How Journaling Helps Writers Reveal Parts Their Story
Writers… Do you have any idea how much the world needs your perspective?
“If we can learn how to feel our way through these experiences and own our stories of struggle, we can write our own brave endings.” — Brene Brown
When my book was first released, I was a little depressed. I say “a little” because there’s tremendous exhilaration when you see your words come to life, but the moment it’s released, doubt sets in.
I didn’t stop to celebrate; instead, I panicked.
Even though it was my fourth book, writing it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This was my own true story, and the release of it made me feel naked, having bared the emotions and the trauma of the most difficult time in my life.
But within the emotions of vulnerability was something every writer hopes to convey… I knew, without a doubt, that telling my story would make a difference in someone’s life. At that point, I didn’t know if I’d have just one reader or many.
The important thing is that I did what I said I would do — write a story of hope for someone going through what I experienced, the loss of a child.
Years before, my oldest son, Garrett, woke up with a fever. The doctor said it was the flu, but he was wrong. Drinking fluids and taking Ibuprofen didn’t help what was really going on. The next morning, I found him in his bed, lifeless.
My beautiful 16-year-old son died sometime in the middle of the night from a deadly form of meningitis, and I didn’t know.
Let me tell you, it annihilates any confidence you have in being a mother. How could I NOT have known? Why did I trust the doctor? How could my child go from life to death in less than 24 hours?
On that day, my life changed forever.
Hours after Garrett died, Stephen Cannell showed up on our doorstep with a book.
Just the year before, Stephen hired my husband, David, to be the Executive Producer and writer for a new CBS/USA television series, Silk Stalkings. We didn’t know then, what a significant role this man would play in our personal lives.
This was a man who was as successful as they get in the television world; creating shows like Rockford Files, The A-Team, and Hunter. And yet, personal tragedy hit his family, too.
Stephen and his wife lost their 15-year old son several years before.
We knew about it; everyone who worked with him did, but no one ever asked them how they survived. It was the worst thing that could happen. No parent wants to even think about it. We were all in awe of how strong they seemed to be.
I never dreamed it could happen to us.
But it did. On that tragic morning, Steve drove out from Pasadena to be with us. “Sadly, you’ve joined our club,” Stephen said. “Parents who have lost a child, but you WILL survive this. I promise.”
He held out a book, continuing, “Reading this helped us.”
It was a copy of the book The Bereaved Parent, written by Harriet Sarnoff Schiff. It was the author’s own story of navigating through the grief process of losing her son.
For the next several weeks, I kept that book with me, tucked in my purse and I read it every time I doubted my ability to survive. It was my lifeline to hope.
Could I recover? Could I survive? She did. If she could, so could I.
It helped me to think in the future… that life might restore to some semblance of happiness. I wasn’t so sure, but hope was something to hang on to.
I began writing in my journal. It was a private place to cry my tears, scream out in anger, and ask the questions that made no sense at all. A child isn’t supposed to die before a parent. It upsets the natural order of things. It rips away the future you thought you had.
Grieving is hard work. There’s no timetable for healing. You think you’re there, and then something hits you, and you start all over again.
Journal writing reveals parts of your story you didn’t see before.
Within the pages of my journal, I began to see what actually happens… the time the sorrow lasts gets shorter and the time when life is pretty okay grows longer. Somewhere in the delta is the acceptance of a world without my child.
I’d written 2 children’s books before my son died. They were illustrated fairy tales that did quite well in the book world. Barnes and Noble featured one of them and they received a lot of media attention, selling to schools and libraries around the country. My publisher had just set up a publicity tour for the second book and I was scheduled to hit the talk show circuit.
But then Garrett died, and I didn’t feel motivated to talk about my fairy tale world at all. Life was much too real.
People often asked me when my next book was coming out. I secretly felt the calling to write my personal story, but emotionally I was terrified. I didn’t want to tell people about it because then I’d be held accountable.
Then one day, the pain of not doing it was far greater than the pain of doing it. As I continued to heal from my loss, I found myself finding the courage to think about beginning the project.
Writing is a commitment that is sometimes a struggle in itself. It took a strategy to get my commitment in motion.
In The Science of Getting Rich, author Wallace D. Wattles says, if all you do is dream, you have no strategy. Behind the dream, there has to be a clear vision to bring it to fruition. He suggests you look for the purpose that is “invincible and unwavering.”
My purpose came alive in knowing there are other parents out there who will experience such a tragic loss. I wanted my book to be in the purse of that mother, and to bring her hope in some small way.
Productivity happens when you make a plan.
Productivity happens when you make a plan and turn that plan into a habit by creating a ritual for your writing to begin. I committed to writing every day from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM.
My ritual begins with making a perfect cappuccino. Sometimes I pick roses from my garden and put them in a vase at my desk. Then, I sit down, light a candle, turn on soft music, and close my eyes for a few minutes of quiet reflection.
Even with the perfect ritual, the first few sessions were grueling. It was so hard to revisit my sorrow. But I persevered. I kept thinking of the author, Harriet Sarnoff Schiff, and how, within the pages of her book, she offered me specific ways for me to heal.
I believed her.
You have no idea how important you really are.
Writers are powerful people. Think about the change you can make in people’s lives that you don’t even know!
Writers… commit to your work. Do you have any idea how much the world needs your perspective? You don’t know whether you will change one life or many, but it doesn’t matter. Your story is something that someone needs to read.
Writing it will change you and change others. Restore your faith in yourself by doing what you say you always wanted to do. You’ll discover it will make you better, stronger and more aware of how important it is to leave your imprint on this planet.
It will also heal you.
Victor Frankel, Holocaust survivor, philosopher, and author, says suffering changes when it finds meaning.
He points to three things that can give meaning to life:
- A project.
- A redemptive view of suffering, helping others, the healing power you have in being able to offer others the insight into your life and how you healed.
- A significant relationship.
In writing my book, I was fulfilling the first two. The third was also in the process because I learned a lot about the relationship I have with myself. I found more confidence in my ability to complete what I said I would do. I felt stronger in character and in spirit and you’ll realize how strong you really are.
Writing offers the discipline of awareness.
Once you’re aware, you can never be unaware. You’ll see the patterns in your life that brought you to this point in time. You’ll find the courage to face the demons, and bring light to the darkness. You will no longer be hostage to the things that held you back from becoming your highest self.
I learned to respect the woman I was and the woman I was becoming. I had, in fact, survived the greatest loss a parent could imagine. I am a good mother. I am stronger than ever, and I could write about it.
It wasn’t easy. I’d write and then feel anxiety. I’d get up from my chair and pace around the house, trying to shake off the sadness. It shifted for me when I realized I wasn’t writing about sorrow… I was writing about my insight into healing. The anxiety was a temporary reaction to pouring my emotions onto the page.
I felt particularly vulnerable in sharing the intimate details of my life. But, following each writing session, I’d shut down my computer and feel good about what I had done.
After 6 months, I had a completed manuscript, and 6 months later, a book in hand. (How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen, A Parent’s Step by Step Guide to Healing After the Loss of a Child.)
Some books don’t make it to the best seller list… but it doesn’t matter.
My book was never written to be a best seller, but it was written with compassion and passion for getting it to the parents who needed it. Just as Steve Cannell arrived at our doorstep that terrible morning, I now could offer something of my own to parents struggling with loss.
I know every time I get a review, a note, or an email that my journey of loss has given another mother, like me, the story of hope. I fulfilled my purpose. My story made a difference.
Someone desperately needs to read what you write.
And your story can make a difference, too. As a writer, you are capable of dramatically changing lives. Don’t put it off. Start now. Someone is waiting for your words, and they desperately need them.
Writing was my sanctuary… my safe place.
People always ask how I got to a peaceful place in my heart about my son’s loss. I’m not sure I ever have. Garrett is very much alive in my heart just as sure as the day he was born.
Even though the physical part of him is gone, his DNA lives inside of me. I am still his mom and my love for him grows every day that I’m alive. Therefore, he is not gone. He is with me because love never dies; I know that for sure.
Are you ready to kick in those creative juices? Download my simple ebook, "How to Develop the Creative Mindset" here.
**Previously published on Medium-The Writing Cooperative**