Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 6, 2024

How to Manage Emotions Through Writing

By Sarah (Sally) Hamer

Writers often talk about opening a vein, giving our life-blood to a page. But is that all we give when we write? Writing takes time, effort, research, digging through memories, skill, emotion, and, possibly, even a little bit of our soul. We don't just bleed on the page, we write about things that matter to us, things that make us who we are. And, blood may be the least of it.

As I write this, my life is about to turn upside down. My younger son and his wife are in the process of adopting an unborn infant after a decade of trying. The little boy whose face looks very squishy (so cute!) in the ultrasound pictures sent to me on a regular basis, will be loved and cared for in beautiful ways, but the adoption won't be finalized until five days after he's born a month from now. We won't know until then if he will be ours.

How do you prepare for a baby when you don't know how the process will end?

They've created a comfortable, sunny, warm nursery and I'm busy knitting and sewing and creating. We'll be ready physically if everything goes well. But how do you prepare mentally and spiritually? How do you know how you'll feel?

Write to sort through emotions

Because my life is wrapped around writing – articles, blogs, teaching, editing, coaching – I am using it to sort through my emotions, finding solace in the fact that I can express what I'm feeling on the keyboard and in my written journals. I can explore the possibilities of both the joy of a newborn grandson and the pain of it not working out. To allow myself to feel things I can't share with my son and daughter-in-law, who are traveling their own path of expectation. I won't "dump" my concerns on them when they have even greater ones than I do.

So, I write.

I put words down on paper and screen, knowing that they are private and sacred only to me. I deal with the emotions as they come and cry when I need to. And, over time, I'll heal my own wounds, old and new, and find strength and peace.

In her book, Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, Louise DeSalvo says, "writing about traumatic or troubling life experiences initially unleashes difficult, conflicting emotions." Yes, it does. It brings up memories, both good and bad. It can help us face our insecurities and fears and problems.

But it also can help us create pathways to better understanding who we are and why we feel the way we do. It can allow us to find the source of and reasons for our reactions. And, it can allow us to heal.

Use writing for self-care

Managing the emotions as they emerge from the dark recesses of our minds requires us to learn how to care for ourselves. DeSalvo suggests that allowing ourselves to experience the emotions in "real time" can help us to deepen the process. She also believes that we can keep those emotions from disabling us, by using writing to heal us.

What I find is that writing about uncomfortable things permits me to sort through the old memories as an adult. I'm not a powerless child beating against a wall of people who told me "no" over and over again. I was lucky to have caring, loving parents but, like most children, I couldn't understand rules and regulations and attempts to make me into a civilized, obedient human being.

I have feelings of abandonment and fear and anger that emerge, whole and ugly, when I am stimulated by outside sources. So, having a simple and loving way to revisit and rethink these old memories now that I am completely in control of my life, has been empowering and beautiful. And so worthwhile.

Final Thoughts.

Do you have painful situations that control your current life? Here are a few things that can help you to care for yourself.

  1. Write. Refrain from editing yourself. Don't feel like you have to share it.
  2. Don't get overwhelmed. If something you're writing is painful, stop for a while. Recognize it is just a memory, not necessarily something going on now.
  3. Be kind to yourself. No matter what the "mistake" there is redemption.
  4. Allow yourself – and others – forgiveness. Everyone has done something they're not proud of.
  5. Remember we are all in this together. Take care of yourself!

How can we replenish ourselves? How do we find meaning in both what we write, and in the life around it? What really matters?

What do you do to take care of yourself?

Caveat: If you are overwhelmed in any way, please seek professional help. There are amazing folks who have learned how to help us work through these things and I can't tell you how important it is to get help when you need it.

To learn about how to use writing as a part of healing, you can find out more at a Self-Care for Writers symposium on March 23-24, 2024 at mindpotential.org.

About Sally

Sarah Sally Hamer

Sarah (Sally) Hamer, B.S., MLA, is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres - mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction – she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for over twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at www.margielawson.com. Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors.

You can find her at sally@mindpotential.org or mindpotential.org.

Top Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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18 comments on “How to Manage Emotions Through Writing”

  1. I have an odd problem: my body can't handle adrenaline - and adrenaline is the aftereffect of many, if not all emotions.

    So, having had this problem since 1989, I have learned to deal with the emotions differently, and safely: I acknowledge them, write it all down (that's MY emotions, MY intellectual capital), and deliberately set it aside to be used when I need a version of those emotions in my mainstream fiction.

    It compensates a bit for not getting out much - and, like actors, I've become experienced at taking a bit of emotion, and scaling it up or down in intensity to fit a different situation.

    Everyone feels everything all the time - but I capture it in writing, to be used when necessary, so I pay great attention to how it feels.

    The trick to managing the feelings seems to be to admit I have them, acknowledge their weight, and decide consciously NOT to let them affect me physically - because I can't take that; it can take me days to get over 'a good cry' - so I haven't allowed myself the luxury in decades.

    When I'm ready for them for fiction, they've been percolating and steeping in their own juice for years - and are reeking of what I need for a character.

    Writers use their own lives and emotions - I just do it consciously and systematically and efficiently. But it is kind of weird. And it took me years to figure out how. But definitely in the self-care column.

    1. It is inspirational and impressive the way you have handled the odd predicament of anti-adrenalinism (yes, I made up that word). Kudos to you and your solution to enable your writing and wellbeing.

    2. Very interesting! I'm so glad you recognized your situation and have come up with a brilliant way to handle it. Becoming aware, first of the problem and then the solution, sounds like a perfect way to make your life work.
      Good for you!!
      And thanks for the comment.

  2. Sally, I love this! I use writing as a way to process the world around me. Writing things down helps me see order in the chaos—and often I find gems in my journaling that I can use in other types of writing.

    1. Thanks, Edie. I have really understood myself better simply by writing my problems down and allowing the emotions to flow. Then, with that knowledge, I can "fix" them.
      Appreciate the comment! You're the best!

  3. Excellent post, Sarah. Writing has always been a bit of therapy for my big and small childhood traumas. I've also "borrowed" traumas. Sometimes borrowing traumas trigger old emotions. Learning to be present in my emotions, my memories, and my current self has been life-changing and writing-empowering. Thank you for sharing and encouraging all writers to do the self-care piece of writing.

    1. Thanks, Lynette. My philosophy is "how can we help others if we can't help ourselves?" Self-care is as important as "others-care".
      Thanks for the thought!

  4. Thank you for your thoughts. It has occurred to me that in writing an emotional situation for a character in my book, maybe I should journal if the situation had or is happening to me. Sometimes when I journal, I get involved and write more than I realize I'm thinking (which goes along with your thoughts.) I'm writing a trilogy and just came up with the main difficulty with book 2 and 3. I thought about book l for many years before I retired and really started to write. I think I may try this concept for the problem in the last 2 books. (It is a teen series.) Thanks, Barbara

    1. YAY! So glad you've discovered wonderful things! Yes, journaling to heal yourself can certainly be applied -- and can enhance -- every character you create. Good for you!

  5. It’s a gift when wits bright people give me a helping hand: and it’s happened time and time again. Pity it takes us so long to realise the value of our writing skills; but I’ll get help to complete my stories when health issues stop me.. Not giving up Hope is the key, and baby steps are what I can do. May all the good people be safely blessed. Sandra from Aussieland.

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