August 18, 2017

How To Use Writing To Heal: 5 Stages To Writing and Healing Your Grief

How To Use Writing To Heal: 5 Stages To Writing and Healing Your Grief

Looking for ways to overcome grief? Writing can be an effective tool in healing.

The following is an excerpt from Sandra Marinella’s book The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss.

There are five stages to writing and healing.

These stages can lead to story transformation.

Here they are:

1. Experiencing pain and grief.

Grief is the process that helps us adjust to a major life change or a loss — a death, a lost love, an accident, an illness, a rape, or any other setback. There is no set order for what transpires, but initially we might want to ignore or deny what happened because this helps us endure the shock. Later we can experience various emotions such as anger, frustration, and sadness. Sometimes sadness can be so overwhelming, it turns into depression. Often we ruminate or keep replaying what happened in our brains. In the initial throes of a traumatic event, it appears best to embrace silence and avoid writing.

2. Breaking the silence.

In this stage we are willing to share our shattered story with others, perhaps with a friend, a counselor, or in our writing. This process may center on simply pouring out painful emotions. Often the release of a painful story can prove quite significant if it has been buried deep inside for a long time. If we can find our voice and free up our broken story, we can begin to work with it.

3. Accepting and piecing together a shattered story.

At this stage we reach acceptance of a painful experience. We acknowledge the event or circumstance, as well as the sadness and pain associated with it. With acceptance we begin to move our emotions into a logical framework. Writing can be profoundly helpful here. It allows us to begin making sense of what happened. We can explore various perspectives and gain some insights by distancing ourselves from the pain. Ruminations may continue during this stage.

4. Finding meaning or making sense of a story.

In this stage of a setback, we are able to stand outside the experience and see the complete picture. This objectivity allows for a breakthrough of understanding, a complete story, and a feeling of closure. We can reframe a painful experience once we can make sense of it, and writing is a powerful tool in this process.

When we gain an understanding of difficult experiences — why they happen and how they will fit into our lives — often the pain and ruminations subside. The incident becomes integrated into our life stories as a finished chapter, allowing us to move forward.

5. Rewriting our story and moving forward.

Without the emotional struggles caused by the traumatic incident, we can recover the energy needed to rewrite our stories and move ahead with our lives in fulfilling and creative ways. This often leads to personal story transformation through redefining or reinventing the ways we view ourselves.

We often put our renewed energy toward creating something (designing a new room or writing a book) or becoming politically active (advocating for cancer funding or working for gun control). Frequently we focus on helping others face or avoid a similar trauma, while allowing us to create something good and meaningful from the pain we have endured.

Writing Prompts and Suggestions

If you have begun to establish your writing practice, get comfortable, select a prompt from the list below, and begin writing. Give it your best.

· Writing Prompt: A Positive Change

Choose a person who has changed you in a positive way. You can also choose an experience that has changed your life. Describe this person or experience. Tell the story. Discuss how and why your attitude changed.

· Writing Prompt: Finding an Ending

Is there an experience inside your head that won’t seem to go away? What is it? Why does it haunt you? Does this story need an ending? Explore your story.

· Writing Prompt: A Letter

If you are struggling, write a letter to a loved one. Decide what you need to tell her or him. Then simply put your pen to paper, and let your message and your stories come. Write for as long as you need to. Come back to this if you need to. When you reread this letter at a later time, decide if you should send it, destroy it, lock it away, or publish it.

Excerpted from the book The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss. Copyright ©2017 by Sandra Marinella. Printed with permission from New World Library —

About the author

Writing teacher Sandra Marinella, MA, MEd, is author of The Story You Need to Tell and has taught thousands of students and fellow educators and presented hundreds of workshops to veterans, educators, and cancer patients. She lives near Phoenix, Arizona. Find her online at

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