Hazelden, Center City Minnesota, 2001. ISBN 1568387423.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 03/20/2002
Nonfiction: Creative Life
Writing to Save Your Life is like sitting on the verandah with a much loved friend who encourages and affirms your need to write your life. Every time you see her, your friend reminds you of the importance of your story, not for publication or fame and fortune, but for the healing that occurs when you write your truth.
The friend tells her story, too, at the end of each chapter with essays previously published by Michele Weldon. The author lets us know that she also faces the challenges of everyday life (three kids, a job, a house) taking time and energy and making it difficult to sit down and write. The essays show Weldon as a real-life woman who sought and found help in the writing process rather than just a published-writer.
The words in the title of the book, "to save your life" mean to rescue as well as preserve your own truth. Weldon encourages readers to answer the questions posed in the book to give their words physical space. While writing, "you are using your hands as instruments of your heart and mind," she says. Weldon's term for such therapeutic writing is "scribotherapy."
I don't think of this book as a "how to." What has stayed with me is the memory of that encouraging friend. Though in looking back to refresh my memory, I see that there are steps and suggestions for good writing—focus on the big idea, make an outline, etc. The most powerful exercise follows a description of who we write for—ourselves, of course. It was a powerful exercise in that I honored all the cute and quirky parts of myself. The "me" I write for, I discovered, is the me who calls a writing circle, once the candle is lit, the realm of the sacred. The me who laughs at the same jokes I told in eighth grade. The me who has an insatiable desire not just for reading but for the physical books themselves. I write for the me who still has her fourth-grade composition book. You get the idea. Other women in one of the writing circles I facilitate did the same exercise, and we were able to see one another in a revealing, touching and affirming way.
The author quotes famous writers who found healing in writing, including Anne Tyler and Frank McCourt. Most of the quotes, though, are the thoughts of participants in Weldon's workshops. They illustrate that writing is accessible to all, and anyone who writes can heal from the process.
Weldon has written a personal memoir titled I Closed My Eyes. She also is an essayist, journalist, and lecturer at her alma mater, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Living in the Chicago area with her three sons, she serves on the board of directors of Sarah's Inn, a domestic violence services agency in Oak Park, Illinois.
I leave you with the words of Weldon, my encouraging friend: "Your story is important. By writing it down and committing your truth to paper, you have honored your life, your truth, and who you are in the world."
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