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Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives Hardcover – March 3, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 226 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (March 3, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062515195
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062515193
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #450,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

A professor of creative writing at Hunter College and a frequent guest on National Public Radio, DeSalvo (Vertigo: A Memoir, LJ 7/96) brings 20 years of writing experience to this work. She recommends writing in spare moments, uncensored, and asks her students to write five pages per week. She advises writing every detail as a reporter to move beyond a trauma. Writing links feelings of pain, grief, and loss to an event and speeds healing. DeSalvo presents seven stages of writing, from preparation/germination to completion/going public. She suggests writing a process journal so the work flows smoothly and warns against self-sabotage in the form of missed deadlines and last-minute scrambling. When the writing is completed, sharing stories in a group with other empathetic writers will sharpen the narrative. DeSalvos work is similar to Julia Camerons The Right To Write (LJ 1/99), though more academic. Camerons work is recommended for public libraries, while DeSalvos is better for higher-level writing classes.Lisa S. Wise, Broome Cty. P.L., Binghamton, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

How writing can be used to recover from trauma and as a tool for personal growth: encouragement and suggestions from a professor of literature and creative writing. DeSalvo (Hunter Coll.) is working here from her own experience: a tumultuous childhood, the loss of her mother and sister in adulthood, and severe health problems left her in turmoil that began to calm when she wrote about her experiences (Vertigo: A Memoir, 1996). Years of seeing her students find similar succor has further convinced her of the special value writing holds as a therapeutic tool. It's cheap, doesn't take much time, is self-initiated and flexible, can be private (or public), is easily portable, can be done in sickness or in health; ``writing to heal requires no innate talent, though we become more skilled as we write, especially when we pay careful attention to the process.'' DeSalvo is careful to caution throughout, howeever, that writing mustn't become a substitute for medical care. DeSalvo refers extensively to James W. Pennebaker's Opening Up; he and colleagues studied in depth the relationship between writing about difficult feelings and improving health, and then specifically what kind of writing led to healing after traumatic experiences. DeSalvo especially cites Virginia Woolf, Isabel Allende, and Alice Walker as practitioners of therapeutic writing. She argues strongly that writing ``is a very sturdy ladder out of the Pit to reach freedom and safety.'' Her guide is a reasonable starting point for those who hope shes right. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Anyone who is even considering writing memoir should read this book.
Blondieco
Desalvo's book validated my earlier conclusion that writing is truly a way of healing.
Karl from Boston
This is very different from writing in a journal, which many books have covered.
Anita

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Anita on July 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is the only book I know of that teaches a disciplined form of writing for the purposes of therapeutic healing. This is very different from writing in a journal, which many books have covered. The author describes a process which she has used herself and taught to many students. The first part of the book goes into the concept of how writing can be healing. She has one simple principle, which is that the writing must include both events and feelings about the events. Either one by itself will not have the same effect. She uses examples from her own writing and authors such as Virginia Woolf and Isabel Allende to show how this combination of events and feelings works.
The second part is all about the process and she guides the reader through the steps, with caring and encouragement, just as if you were in one of her classes. The process begins with preparing, planning, and germinating, which are basically about choosing one story to tell, letting ideas come to you, taking notes. The next steps are working, deepening, shaping, ordering, and completing. This is where you dive in and give structure to your story. This stage contains at its center one piece of modest and practical advice, which is to write five complete pages per week. If you do that, and by the time you finish the book you will believe that you can, within just a couple months you'll have completed a 40 page memoir.
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78 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Cassandra Barnes on April 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
Louise DeSalvo, Ph.D. says, "writing has helped me heal. Writing has changed my life. Writing has saved my life." In her newest book, Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, DeSalvo provides readers with detailed instructions on how they, too, can heal themselves.
Unlike most authors, DeSalvo doesn't advise writers to free-associate, or write whatever comes to mind in whatever order it comes, as a way of healing. She recommends, instead, choosing a traumatic event and fully exploring it. She says "to improve health, we must write detailed accounts, linking feelings with events."
She cites numerous studies showing that people who wrote about traumatic events, and included the details of their emotions, initially had negative feelings to overcome, but then experienced many long-term positive benefits. Those benefits were both mental and physical, including improvements to the immune system. She says "when we deal with unassimilated events, when we tell our stories and describe our feelings and integrate them into our sense of self, we no longer must actively work at inhibition. This alleviates the stress of holding back our stories and repressing or hiding our emotions, and so our health improves."
A researcher into the therapeutic benefits of writing for more than twenty years, DeSalvo has filled her book with examples, including the effect of her mother's severe depression on her life, excerpts from diaries and journals of people like Virginia Woolf and Isabel Allende, and numerous essays from her writing students.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By JackOfMostTrades VINE VOICE on March 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
No book can teach you to write, unless it is a formulaic recipe, cookbook sort of guide. Writing as a Way as Healing is exceptional because it has a particular point of view regarding the value of writing--specifically, exploring dis-ease through the written word. DeSalvo focuses on PROCESS, which is the simple idea that through writing one discovers how to write, and what particular story one is destined to write. This alone is invaluable advice since much writing is pre-packaged and pre-determined so that it is predictable. Both experienced and inexperienced writers can take this advice to heart since it encourages one not to feel as though writer's block is not having anything to write about, but rather not finding what one needs to write about. The book is supplemented by both references and quotes from well-known writers who have written about pain and illness, and includes empirical data about the healing power of writing. This is a good book. Period.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Karl from Boston on April 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
My daughter Debbi gave me this book for my birthday. I read Ms. DeSalvo's book when I was in the final stages of confronting the tragic suicide of my father that happened two days before my high school Senior Prom. For nearly fifty years after the day my entrepreneur father put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger his death gnawed at me. By facing what happened to me on that dreary spring day in Boston and trying to make sense of my Pop's state of mind on the day he died I was able to dig down deep into my soul and describe how I felt. I opened up my heart and was able to face a time only years had kept at bay. By writing about my heretofore-suppressed feelings I began to sob over the keyboard and took my first steps to understand why my father died. Desalvo's book validated my earlier conclusion that writing is truly a way of healing.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on December 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
I have read a great many books on writing, and written a few myself. But Writing as a Way of Healing has gone straight to the top of my list of favorites, and I suspect that it will stay there for a very long time--perhaps for all time. But in the process of reading this book, I discovered I had to read the book that went before it, and now I want to tell you about both.

Louise DeSalvo has been teaching English and creative writing for nearly twenty years. The first in her working-class Italian family to graduate from college, she escaped a soul-deadening home life--a depressed mother, an angry father--by reading, going to the movies, and dating, dating, dating. It wasn't until the late 1980's, when she wrote a scholarly book about the impact of childhood sexual abuse on the life and work of Virginia Woolf that she began to come to terms with her own childhood traumas and the lingering shadows of her mother's death and her sister's suicide. She dealt with her pain, anxiety, and depression in a memoir called Vertigo (now available in paperback, published by Plume), in which she explored her own story. Vertigo isn't a pleasant book, or easy--it's about hidden pain and the depression and despair into which a woman can fall when she attempts to avoid self-knowledge. But it is a necessary book, for through it, DeSalvo learns that the process of life-writing is also the process of healing. What she discovered in Vertigo, and what she subsequently put to use in her own teaching, is the subject and object of Writing As a Way of Healing.

DeSalvo's section and chapter titles, by themselves, are helpful clues to the book's significance.
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