Writing to Save Your Life: How to Honor Your Story Through Journaling, by Michele Weldon (Hazelden 2001), is a wonderful introduction to journal writing as a healing, creative form of therapy and storytelling. The author coins the term “scribotherapy” to describe “the process of using words as a conduit to understanding and feeling relief from any life difficulty.” And, though Weldon readily admits that she is not a medical doctor, psychologist, or therapist, she believes, through her own and her students’ personal experiences and anecdotes that writing heals.
The book is organized into two parts: “Preparing for the Journey” and “Paving the Road with Your Words.” Each chapter in this well organized book ends with an essay written by the author — providing an example response to a writing prompt — and a series of exercises to help the student put into practice the chapter’s concepts.
As the part titles suggest, the first half of the book addresses issues that commonly deter people from journal writing: from fears and our very human tendencies to put off writing altogether (the first chapter) to learning when to give yourself a break (chapter ten). Stop procrastinating and “just write it down,” she advises, as she provides encouragement and tips to help us keep this important writing commitment. On page 19, Weldon states, “… if you tell yourself that writing is only talking to ourself, you can eliminate the first five hundred excuses for not writing.” She encourages us to face our fears about writing. How? By writing about them, of course.
In addition to addressing fear, commitment, and privacy issues, the author helps her student readers find or strengthen their sense of personal power through the act of writing, tap into their inner intuition, and open the door to the imagination. According to Weldon, the key to making journaling the transformative, healing experience it can be is to write honestly and authentically “Write it down and be authentic to your true self. Have your own voice, not a voice you think you should have or one of a writer you admire. But yours.” (118)
Early on, Weldon encourages us to write down our goals for writing our stories. In the second part of the book, we begin to expand and delve into our “big ideas.” She shows us how to start, how to brainstorm and outline what we want to write about — not in a formal, academic way, but in ways that work for individuals — and how to organize what is most important to us. She encourages us to write the messy truth. To get it on paper. To have courage and not be afraid. She discusses ways to “bring the page to life” and not get caught up in self-doubts.
Finally, the author writes about how to balance our writing by looking at the other side of the issues we’ve brought to light, and to reflect on lessons we’ve learned, not only through our experiences, but also through the writing process itself.
Yes, Writing to Save Your Life is a book about journaling, but it is also not a book about journaling, because Writing to Save Your Life expands beyond the usual topics of therapeutic journaling to writing the truth of our life stories, with courage, power, and conviction.