This past weekend I attended a conference in Atlanta — the Wellness and Writing Connections Conference. My dear friend and colleague, Julie Davey also the author of Writing For Wellness (a fabulous book) was the keynote speaker. I conducted a workshop entitled, “The Healing Notebook.” It’s the second year I have taught this workshop and the crowd is always very enthusiastic and includes writers, therapists, and clinicians. The premise of my workshop is to discuss not only the healing power of words, but how regular notebook-writing can empower us. Recent studies have shown that writing down your feelings can help you come to terms with difficult situations. The good thing is that there are no rules to the healing notebook. You can dictate your own method and do at your own pace. By doing this you will gain control of your life.
Quite a few writers have used their notebooks as a way to heal and they have also gone on to publish their work, including Walt Whitman, Andre Lorde, May Sarton, Hilda Raz, Donald Hall, Elizabeth Berg, Jane Kenyon, Isabel Allende and my favorite diarist, Anaïs Nin who began her first journal as a letter to her estranged father who left the family when she was ten years old. Writing that letter was her way of healing from the pain of losing him. Since that day, Nin became an avid diarist and today has numerous published volumes.
I am also a big advocate of letter writing in the notebook and novelist Isabel Allende began her writing career by writing a letter to her grandfather when he was nearly 100 years old. At the time he was dying in Chile where her novel House of Spirits was set. She admits that in many ways, writing that novel saved her life.
The Healing Notebook has numerous benefits including: it’s a place to capture and record memories, a place to clear the mind, a place to build self-confidence, a place to empower and a place to witness the healing process. I always suggest using proper tools—that is, a notebook and pen which inspires and resonates with you. You want to be motivated to use your journal. I suggest starting with free-writing first thing in the morning, with 15-20 minutes and increasing the time as needed. Basically, this is writing without lifting your pen off the page and seeing where your mind goes. Begin by writing about an experience which has deeply affected your life or which has obsessed you for quite some time.
In general, my only suggestion is that when you sit down to write, you should write as long as you like, but if the pain gets too great, it is probably a good idea to stop. This would be an appropriate time to take a break and do something different like walking or some other form of exercise. The best part about keeping a healing notebook is the ability to turn a negative into a positive and what can be so bad about that?