What does “coming to terms with your story” mean? Let’s say you’ve left a high-demand group, such as Scientology or another religious or political cult, or even a harmful relationship where domestic violence ended in divorce. At some point, you might wonder how you can come to terms with the people, events, and countless details of the memories that shaped that time in your life.
Your story–or history–is composed of countless events, scenes, choices and details that may hold positive memories or difficult, tragic, repressed memories and feelings. Outside of counseling or discussions with caring friends and family members, exploring the fertile subject matter of your experiences can be an otherwise daunting, seemingly irreconcilable task, unless you have a means of connecting the dots and coming to terms with your personal story in some way.
If you’re willing to embrace the details of your experiences, and you want to transfer your thoughts into written words, coming to terms with your story is more than coming up with a description of your past. “Coming to terms” involves confronting it squarely, and dealing decisively with it, or understanding it with some objectivity. And writing is one process that affords you the opportunity to do just that.
Our Approach to Writing
Writing starts with you, the thinker, the communicator, the voice, your personal discovery and development of thought. As a writer of your personal story, you are the text, the topic. Looking at the text of your life gives you intense intimacy with all the details, so no one can write your story like you can.
My workbook shows how it’s not essential for you to sit down and expect your story to just flow out of your head in one fell swoop on the page, in one sitting. Instead, by using the recursive process of writing, you allow yourself to write, then review, edit, rethink, go back, make changes, write some more, and edit some more.
We don’t emphasize the basics of writing, such as grammar, punctuation, or sentence structure. You will learn writing techniques that will enable you to express the hard-won, deep layers of truth that you can discover through writing. This can play a significant part in erasing years of invisibility and interpretation by others, thus restoring your position of authority about yourself.
Think of writing, then, not as a way to transmit a message, but as a way to grow and cook a message. “Writing is…a transaction with words whereby you free yourself from what you think, feel, and perceive.” (Peter Elbow, Writing Without Teachers). As one writer said after developing her memoir, “Each time the authentic words break through, I am changed.”
This article shares how this workbook was birthed, describes our approach to writing, explains writing as a healing process, and provides a brief summary of the contents of the workbook. Go to the end of the page to find out how to order the workbook.
How this workbook came about
While doing my Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, I pursued two concentrations: Applied Writing helped me to develop writing skills in various genres. My second concentration of composition and rhetoric focused on teaching writing at college level. I discovered the power of writing as a healing process while researching composition theory in graduate school, and learning how to apply it when teaching writing.
During my courses, I observed several fellow students who seemed to have difficulties organizing their thoughts and saying what they needed or wanted to say. I am not talking about problems with learning new information in college. I’m addressing the challenges students faced when it came to personally articulating their thoughts about their studies, how to write a good paragraph, give a good summary of the content. I realized that in the process of coming to terms with my own story and learning to focus on writing about it, I was acquiring the ability of being able to transfer my thoughts into words and, as reflected by high grades, I was doing a good job at it. Some of my friends were highly challenged by expressing their thoughts in writing, even moreso than speaking.
Having been mentored by two amazing professors who had helped me with how to connect with my deepest thoughts, and transfer them into words, laid the foundation for my own desire to give back to others like they had helped me. My observations of other students ignited a desire to help them with personal expression, and help them experience the freedom of thought and the written word, as I had fortunately acquired through the help of my mentors.
I graduated with my Master of Arts in English/Professional Writing with honors in Spring, 2011. By August 2011, I had landed my first teaching position at Southern Polytechnic State University in Atlanta. I taught two classes of English Composition to the most fascinating group of students I could hope for; many of my students were from Beijing, Germany, Poland and Italy, who were not studying English as their primary language. This required a greater level of patience and understanding than I sometimes felt equipped to deliver during my first teaching job. But this experience matured me as a language teacher who had to assume a variety of cultural perspectives other than my own to get across the meanings and nuances of English. I went on to teach Communication courses at Kennesaw State University for four years, with my primary focus on the basics of communication, as well as public relations writing, and news and feature writing.
In 2013, I had the honor of conducting a writing workshop for the International Cultic Studies Association’s annual conference held in Montreal, Quebec. ICSA conferences are attended by former members of high-control or abusive groups, as well as professionals from related fields such as therapists, university professors, sociologists, and academic researchers.
For the ICSA workshop, I produced a 102-page workbook, Coming to Terms With Your Story: Writing to Heal, to use as the guide for this challenging and sensitive workshop session. I felt privileged to spend a full day with approximately 36 men and women, teaching about the healing qualities of writing, and instructing them in writing techniques they could use as they moved forward on their journey of coming to terms with their personal story.
Writing as a healing process
Whether or not you consider yourself a skilled writer, as a participant in this workshop or if you use this workbook on your own, you are addressed as a writer with a voice, an author with an authoritative position over your life story.
Using this workbook on your own or in a workshop setting focuses you on the healing qualities of writing that can help you make sense of your experiences, re-establish your well-being, and re-discover your personal voice. While using this workbook or attending this workshop is not a platform for counseling or psychotherapy, coming to terms with your story will, without a doubt, involve lots of discussion. We address issues from the perspective of you, the author, taking a close look at your history and choosing what to write about, with exercises that help you to organize and articulate your thoughts. Many people find the process of pre-writing discussions to be helpful, with similarities to therapeutic benefits, in that having an interesting or meaningful dialogue with someone else can often bring relief or clarification about personal issues.
You will learn writing techniques and exercises that can not only help you to create meaningful accounts that document your memories, but that can also help to diffuse the impact your experiences might have on your present thoughts, emotions, and actions. You’ll learn how these techniques are based on research that shows that writing is a productive, healing process that has been found to reduce physical and emotional illness in many people who write regularly.
This workbook draws from the work of several foundational writing scholars. Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers urges us to think of writing as an organic developmental process, and has inspired educators in many disciplines, including psychology (Oxford University Press, 1998). I encountered the work of Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a research psychologist at the University of Texas in Austin, who explored the power of writing during experiments he conducted starting in the mid-1980s. Pennebaker’s book, Writing to Heal, is based on the research of dozens of specialists in psychology, medicine, anthropology, linguistics and other disciplines. Their findings showed that those who wrote about their traumas “needed less medical attention in the following months than they had previously; and many said the writing had changed their lives” (New Harbinger Publications, 2004).
Contents of the Workbook
Thinking Like a Writer – You’ll discover how to think like a writer after considering some perspectives offered by several successful writers and award-winning journalists. We focus on development versus good or poor writing characteristics.
The Recursive Process of Writing – Writing is not about rolling out a silver-bullet story at your first sitting, but is part of a process where you write, revisit your thoughts, revise, develop and polish them.
Levels of Idea Development – Use this illustration to see where you might be in the developmental stage of the ideas you want to write about.
The Writer’s Continuum – I approach the teaching of writing as a process that starts with you, the writer with the voice, who must find him/herself at some point on the continuum, and then watch yourself move along on it.
Crafting Your Story: Structure & Organization – The art and craft of storytelling rests on proven techniques. This section shows you how to get started, how to develop a story timeline, how to outline complications and resolutions, and more.
Basic Tools & Principles of Clear Writing – You’ll review some of the high points about the principles of composition and do some exercises. I recommend several English handbooks to have handy while you are polishing your writing later.
Peer Reviews – Reading other writers’ work, and having others read yours, from the perspective of constructive criticism is an essential element of building your writing skills. This is your audience feedback. These guidelines will show you how to give and receive helpful peer reviews.
Writing Exercises – The workbook includes both skill-oriented exercises and developmental thinking exercises. Some of the exercises help you to explore emotions, memories and ideas that could lead to story writing, or to simply putting words on paper that may ultimately have healing benefits for you. In some of these exercises, “meaning” is not always what you start out with, but is what you end up with.
Writing Samples – The four writing samples included in the workbook are helpful to the participant in several ways. They serve as models for a specific writing format. You can see story structure, timeline, and other elements. This is a great way to learn how to organize your thoughts for your stories. The content of the stories also shows how the writer came to terms with his/her circumstances, and might inspire you to face your own circumstances.
ORDERING THE WORKBOOK
The first edition was published and copyrighted through KAP Communications Inc, in Atlanta, 2012. Initially, the workbook was only available for purchase in group workshops or by special request. The 2017 updated edition is in the process of re-printing, and will soon be released for online purchase in paperback.
As of March 1, 2017, we anticipate release in about 6 weeks. Please stay tuned for ordering instructions! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or would like more information. Thank you for your interest!