Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guidelines for Writing About Trauma

I guess my theme this week is writing to heal, possibly because I'm researching a workshop I'll be leading at a conference in Atlanta in October. To that end I uncovered another wonderful book, which I highly recommend. It's called Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, and it's written by Louise DeSalvo, Ph.D., a professor of English at Hunter College.

She provides a list of do's and don'ts for writing about trauma, which might be of use to some of you. Much of this material is an adaptation from James W. Pennebaker's Opening Up: The Healing Power of Confiding in Others (which I quoted in yesterday's post).

1. Write twenty minutes a day over a period of four days. Do this periodically. This way you won't feel overwhelmed.

2. Write in a private, safe, comfortable environment.

3. Write about issues you're currently living with, something you're thinking or dreaming about constantly, a trauma you've never disclosed or discussed or resolved.

4. Write about joys and pleasures too.

5. Write about what happened. Write, too, about feelings about what happened. What do you feel? Why do you feel this way? Link events with feelings.

6. Try to write an extremely detailed, organized, coherent, vivid, emotionally compelling narrative. Don't worry about correctness, about grammar or punctuation.

7. Beneficial effects will occur even if no one reads your writing. If you choose to keep your writing and not discard it, you must safeguard it.

8. Expect, initially, that in writing in this way you will have complex and appropriately difficult feelings. Make sure you get support if you need it.

On the second side of my note card, I wrote a set of warnings I'd gleaned from Pennebaker.

1. Don't use writing as a substitute for taking action.

2. Don't become overly intellectual.

3. Don't use writing as a way of complaining. Use it, instead, to discover how and why you feel as you do. Simply complaining or venting will probably make you feel worse.

4. Don't use your writing to become overly self-absorbed. Over-analyzing everything is counterproductive.

5. Don't use writing as a substitute for therapy or medical care.


Coffee Table said...

you do have excellent timing, Susan. Thank you.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Sue,
Glad to know that!


Kass said...

I think these are good guidelines in general, trauma or not. Thanks for sharing these, Susan.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Kass,
Nice to hear from you. And, yes, I would agree they are good guidelines in general.