LifeJournal™ Newsletter – February 2004


LifeJournal: A place to hear yourself think.
This issue marks the third anniversary of the monthly LifeJournal newsletter! In the ongoing process of writing I am continuously learning more about journal writing from reading books and articles, from contact with journal writing experts, and from feedback from you, the subscriber. We hope you find reading the newsletter as enriching as we do in creating it. Please let all your journal writing friends and colleagues know about our newsletter. They can easily subscribe by going to

In the next month or two we will begin a new service to assist you in keeping your journal writing effort consistent: for a small fee we will send you an email regularly with a prompt or a quote to help you look more deeply into topics of your choosing. We have a survey online that we invite you to complete that would let us know more about your interests in using such a service.

To another year of writing!

Ruth Folit
Chronicles Software

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Book Review: Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo 
Interior images 
Tip: Assign at Least One Feeling Topic to Every Entry You Writet
End Quotes 
How to Purchase LifeJournal 


Book Review: Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo

Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo has been on my reading list for far too long. I’m not sure why I waited to read the book, but I’m glad that I finally did. The book is easy to read and filled with essential information for writers of all stripes: journalers, published authors, novice writers, and every kind of writer in between.

Here are a few excerpts near the beginning of DeSalvo’s book that give you a taste of her unique perspective:

“The metaphor I use more frequently is of writing as a “fixer.” As in photography, writing acts for me as a kind of fixer, like the chemical–the fixer–you use to stabilize the image. “Fixing things,” I sometimes call it.

“And it acts as another kind of “fixer,” with all its healing implications. I use my writing as a way of fixing things, of making them better, of healing myself. As a compasslike way of taking a “fix” on my life–to see where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going” (6,7).

“After twenty minutes of writing, though I was still sad, my feelings had undergone a subtle but real transformation. A baker friend of mine calls it feeling “yeasty”–alive and growing and changing. That’s what I often feel after I write. Yeasty” (8).

“This book is an invitation for you to use the simple act of writing as a way of reimagining who you are or remembering who you were. To use writing to discover and fulfill your deepest desire. To accept pain, fear, uncertainty, strife. But to find, too, a place of safety, security, serenity, and joyfulness. To claim your voice, to tell your story. And to share the gift of your work with others and, so, enrich and deepen our understanding of the human condition” (9).

Louise DeSalvo is professor of English and Creative Writing at Hunter College in New York. Ms. DeSalvo has worked with hundreds of students and she herself is an author of half a dozen books. One of Ms. DeSalvo’s primary themes is that in order to use writing as a way of healing–physically, emotionally, spiritually–you must write about your life in a way that links events with your feelings. DeSalvo cites James Pennebaker’s research and book Opening Up (see our newsletter articles about his work,, and his website of selected reprints

Using her own writing, Ms. DeSalvo has empirically tested Pennebaker’s research about how writing benefits a writer’s health and has taken his suggestions one step further: DeSalvo asserts that when writing about past events that are traumatic, upsetting, or disturbing the writer must connect it to feelings of the past and of the present, so that progress can be made in healing. Through this linking of thinking and feeling the writer can make effective progress toward writing.

One third of DeSalvo’s book is about the writing process: “…we write not to create works of art, but to build character, develop integrity, discipline, judgment, balance, order, restraint, and other valued inner attributes. Through writing, we develop self-mastery, which contributes to our emotional and spiritual growth. Writing, then, becomes the teacher” ( 72).

She argues that one doesn’t have to wait for the “right” time to write–putting writing off until the kids are grown, until you’re finished with the big project,or until you have a good place to write. DeSalvo cautions “Waiting depletes creative energy; creating increases creative energy” (78)
She lists four essentials to use writing as a way of healing, paraphrased below:

  1. Write regularly and in a relaxed way.
  2. Watch with relaxed awareness what occurs as you write.
  3. Accept yourself and your work, rather than judge it.
  4. Be patient; write routinely.

DeSalvo cautions that when revisiting and confronting deeply traumatic events, one must feel safe. She suggests seeking professional and qualified help with a psychotherapist during the time that you writing about very painful past events if you aren’t sure that the emotions that arise are manageable on your own.

DeSalvo also focuses on sharing one’s writing. She contends that having empathic listeners is critical to healing. The listeners don’t necessarily have to respond. They can help reflect what writers have said, where there might be gaps in the narrative, areas where they would like to hear more, and may even uncover patterns in the narrative that you haven’t seen.

In DeSalvo’s view, writing not only heals the writer, but can heal the reader and the culture. Writing about painful issues becomes more than an individual’s need to heal, but creates larger ripples within society, which should not tolerate the traumas and violence committed. The writing itself and making it public becomes a political act. 

Interior images: Clues to decode the present

Images and scenes of the past bubble up constantly in the course of a day. When one of these image surfaces, take a moment to experience the image. Does the scene/image that bubbles up have any connection with the present? What is the feeling tone, the kernel of truth, or the message of the image? How does it intersect with a current need or resonate with your existing situation? Are there parallels or similarities between the image and your present life? Are there contrasts?

During my first year at college, more than a thousand miles from my family, I would experience seemingly random images of a scene of the New York suburb where I was raised. Sometimes the landscape evoked a sense of homesickness and displacement. Sometimes I would just view the scene neutrally and wonder what that was about. Much of the time, the images were scenes of a part of town that was not near my home and to which I didn’t have a real connection–it was across town and highly trafficked and had lots of car and trucks whizzing by. At the time, I was puzzled by the images that would spring up unbidden. Looking back, I think that the images were about leaving home, crossing town, and moving on to a new part of my life. Perhaps the spontaneous images that appear give clues as to what is happening now–helping you decode the present to see a perspective that gives you broader meaning of your current circumstances.

Tip: Assign at least one feeling topic with every entry that you write.

Every time you write an entry, assign at LEAST ONE of the topics within the Feeling topic folder which represents your emotion expressed in the entry. By default the feeling list includes:

  • Anger
  • Confidence
  • Excitement
  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Hurt
  • Sadness
  • Surprise

You may, of course, add more topics in the Feeling topic folder. Alternatively, you may want to group similar feelings into one folder. For example, you may want to create a “Happiness” folder and within you might add topics called, “contentment,” “ecstasy,” “joy,” “comfort,” and “ease.” Or, you might just want to lump all those different feelings into one topic–happiness–within the feelings folder. The choice is yours and there is no right or wrong way.

End quotes:

We are the accumulation of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.
-Louise DeSalvo

It isn’t that we use our writing to deny what we’ve experienced. Rather, we use it to shift our perspective.

-Louise DeSalvo

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