If a blank page looks intimidating, try brainstorming. Simply write down a word to begin and add other words that relate to the first one. An example might be FEAR. Circle that word in the center of the page. Extend short lines for each new word you think of relating to the concept of fear. My brainstorming page would contain words linked to FEAR that relate to my own experience. Some of these would be ANXIETY, TRAPPED, or HELP. Connecting to the word HELP, I might think of other concepts such as DOCTOR, BOOKS, or FRIENDS. Your words could be different.
Brainstorming leads you from one idea to the next. Soon, those words might fill the page or lead you to begin writing quickly about one specific word. Describe your fear or write about a friend who has helped you.
Alternately, write about what you would say to a friend who is in your situation. Often it is helpful to gain a new perspective through role play. This exercise will help you discover that you truly are a great source of strength for yourself, even now when you may feel adrift and uncertain.
Though loss is painful and though progress is most often slow, active grieving does not have to last forever. What does that mean? It does not mean forgetting about your loved one and moving on. Rather, it means recognizing the pain you feel and the possibility that you can deal with it. It means you can move forward in a healthy way without disrespecting or letting go of that precious love you feel. Your loved one mattered and still matters now. You matter, too.
ACTIVITY: Decide on a project you can do to honor your memories, and write a plan for it. Some ideas are below but choose your own idea if you prefer.
What is your purpose for your writing? Do you want to keep a record of major thoughts, feelings, and experiences of each day? This is the diary approach and can help you monitor your progress as you look back at earlier entries and see how far you have come. Most likely, you will see a “one-step-forward, two-steps-back” rhythm in how you are feeling over time. That is the way healing happens at first and sometimes for quite a while. Eventually, you will see a difference in your life. Pain softens, sorrow yields to other emotions, memories bring more joy than pain, and you find new pleasures in life: a sunrise, a child’s laughter, a deeper sense of compassion.
A journal is also a good place to work on specific goals. If you choose this method, you might have one or more specific things you wish to accomplish. Each one can be broken down into manageable steps you can work on over time. Some of these may be completed quickly; others will take longer. Your dreams and goals may be different now than they were before your loss. Stay open to possibilities.
Another way to use your journal is to record your thoughts about what you experienced. Describe what happened. Talk to the person you love who is no longer in your physical presence. Ask questions. You know this person so well that you can probably answer most of these.
Perhaps you have a specific goal for your writing. Do you want to publish a book or start a blog? Maybe you would like to share how you feel with other people or write helpful articles. Leaving a family history or writing a memoir and all these other things begin the same way. They start with your ideas and goals and with a few words written down and examined each day. The words grow as you grow through frustrations and discouragement, through success and failure.
ACTIVITY: Decide on a spot where you will do most of your writing. Use a pack of small sticky notes. Each day, write one word on one note. Place it on the side of your refrigerator or on a bulletin board near your writing desk. Let that word start your daily writing.
Remember, private pages in a journal are good places to work through your emotions. They can also be shared with a counselor or someone else if you choose.
When you begin writing, just let the words flow without worrying about spelling, grammar, punctuation or editing. Those things can be worked out later, if you like, but getting your thoughts down and exploring ideas come from a different side of the brain than handling the technical details.
Write about the one you lost and the relationship the two of you shared. Write about what you went through and how you feel now. Ask questions on the page. See what answers come to mind. If there are no answers – or none right now – that is okay. That is part of grief. Repeat some of these questions later to notice how your writing changes.
Below are some resources for improving your communication skills, some easy-to-use sites online. If you decide to share your work with others or write articles or longer projects for publication, you will want to take your rough drafts and organize them into a progression of ideas that makes sense. Write about one topic at a time. Or tell your story in chronological order. You may end up with a self-help book manuscript that can help many people. Edit. Revise. Repeat.
Today’s publishing options are many. From online forums or blogs to traditionally published books and magazines, there are always editors looking for new writers. But there are always many new writers looking for editors, too, so the competition is very tough. Still, you may find an outlet for you work. Set up your own website to start a blog where you can share your thoughts. This is easy to do at some of the hosts with intuitive site building editors. My site, for example, is hosted at Weebly.com. For years, I had a free site as a sub-domain of Weebly. Now, my own domain – www.wayforhope.com – still runs on the Weebly site.
Check these resources to review rules of writing in English:
ACTIVITY: Do a little research. Choose one of the websites mentioned above. Cruise through some of the material. Then edit a paragraph or page from your journal as if you were writing for an audience of fellow survivors.
Today, you can start to create a game plan for your future, one that is flexible and can be changed as your needs change. Write about a future you can imagine. Or several. What would you like to do to include precious memories of your loved one in your life? How would you prefer to move forward? Will you reach out to help other people in some way? Spend some time exploring these questions in your journal. There are no right or wrong answers. This is your time to dream.
What would your loved one want for you? Chances are you know. What happened has already happened. Nothing can change that. You cannot go back. But your loved one's pain is over. You can move forward in ways that are healthy and that enable you to live a full, productive life.
Activity: Create an outline of your game plan. It might be for the next week, a few months, or years. You are in control.
SUICIDE: Resources for Professionals – Alliance of Hope This international nonprofit provides support and information about the aftermath of suicide. Check this page to meet a variety of needs for your family and share it with the mental health professionals in your life.
CHILDREN: The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families | Portland, OR This is an excellent resource for helping the children in your family.
MENTAL ILLNESS: Home | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness Information and real-time support for those with mental illnesses and the people who love them.
EVERYTHING: HelpGuide.org Created by parents who lost a young adult daughter to suicide, in collaboration with Harvard University, this is one of the top ten mental health resources in the world. From stress management to specifics about mental illness and much, much more.
Writing Types and Tips
Memoir: a record of events based on personal experience
Essay: a short literary composition on a particular subject or theme
Article: a short work for media outlets
Expository: a style of writing used to explain things, often found in textbooks
Self-Help: a category of books written to provide advice on a particular topic to others
Download this free digital gift to keep your writing going all year long:
Thirty Days of Journal Prompts for Writers
Finally, thank you for attending this workshop. Please send feedback to my email. I send much love and many hugs to you and will keep you in my heart with hopes for your continued healing.
Welcome to Telling Your Story Through Writing!
My name is Jan McDaniel.