You have a story to tell, whether you think you can write or not

Every one of us is a writer. Take me. These days, I’m a blogger who is also working on a serious book project. But for years about all the writing I did was counseling notes after sessions with my clients, my annual Christmas letter, grocery lists, and the occasional journal entry when I had a sticky problem to figure out. I got good feedback on the Christmas letter, but my other writing never saw the light of day. Yet I had dreams.

I could tell I was inching toward them when my counseling notes started to take on a literary flair. I noticed it one night after a difficult marital session when I wrote that the husband was “bloodless.” What does that even mean, I wondered, while crossing it out? I looked it up: it means spiritless; without vigor, zest, or energy: without emotion or feeling; cold-hearted. Well, I was right on the money, but I replaced it with words that were more counseling-friendly.

My writerly self was waking up after a long slumber. I’d been an English major, and had a couple of things published early before I took up with my counseling. Then I got wrapped up in life and career.

My friend Joann said that she couldn’t write – never could, never would now that she didn’t have to. She just couldn’t get it to sound good, she said. I proposed having a writing night at my house for our group of friends, led by a writer friend who teaches memoir. We would each leave with a mini-memoir, a little snatch of our personal history.

“No way, said Joann, “I’d have to share and I’d die of embarrassment.” This from a very funny woman who told a great story out loud.

Well, I have news for her and everyone else. We are all writers, and each of us writes from a vantage point that no one else can reach. In a voice that no one else can find.

A couple of years ago, I sat in on a very special writing night held for women who were healing from years of domestic abuse, when our leader, an experienced writing teacher, teased out from each participant what her history as a writer had been. We learned that around the table we had a songwriter, a poet, several journal-writers, a letter-writer back to family miles away, and more. Some had not written in years until that night. The pieces were stunning, and only slightly less impressive than the courage it took to share them.

As we told them, grown up writing has nothing to do with grammar, punctuation, and pleasing others. It has to do with telling your own story from your own heart.

Just this week came further encouragement to do so in the form of a New York Times piece that shares research about the power in writing of your own personal story. The author quotes my favorite academic of all time James Pennebaker on how expressive writing (that includes both events and feelings about them) can become a “life course correction.”

So, even if you are not usually a writer, do yourself a favor and write about a little moment in your life that showed you something that mattered. And then go right ahead and put it in a drawer like I did for all those years. Even if it stays there, it will have done you some good to express the thoughts and feelings contained in that moment. Once it’s on the page, you can never have quite the same relationship with the event again, as it becomes part of your present too where your current mature self can contemplate it. As Pennebaker contends, it has great power.

You might even decide to take it out of the drawer and share it with certain people who would care to read it so that they can learn what it has to offer too. Either way, you will be reminded that you are a writer too, and have a story that no one else can tell.


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