Rochelle Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at www.writenowcoach.com. She will be blogging about NaNoWriMo all month at http://www.writenowcoach.com/blog/.
Once a year, 200,000 people attempt to write a 50,000-word book in 30 days. Some say the writers are crazy. Others might wonder why they would give themselves this huge chore right before the holiday season. But those of us who have competed know the truth: writing a book in a month is not only fun but can also be therapeutic!
Writing can heal us. Research by psychologist James Pennebaker has shown that people who used writing to make sense of their traumatic life experiences had the long-lasting effect of feeling happier and less anxious. He asked his subjects to write for fifteen minutes a day on four consecutive days. Half of the group members wrote about a difficult or traumatic event in their lives. The other half of the group wrote about their day or their living environment. A year later, he examined the subject's medical records. The people who wrote about their difficult experiences were healthier than the others. What made the difference? According to Pennebaker, the people who showed increased insight into their difficult situation during the four days stayed healthier than those who simply wrote about their daily activites.
This month I will be blogging every Tuesday about how to use writing as a tool for healing. For those of you who are planning to compete in National Novel Writing Month, here are three ways to make NaNoWriMo a therapeutic experience.
Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It) (October 2011).
1. Write a memoir. No doubt most of us have heard the old saying, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” Telling the truth heals us. When we write about our crazy life experiences, we get the opportunity to make sense of them. Use the month to write about the stories of your life—the good, the bad, and the ugly. As you write, don’t worry about the product—no one needs to see what you have written. Write your story for you. Use the writing project as a tool to understand what happened and to facilitate your own healing.
2. Write a novel. Many writers who have interesting life stories choose to write them as fiction, in order to protect friends and family members. Plus, it can be a whole lot more fun to bypass the boring and cast our story with larger-than-life characters. In addition, when we write fiction, we can play with the plot. If you could write a novel based on your life, how would you plot your journey to and through the mazes of addictionland and recovery? If you don’t want to fictionalize your own life, you can always create a brand new set of characters and plot.
3. Write a self-help book. No matter one’s life experience, all of us have advice to give. Maybe we want to record information for ourselves so that next time we face a challenging life experience, we know what to do. Or perhaps we want to write the book for our children or our sponsees, giving them the tools we wish we’d had years ago. Use this month to create a handbook, a collection of inspirational essays, a how-to manual, or whatever else will support you in helping others.
If you’re interested in taking on the National Novel Writing Month challenge, visit the NaNoWriMo website and sign up. At the site, you will be able to create a profile, connect with writers in your region, and keep track of your word count. Most regions offer helpful workshops and writeins for participants. Happy writing!