Writing as Therapy.


“Everything I write is an emotional catharsis.”
~Diablo Cody

This holiday weekend was tough. Yes, there were visits with great friends. Yes, there was time spent with a good book. Yes, there was delicious Smores-flavored water ice from Rita’s. Yes, there was a chance to live vicariously through my characters as they journeyed to one of the places I most want to visit, the beautiful island of Nantucket. Yes, there were thoughts of our brave servicemen and servicewomen who defend our freedom every day. There were all these things and more. But there were also memories of last year’s holiday, and with those memories came a heavy heart. Memorial Day weekend was the last time I got to visit with Gram. It was the last time I got to look into her sweet eyes, the last time I got to kiss her cheek, the last time I got to tell her I love her and that I’d see her soon. Every detail of that day is etched into my mind. I remember what I was wearing. I remember where I went afterwards. I remember what I bought at the store later in the afternoon. And most of all, I remember feeling reassured that she was doing better, that she was getting better. Then, only a few days later, everything went horribly wrong.

So it’s been difficult lately. Next month will be more of the same, because even though we’re all determined to focus on the good, it’s also impossible not to remember the awful. I’m lucky, though – truly, indescribably lucky – to have my writing to escape into every day. I’ve talked about this before, how working on DEAR ELLIE last year got me through such a heartbreaking time. And again now, I have been turning to my characters and their story as a way of healing. Writing has been cathartic beyond anything words can explain. I’ve said several times that Sofie and the others have become like friends, even family of sorts, over the past two years and three novels – and like friends often are, they’ve been there for me when I needed them most. They’ve given me a place to channel my emotions and thoughts. That’s been especially true with my current manuscript. For as painful as it was to put my book-babies through a sudden, unexpected, jarring loss, it was also therapeutic. I’ve learned a lot from watching my characters grieve, heal, and start to hope again. As ridiculous as this might sound, those characters have truly taught me so much. They’ve taught me that even though time doesn’t heal all wounds, it does give us the strength to move forward. It does allow us to find the peace – or at least the grace – our loved ones would want us to uncover. This is how Sofie explains it:

The thing about grief, though, is it doesn’t ever disappear, not fully. Even when it’s faded, when it’s become less a part of everyday life and more a part of the subconscious, it’s still there. It still plays a role in shaping who we are from that point forward. It still takes a place among all the blocks which build our whole. And, I’m slowly coming to recognize, that’s not necessarily bad. Maybe the struggles make us even more grateful for the blessings. Maybe the horrendous makes us even more grateful for the beautiful.

And…

It saddens me at first, how life’s forced us to change, but as I tell Brandon about the house that’s no longer ours to keep, something transforms inside. It’s like … sitting here, staring the fairy tale in its face, I finally realize it’s just that: a fairy tale. Sure, it’d be wonderful to hold it in the palms of our hands, to wrap our fingers around it and keep it safe, but it’d be more wonderful to step beyond its constraints – however magical they seem – and create our own castle, our own happily-ever-after, our own storybook.

And…

I guess it’ll be that way for awhile. Maybe forever. There will always be reminders. But strength lies not in our ability to forget the bad times. It lies in our ability not to allow them to block out the good ones.

Helping Sofie and Brandon figure these things out has helped me figure them out, too. Gram won’t ever get to read this manuscript, but in that way – and in many others, like Sofie’s love of her grandmom’s chicken soup – she’s still a part of it. Just like she’s still a part of me. Just like she’ll always be a part of me. Just like all four of my grandparents will always be a part of me. I may not be able to physically hear their voices anymore, but they’re still there. They’re still inside me. And these lessons I’ve learned, these lessons I don’t know I’d have fully understood if not for writing, if not for helping my characters find their own sunshine again … I guess all I can say is that I’m forever grateful.

And thank you. To Sofie, Brandon, Ellie, and the others, all I can say is thank you – for letting me tell your story, for showing me how to heal, for reminding me that beauty can be found anywhere. Everywhere. No matter what happens with the books I’ve written about you, I will never regret a single moment, because it’s given all of you to me. Again, that probably sounds silly, but I don’t mind. I know that it’s a blessing. I know that it’s therapeutic. I know that it’s life-altering.

And above all, I know that it’s one of my greatest joys.

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15 thoughts on “Writing as Therapy.

  1. Okay, so seeing excerpts of your book has only made me MORE excited to read it, if that’s even possible. And you’re right – writing is a lovely, sometimes much-needed escape. The comfort we get from visiting with our characters is just indescribable. I am wishing you good thoughts in the upcoming weeks.

    • You make me smile. I am SO EXCITED to hear your thoughts on it. The first draft should be finished two weeks from tomorrow (aahh!), and I can either send it off right away or wait until after the first round of edits so you’re not subjected to the Shari-can’t-condense-things-on-her-original-attempt version ;-)

      Thanks for all the good thoughts and the constant support. It is so appreciated.

  2. Oh Shari… This is such a moving post.

    And btw, I ADORE that second excerpt, about fairy tales. That perfectly sums up the theme behind one of my abandoned manuscripts (which I may or may not resurrect someday).

    • Thank you! It’s a theme I’ve found myself thinking about often – probably has a lot to do with the journey to get published – and something I was really excited to explore in this manuscript. My MC has always been an idealist and a dreamer, but life has really forced her to take a step back and realize that fairy tales may be lovely, but they rarely play out the way we envision. She’s learning to create her own happily-ever-after now, and it makes me so excited for her!

      I hope you decide to resurrect your manuscript. I would love to read about your take on the theme!

      • My take has (or will have, once I get around to writing it) more to do with romance/relationships, but omg yes, I can see how the publishing journey would bring that same theme to mind!

        • You know, I think that’s one of my favorite things about the craft of writing, how people can take the same theme and explore it in completely different ways. Mine has more to do with family ties and the life someone envisions vs. the life they get/have to make, but I can certainly see why it’d be exciting to apply to romance, too. I really hope you keep going with the book – you already have an interested reader in me! :)

  3. I lost my Grandma a few years ago, but I’ll never forget that the day I got the call from my mom, I drove home from college as fast as I could and there was the most beautiful hot pink sunset, and I felt like she was telling me that everything was ok. To this day I still get a little misty where I see a pink sky, but I think the important thing is to know there will always be a part of her with you, watching over you to make sure everything’s ok.

    • Oh Jess, this comment made me teary-eyed. I am so sorry for your loss – a few years can seem like nothing at all when it’s a person you were so close with – and wish you nothing but peace. I absolutely believe in signs/messages/symbols that everything will be okay. How sweet and special that you’re able to find that in pink sunsets. They are so beautiful and almost majestic – your grandma’s way of smiling down on you :) As long as we carry a part of our loved ones with us, we’ll always have that bond.

  4. This is such a sweet post, Shari. I can completely relate. I’ve told you the story about losing my grandmom. I actually have lost all of my grandparents but I was the closest to my one grandmom. Just know that she is always with you. I am firm believer in signs and fate and all of that stuff. When my grandmom first passed away, I would often get wiffs of her perfume randomly. It used to happen all the time especially those times when I would think about her. It hasn’t happened lately but those things to happen. I’m sure she is so proud of you :)

    • I am very much the same way – I was close with all my grandparents, but especially Gram. The bond with her, with all four of them, is something I’ll be grateful for every day. Like you, I’m definitely a big believer in signs and symbols. For our family, it’s always been butterflies. One seems to show up whenever we need it most. Even at Gram’s unveiling two weekends ago, there were these two yellow butterflies after the service – first they were apart and then they flew together, and it was like she and my granddad were reunited again and telling us all they were okay. It brought us some peace on a day that was so difficult. I think it’s the same with the way you used to smell your grandmom’s perfume – her way of letting you know she’ll always be with you, always be watching over you, always be reminding you of the special memories. I know she’ll be there in her own way this August, all of your grandparents will be <3

  5. It doesn’t sound silly at all! It sounds heartbreaking, and lovely, and very real. I think that’s what drives so many of the best writers – the need to explore emotions, especially loss and love. Your book comes from someplace deep inside you, someplace very true. It gave you a tiny bit of healing. I hope that someday it helps others heal as well.

    I loved your excerpts, by the way. Your writing is so good!

    • Oh, you’re always so sweet, Caryn. Thank you very much for all the kind words.

      I agree with you 100% – beyond a natural, earnest curiosity about the world and all the relationships in it, there is definitely a need to explore emotions that drives us as writers. I’ve felt that with all my manuscripts, but it’s been on a very different level with this one. There’s a connection there I can’t really put into words. Just in case I wasn’t emotional enough about having to let my babies go after three books, this is going to make it even harder! My greatest hope is that someday they can help someone else like they’ve helped me. Fingers crossed.

      Thanks again <3

    • I couldn’t agree more. How lucky are we to have this outlet to pour out our thoughts and to let our characters teach us such important lessons? I’m grateful for it every day.

      And – thank you for including me!

  6. Pingback: Time Machine. | Shari Speaks

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