Therapeutic Writing?

I went to work Tuesday morning and made it about as far as the office door before I broke down sobbing. I think I was about as shocked as my coworkers were. My Dad has been dead for almost six years already, so why would his birthday set me off now when it never did before? My friend and coworker Bryanna, my writing buddy, allowed me to lock myself her office until I could gain my composure again.

When I emerged, puffy-eyed and slightly horrified that I pulled this stunt at work, I sat down with Bry and told her about my confusion. “Why is this bothering me all of a sudden?” I asked. There are certainly potential triggers in my life. With college graduation and an engagement proposal looming on the horizon, I figured I was subconsciously thinking about all of the milestones my father was going to miss. But I’ve hit a ton of important milestones without him.

Bry had a very different idea of what the problem was. “You’ve been writing about him a lot lately. You said yourself that you weren’t allowed to grieve properly. All that writing is letting the grief bubble up.”

I’m going with her theory. Dad died when I was 16, but it’s only now at 22 that I’m able to write about him. I recently wrote a memoir piece about the day he died and how I felt seeing his lifeless body. I cried quite a bit throughout the writing and revision process, but that seemed normal. It was a depressing topic to begin with. I wrote a few poems about him recently too. For whatever reason, I was just compelled to keep writing about him.

Bry is right though; I never had the chance to really grieve. I had to be the emotional support for my mother and sister. I threw myself into work and school and my future, and I pushed down all of the emotions that might break me. Writing about those raw emotions that I suppressed opened the floodgates, and now I’m being forced to cope with all of the things I’ve been putting off for a more convenient time.

Just a few months ago I went to listen to Christa Parravani read from her memoir, Her, which is about coping with her sister’s death. During her Q&A session she said something that will probably forever stick with me: “Writing shouldn’t be therapeutic.” I agree. Good writing pulls up all of your demons. Those emotions translate into more memorable and poetic sentences, the kinds that stick with your reader and toy with their empathy. The act of finishing a piece like this  might bring some relief, but the writing process itself feels like an extremely emotional long-distance run. This run has left me exhausted and mentally drained, but tomorrow’s a new day and I’m gearing up for more.

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January Writing Outing

I have this pact with my friend and fellow writer Bry that we will have at least one serious writing session a month. We look forward to these sessions, because most of the time they are the only way that we can get some serious writing done. We sneak away to a local Starbucks or Panera with our laptops and just have at it. For the most part we don’t speak, except to ask an occasional question or look for a snippet of advice. We just sit and write, stopping only to take a sip of coffee or to stare out the window into nothingness with the hopes of finding inspiration on the street. We do this for three hours or so before we pack up and head back to the car, our conversation picking up from where it was left when we initially sat down to write.

I value these sessions more than anything else that pertains to writing. Sure, I stop every once in awhile to check Facebook, but I do more writing in those three hours together than I do for weeks at a time on my own. Today was our first outing of 2014, and I managed to do a significant amount of work on the memoir piece that I’m prepping for submission. In fact, I think that all I need to worry about now is a couple of small copy edits. I haven’t worked on this piece since early December, and I really needed a push to get moving on it again. I blame the “Holiday Hangover” for my sluggishness in joining reality and getting back to work.

Not every writer will make for a good writing buddy. Some people just want to sit and talk rather than write. But Bry and I have the perfect writing relationship in that we bond even over the silence. The best part is that we motivate each other to make the most of our few precious hours together, hours that may have very well been wasted on things that don’t really matter.