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Writing to Explore, to Connect, to Grow…

Blog Written By: Peggy Messerschmidt

“Writing itself is one of the great, free human activities. There is scope for individuality and elation and discovery…. Writing back and forth between experience and thought, writers have more than space and time can offer. They have the whole unexplored realm of human vision.” (William Stafford — Writing the Australian Crawl)

How many of you loved to write at some point in your lives? Maybe when you first learned to make letters on those pale green lines with the broken line centers? Or when you wrote your first story or poem in grammar school? But maybe, somewhere along the way, writing became less fun, more prescriptive. Maybe you had to go from writing stories or feelings in a journal to writing five-paragaph essays with thesis statements and topic sentences and even with only a certain number of sentences per paragraph. Not much freedom there. Then, writing became something you had to do for school, something you stayed up late at night for and fretted over. It went from being the “great free human activity” that Stafford talks about in his book, Writing the Australian Crawl to something mundane or burdensome or even a source of shame and embarrassment.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, writing is our birthright as humans. Discovering ourselves through writing and other forms of art, listening to our own creative impulses is our birthright. We can ALL do it. Children do it. Children of three can write amazing poems with metaphors about clouds in the sky becoming mashed potatoes.

Contrary to popular belief, writing can be fun. It can be a way of connecting to ourselves, of going more deeply in our lives, of listening to ourselves and figuring out what we think and feel, of challenging our conditioning and/or of expressing our truth both to ourselves and others. We can write just for ourselves in journals, stories, poems, or we can let others in on our thoughts and feelings by sharing our writing. In either case, we can write to become more whole and to heal our deepest wounding.

This blog starts a series in which we will explore how to use writing for fun, exploration, self-knowing, and healing. I am not talking formal writing here. Not the kind you had to do in school or the kind one learns in a creative writing classes where poems have to have some formal meter. This is for you, to do with what you want. To let yourself explore, for writing is heuristic. It is about discover, about COMING to Know, not knowing at the start.

As Peter Elbow explains in his book, Writing Without Teachers, writing can be compared to growing and cooking. It is organic. We find out what we think and feel. We don’t start out that way. And like any creative endeavor, curiosity and the willingness to Not Know are the keys. And kindness — towards yourself and what you write. Think of your pieces as your children. You would not scold them because their sentences didn’t all make logical sense or their pronouns didn’t agree. Writing is always a process and we are too. Our lives are We start where we are and we keep going.

Since this blog is associated with Tri Valley Haven, it will also cover ways writing can be used or helpful in clinical or shelter settings. For instance, residents at Shiloh recently have done some writing in their DV group, that have ranged from writing poems in which they used some aspect of nature as a metaphor for themselves and explored how they were like the sun, fire, water, etc. to writing about their names and what names they would give themselves and exploring themselves through creatvely elaborating on their own initials. In addition, this blog will cover topics like biblio and poetry therapy, journaling for the self, various invention strategies, how the nature of image and figurative language can help us express our feelings in non-literal ways, and how poetry can heal. Since learning equals practice (and fun), I will also give you lots of prompts and other writing ideas so you can explore on your own and start your own writing/healing/discovery process.

I suggest you get a journal, not necessarily a fancy one but some lined paper, the cheap ones you can get at Target or Walmart and some fast writing pens. I like the Pilot Precise V Rolling Ball as they write quickly. And I get cheap journals at stores like Ross, Marshals, TJ Max. You can write on anything, even your computer, but if you the last, I suggest turning off the screen so you can just free write and not be tempted to look back and edit. More suggestions later.

I want to end this first blog by asking two what ifs:

What if we could all be amateurs in this endeavor called writing and discovery? As Julia Cameron points out in The Right to Write, the word “amateur” comes from the Latin “Amare” which means to love. What if we just wrote or did any creative act from the standpoint of love? Operating from the ground of love, both for ourselves and for what we might create?

What if like Shunryu Suzuki suggests in Zen Mind, Begginer’s Mind, we could write “with full attention” as if we were discoverng what we wanted to say for the first time (and often we are if we truly engage in the process)? As Suzuki states:
“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the experts there are few. …The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless”

About the Blogger: Peggy Messerschmidt is currently a MFT Intern at Tri-Valley Haven where she counsels individual clients and facilitates two DV groups. In her other life, she teaches creative and expository writing at the college level and was a FT instructor at Mission College for 22 years. She also has taught at Chabot, SFSU, and Ohlone. She is a poet/writer and has published in a number of poetry journals. Her poems also appear in Quarter Sky, a chapbook of poems. She is a trained “Journal To the Self” instructor and has been interested in the role of writing and poetry in the healing process for many years. You can reach her at TVH, 667-2722.

Leave a comment


  1. Thank you for the blog Peggy. I am looking forward to beginning my journal!

  2. Stacey

     /  May 23, 2013

    I’ve got my journal and I’m ready to get started!!

  3. Great post, Peggy! I will have to get a journal as well–although mine will likely be more of the “on a computer” variety. Over the years, I’ve found my thoughts flow faster and with less judgment on the computer. Odd, isn’t it?

    On a related/unrelated note, it’d be fun to do some sister-posts with yours… yours on writing as a therapeutic exercise and mine with some of the visual-art related stuff. Think what wonderful writing and images we could come up with! 🙂

    I am looking forward to reading subsequent posts in the series!

  4. Vel G

     /  May 28, 2013

    Thank you for this. I have always felt that I have stories to tell. Even as a child, I felt I had some insight to share, that my experiences could mean something to someone. Then the critics start in, both real and in my own head and I become stuck. I’d love to get the stories and thoughts out of my head and on to paper.


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