Writing From Life

“This book will convince even the most reluctant authors to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and begin… The marginalia alone—fascinating quotes from all sorts of people—is worth the price of the book.”
—NAPRA Review

If you are a woman who has a story to tell, this book is for you. Susan Wittig Albert, award-winning, bestselling author and memoirist, on the importance of women’s stories:

“Women’s stories must be told, so that the women who come after us will know how it really was, so that they know that their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers are more than just the characters in men’s tales, that we are dimensional, intentional beings with minds of our own, wills of our own, dreams of our own. You and I are the only ones who can tell those stories, because we are the only ones who have lived them. By telling them—by telling our real, true woman’s story—we will challenge and correct all the myths and made-up stories about women’s lives. We will show that women’s lives aren’t lived as men have taught us to imagine them. Our stories are more than idle gossip, family chitchat, more than old wives’ tales—although they are these things, too, and isn’t that wonderful?”

Praise for Writing From Life

“Believing that all women have stories to tell and that they can grow spiritually as they learn to put those stories into words, Susan Wittig Albert provides a guided writing program that is practical and inspiring. She encourages women to discover their own voices through exploration of eight thematic clusters: beginnings and birthings; achievements, gifts and glories; female bodies; loves, lovers, lovings; journeys and journeying; homes and homings; visits to the Valley of Shadows; and experiences of community. In an appendix, Albert shows writers how to create what she calls a ‘Story Circle,’ a community of women who can gain, through sharing their writing, a sense of belonging and an appreciation of the transformative magic of writing. Albert’s book brings charm and elegance to the view of writing as a process of self-discovery.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Written specifically for women, Writing from Life offers a framework (and a generous amount of encouragement and kindling) for writing, chapter by chapter, about the various aspects of your life. Start with your own birth, Susan Wittig Albert recommends: ask anyone who might remember it to recount it for you; go to the library and find out what kind of world you were born into. By book’s end you will have delved into your shiniest glories, your darkest days, your deepest secrets, and your most mundane moments. You will have written about (and thus discovered how you feel about) your family and soul mates, journeys you have taken, places you have called home, and causes that motivate you. Inspiring quotes, mostly by women, are strewn throughout.”

“Recommended for writing and women’s studies collections.”
—Library Journal

“This book will convince even the most reluctant authors to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and begin… The marginalia alone—fascinating quotes from all sorts of people—is worth the price of the book.”
—NAPRA Review

From the Book

Story as a Healing Art

If we feel an urgent social and political need to tell our true stories, we also feel, often unconsciously, an even more urgent psychological need. Every day, all over the United States, women sit together in kitchens and classrooms, on park benches and at office desks, around tables in cafes, in chat rooms on the Internet, telling their true stories. “I have to do this,” a woman in one of my classes said. “I’m afraid that if I don’t tell my story, I won’t be real!”

This storytelling work is remarkably, rewardingly healthy. As we reveal ourselves in story, we become aware of the continuing core of our lives under the fragmented surface of our experience. As we become conscious of the multifaceted, multichaptered “I” who is the storyteller, we can trace out the paradoxical and even contradictory versions of ourselves that we create for different occasions, different audiences—and the threads that weave all these chapters, all these versions into one whole. Most important, as we become aware of ourselves as storytellers, we realize that what we understand and imagine about ourselves is a story. It is only one way of representing our experiences, of composing and recomposing our lives. Our stories are not the experiences themselves.

This realization is deeply healing. How does that work?

Psychologists tell us that in order to make sense of what’s happening in the chaotic and often threatening external world, we create internal frames of reference, narrative structures: stories.

Sometimes our stories are affirmative and constructive, opening us to a generous and loving universe. Sometimes they are negative, limiting our choices, our actions, our dreams, reflecting a universe that is more malignant than benign. Sometimes we actively define our stories: we portray ourselves as resourceful, hopeful persons capable of creating our own futures. Sometimes we passively allow our stories to define us: we see ourselves as persons with a confining past, persons without resources, without hope, victims of outside forces over which we have no control.

Understanding that our stories are stories—and hence open to radical retelling and revision—can help us begin to heal from the wounds that experience necessarily inflicts upon us as we grow and change.

This makes a good deal of sense, don’t you think? When I can see the difference between the event and my story about it, between the experience and my interpretation of it, I can begin to glimpse the many creative means by which I author my own life. I become aware that my experiences, like stories, have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That my life, like all narrative, consists of plot, character, setting, theme—the fundamental constituents of story. When I have a feeling for the various plots and subplots of my life, the actions of the characters (including the main character, me!) begin to make psychological sense. When I understand how my actions lead from one result to another and another and another, I can see myself as the creator of my experience, my life’s plot. I can respect and admire my ability to compose an orderly existence out of the disorder and apparent randomness of events and influences that are a mystery to me when I am in their midst.

Our personal narratives, thoughtfully constructed, can have an enormously significant therapeutic potential. By reminding ourselves where we have been and what we have thought and what we have done, we can develop a clearer sense of what we might think and do in the future. The world seems rich with options and alternatives, and we have power and purpose. We can choose which potentials to realize—to make real—in our lives. We can story ourselves.

And more: As we remind ourselves of our stories, however painful, we soften the old scar tissue, solace aching miseries, soothe bitter hurts. In telling the truth about our lives, we can cleanse the infection and close the open, painful wounds that have distorted us, have kept us from realizing all that is possible for ourselves. And in sharing the truths, in opening our secrets together, our common wounds—women’s wounds—may be healed.

The healing that can grow out of the simple act of telling our stories is often quite remarkable. Even more remarkably, this healing is not just our own healing: when it is shared, it is the healing of all women. That’s why, as we tell our stories to ourselves, it is also important to share them with others. This sharing brings a sense of kinship, of sisterhood. We understand that we are not alone in our efforts to become conscious, whole, healthy persons, The more we learn about ourselves and our own lives, the more we want to know about the lives of other women—women of our own time and place, women of other times, other places.

Stories have such enormous potential. When I tell you the story of my life, I don’t have to do anything special—just tell the truth of it as I lived it, with all its ragged edges and loose ends, all the hurtful and the healing bits. When you tell me your story, I don’t have to do anything special, either: just listen and accept and reflect and be amazed. Together, telling and listening, accepting and reflecting, we are changed. Together, we reclaim the dynamic energy, the psychic power that is our inheritance. We can use that energy to compose ourselves in new ways, in astonishing new forms. We can empower ourselves and others to revise the script we were handed when we were born—the cultural script that tells women how to walk and talk and think and believe. If enough of do this work now, our daughters and will have less of it to do in the future.

Each time I write, each time the authentic words break through, I am changed.
I am surprised and transformed by what I record.

—Susan Griffin