Writing as Therapy


“I write because I have to.” How many times have you heard that phrase? It always amazes me when non-writer/non-artsy friends ask me to explain what it means. They don’t understand that once a story starts talking to you, once you open the door when it knocks, there is no sending it away. Its characters make themselves at home. They unpack for a long, long stay and unless you, the writer, don’t start taking their words out of your brain and putting them onto a blank page, well there is no telling what they will do. But rest assured, they will not only unpack, they will mess up your brain/home.  They will be like that moldy piece of cheese in the fridge; the smell you know shouldn’t be there, yet it takes you six months to find it. So I write, I write in notebooks, on scraps of paper, I type tiny words on a virtual sticky note in my phone, I have even written on tissue paper, anything to capture the thought or words before they fly out of my middle-aged brain. I speak of writing fiction, but there are so many other ways writing has shaped my life, yes I understand all too well, “I write because I have to.”

So what about those friends of mine who don’t understand? What do they do with the stories I know must be echoing in their brain? What do they do, when they have no creative way—writing, painting, music, film, etc.—of letting those stories loose into the world, stories that want to live and breathe? As I said, I’m not talking just fiction here; I’m talking any type of writing or creative outlet. I asked a friend once what she did and her response was, “It’s called therapy. I just don’t have a single creative gene, so my therapist gets all my sad, happy, twisted stories.” Her therapist? I know this woman’s stories and all I can say is, her therapist must look forward to her sessions.

I started writing poetry as a teenager. Even now most of my short stories begin as a poem.  Many a spiral bound notebook cringed under the morose, angst riddled poetry of my youth. I know many teenage girls suffered this same affliction.  I often wonder where those words would have taken me, if I had not let them loose upon the page and instead allowed them to settle into my brain for a permanent stay? That thought led me to an idea, presented to my children when we had eight under one roof —five teenagers at the time—seven of them girls.  I tried in vain to encourage them at every turn to pick up a pen and paper and write their feelings.  As our home filled to overflowing with teenage hormones/testosterone I implemented my plan. It alleviated—as much as possible—the slamming of many a door and the resultant high-pitched voices that inevitably ensue after such an event.  My children and I agreed, if we had anything to discuss that was just too hard face-to-face, we could write a note. The recipient of the note would in turn be allowed to respond in kind. The matter would only be discussed verbally if both parties agreed. Well let me just say many a note was exchanged, over the years. Some were tear-stained explaining skipping school, or to soften my disappointment over a bad report card soon to come, but there were also notes filled with love and encouragement. When the computer age hit, I started receiving emails asking for permission regarding tattoos and piercings, introductions of boyfriends/girlfriends or simply to share future dreams. Don’t misunderstand, there were many long, face-to-face talks as well, but the notes paved the way for most of those conversations.  My children, now adults may not be fiction writers—well one is actually a published writer, sorry, motherly pride rules—but they do understand the importance of writing, of emptying your brain upon a page to sort out feelings and sometimes, yes sometimes a great story comes with the process.

“I write because I have to.”  Yes, I do. I also write because therapy is way too expensive. Don’t get me wrong; I have spent many an hour on the couch. I personally think everyone can benefit from such counsel. But every time I was asked, ‘How does that make you feel?’ I wanted to yank the pen from her hand, grab her legal pad and start writing, writing how it made me feel and turn it into a story, a wonderful fictional story, peppered with how I feel.

“I write because I have to. Why do you write?”


6 thoughts on “Writing as Therapy

  1. Yes! Thank you Cheryl. That is very moving. I also wrote and recieved letters from my father during a time of difficulty. He didnt talk much, but hthose few letters still reverbrate in my psyche far more than if they had been spoken. Every time I writie a story, I am more of myself than I was before.

    • Thanks Cindy, it is so wonderful to be able to go back and read those words isn’t it? I can’t tell you how much fun, tears and laughter, I had going through my boxes of notes from the kids. There are tons from Elisa that I’m going to try and compile into a diary someday.

  2. I started with poetry, too. “Free” verse — what a concept that was for me, when I first encountered it. A sanctuary. No one could get me there.
    Junichiro Tanizaki said the same thing, that his characters moved in with him, and he had to finish the story to get them to leave.
    Great post, Cheryl.

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