think of myself as a writer – and thus an artist.
2. Revising My Work While Practicing Self-Care
Sharing your writing requires a great deal of trust, and the opportunity to build a writing community based in the creation of story-telling art and healing was immeasurably valuable. Writing can often feel like a solitary, isolated practice. However, the privilege of having a workshop and group of students all focusing on writing healing narratives meant that I felt supported, and was also able to examine what self-care really meant, and how best to practice it. Having multiple workshop options and the flexibility to choose the best workshop for me and where I am in my story was really beneficial in creating art and being kind to myself. For example, we were encouraged to write about where we were in the writing process, set boundaries for workshop comments, and practice writing process journals about the writing process itself. Receiving feedback on my writing and process journals made me really look at what I had written and how it felt to write it, and often opened up opportunities to write about something I hadn’t even realized would be important in my story.
As the class followed a three-sectioned curriculum – including generating, deepening, and revising – I felt I was able to learn more about myself and my writing habits, while also having accountability groups with my peers and the community I needed to write words I felt proud of.
I’ll be honest: it can be incredibly difficult to revise work. We were encouraged to write out self-care lists, and to remember that, in the end, we as writers were the only ones with agency over our own stories. Practices like saving old drafts, asking for specific feedback, and deciding whether or not workshop feedback was beneficial to the particular draft I was writing helped me to continue to feel I’d written a meaningful story and that I had the tools I needed to continue to write.
3. Growing as a Reader by Giving Feedback and Revision to Classmates
While of course getting feedback on your work is beneficial to revision; workshopping, reading, and commenting on my classmates’ work was a beautiful opportunity to grow my skills as a writer. Being in a class of many other talented writers, all hoping to share their stories and find personal healing, was, for me, the best part of Writing to Heal. Knowing that you’re commenting on work that often touches on painful moments in the writer’s life meant that establishing guidelines based on kindness and professional feedback were essential, and being able to examine and establish my own boundaries around the kind of feedback I needed for my work further allowed agency in storytelling. Moreover, looking at the ways my classmates shaped their own craft, and knowing that my influence was heard in their stories, was powerful.
Keeping in mind that sharing one's story requires a great deal of trust, providing feedback to other writers feels like an effort made in maintaining that trust, the relationship to those in your community, and a sense of collective effort to the creation of healing art. We also had the opportunity to practice boundary-setting, and asking for feedback that we as writers found individually beneficial. This was a particularly good exercise in self-reflection, as it allowed us to delve deeply into the kind of feedback we wanted for our projects, and to maintain agency and authorship of our stories while also allowing other voices to broaden the scope. Knowing that my feedback was going to be taken seriously – and that it was a part of another writer’s healing and writing process – made me very cautious about my word choice and helped me grow my communication skills.
4. Learning About Publication Opportunities
Whether you’re coming into Writing to Heal with a dream of writing for yourself or with a publication goal in mind, there are abundant resources for looking at the publication process. Our talks with published authors who visited our virtual classroom were helpful and informative. I learned about the process of publishing, revising, finding an agent, writing a query letter, staying in a community of other writers all hoping to tell a story, and finding the tools needed to put our stories in the hands of a wider audience. We also learned how to have compassion for ourselves when working through various drafts of stories, while keeping in mind that a rejection from an agent or literary journal may just mean that our story is not a good fit – a sign to examine how we can find a good market fit for our story.
These tools were helpful for me personally, in that after getting a couple of personalized rejection letters, a short essay I wrote as an in-class prompt was published in a small literary journal. The encouragement from Jennifer and my classmates was the first gentle push I needed to really feel that I had written something of publishable quality. It gave me the bravery I needed to find the right market fit for my writing. I found out in Writing to Heal that it feels far more feasible to conceptualize publishing my own writing when I know I’m supported by a community of writers.
5. Delving Deeply into Craft Practices
We read. And read and read and read. Each week, we followed a very structured curriculum, first discussing the readings and the craft practices we had learned about. We then would look at these craft practices and practice applying them to our own work. This exercise, for me, was incredibly helpful in cultivating awareness. For example, while I very much enjoy free-writing and seeing where a pen and paper can take me, it’s also helpful to know that I have a basket of tricks I can pull out of my sleeve in order to help get the thoughts and stories in my head out on paper in the most effective way possible. Some tactics we discussed involved using repetition, varying sentence length to demonstrate chaos or tranquility, and narrative arcs that utilize themes and consistency. While of course an intensive writing class does come with a lot of readings, which take some time to schedule into a busy life, the readings helped me grow my own skills, and gave me a basis for studying craft elements to practice in my own writing. Having a set theme each week also helped me focus my skills, and gave me more structured writing practice.
Overall, I know I grew tremendously as a writer, and also in my own individual relationship to writing as art. I know I’m looking forward to reading my fellow classmate’s published essays, and looking forward to existing in a world that has more healing writing in it. For me, the Writing to Heal Immersive helped me grow in so many ways, and I’m excited to see how I will be able to continue to grow from the foundation this class set for me.
Applications for the 2022-23 Writing to Heal Immersive are now open until Monday, August 1st at 11:59pm ET. Learn more about the program and how to apply here.