Writing as a therapeutic tool

“Writing does not protect us from tragedy, but it does give us a way of working through problems and perhaps expressing them differently in fiction.”

It’s a truism that writers draw upon personal experience – and that of others – when they create fiction. This is not only part of the writer’s desire to bring authenticity to their characters, plots and dialogue, it’s also therapeutic. The same can be said for non-fiction, although I venture to suggest that fiction gives us greater leeway because we are not constrained by details yet remain informed by the emotional content.

When my brother died, back in 2005, alongside trampling around the fields and talking to myself I found it really helpful to put pen to paper. I tried poetry and keeping a journal (well, commandeering the journal I already kept sporadically). Nothing profound emerged, but it was a tacit signal to my subconscious that I intended to keep a channel open and if there was anything unsaid or repressed, well it had a place to go to.

Some time later, when I felt better able to organise those ideas and feelings so that I could examine them (yes, of course Lieutenant Data was one of my favourite Star Trek TNG characters!), I approached a newspaper with a proposal to write  a personal piece about grief and losing a sibling. Although the newspaper said yes I still had to work hard – arguably, the hardest ever, to let the words tell the truth while accommodating the editor’s suggestions and requirements. Having found a way to express that loss and reflect upon it, my grief was accessible to readers.

I’m not advocating bearing your soul unless you feel drawn to it because the process is not without consequences. Other people will read what you have written, and what you have not written, and possibly draw conclusions you never intended. In the final analysis though, I think that sort of writing encourages others to share their shadows and gives us both – writer and reader – permission to feel.

I mention all this because I haven’t blogged much this month, due to a family situation. I’m still making notes about it that may yet find expression in a piece of writing. For now though, it’s a way of remembering and coming to terms with that tricky customer we call life.


  1. I can totally relate to this, Derek, particularly the how much to divulge question, what's useful/ interesting and what's simply cathartic for you. I'm sorry to hear about your brother and hope that tricky customer of life lets up very soon! Lovely post.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jackie. It is a delicate balance when it's someone else. I think it comes down to the intention of the piece, how the other person / people might be affected (whether they're living or deceased) and who else might be impacted. Of course, in fiction we can change all manner of details to retain the emotional impact while masking true identities!

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