Welcome to Member Monday! It’s a pleasure to feature Claudia Mosby. Claudia is a freelance writer and an instructor at Shasta College. She writes for The Record Searchlight and Enjoy magazine. You can read more about Claudia’s dedication to exploring the relationship between writing and wellness through a variety of workshops, classes and retreats. For more information please visit Writing InsideOut.
Writing (Our Own Life Story) InsideOut
by Claudia Mosby
Mark Twain once said, in part, that “Truth is stranger than fiction…” I would argue that it’s more compelling and now research shows it’s good for our health, something I knew intuitively long ago.
In love with language from an early age, I have used writing to self-reflect, to make my living and to breathe life into characters arising from my imagination.
After many years in non-writing occupations, last year I returned to writing and teaching part-time. Both required heavy research and with the writing the ability to tell in an interesting and compelling way a portion of someone else’s life story. Interestingly, I’ve found a natural tendency, particularly among those who have undergone a traumatic life event, to shape the meaning of that story.
While researching I came across the literature on writing and wellness and discovered the intimate connection between expressive autobiographical writing and the storytelling strategies used by fiction writers. Most importantly, is the role this kind of writing plays in health and well-being.
This connection made sense. Early on my writing took the form of diary-keeping. I remember well my first official diary, a small red leather-bound book with golden lock and matching key that I received for my 9th birthday. Later, when I reached high school I began writing for the school newspaper and in college I majored in English with an emphasis in creative writing.
Looking back, not surprisingly there was more than a grain of re-worked truth in my short stories and poems. Writing was a kind of creative therapy, an opportunity to imaginatively work out on the page any unresolved bits of my life experience and produce what I hoped was art.
Because I now teach college communication and because the research shows expressive writing improves working memory (and because of my writing bias), I started incorporating a short writing exercise in the classroom after each new unit. My student’s were tasked with choosing one of three writing prompts I provided (ranging from less to more creative) and to somehow relate it to their life experience. The results have been astounding.
When we covered the unit on conflict, one of my students wrote an “unsent letter” about having been raped. This gave me an opportunity to talk with her about her well-being and available resources. I’m fairly certain she would not have disclosed this information to me in a conversation.
It’s interesting to observe the noticeable increase in her participation in class discussions and activities since that writing exercise. She now regularly volunteers to speak. While this example is anecdotal and I can’t prove the writing caused her changed behavior, copious research suggests a likely connection.
Intrigued, I began researching more deeply the connection between writing and wellness. I looked at the research on psychological and health outcomes for both academic studies and clinical trials that used writing as an intervention with both healthy and ill populations across a range of conditions: chronic and terminal illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, major life transitions, and explorations of spirituality and faith.
Study after study revealed not only the psychological benefits that result from expressive writing, but perhaps even more notably improvements in key health markers (immune system functioning, pain level, white blood cell count, etc.). I even looked at the research on hemispheric dominance theory (popularly known as left brain, right brain research) and which hemispheric functions lend themselves to certain types of writing activity.
For most of us, hindsight is 20-20. Expressive creative writing is a tool to gain insight and perspective on the things we haven’t yet been able to completely leave behind us. The beauty of this type of writing is that it can be creative, empowering and used as needed, particularly attractive to those who do not view themselves as writers or want to commit to “journaling” or “diary-keeping” as a regular practice.
There’s more to that Mark Twain quote: “ … but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” I disagree. While the facts are what they are, each of us has the power to construct our story’s meaning, and therein lies the possibility to authentically record our history using creative techniques.
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