Earlier this week I read about a study that showed people who wrote about traumatic or intensely positive experiences were able to find meaning in those experiences easier than those in the control group who didn’t write. For me, as someone with anxiety and panic disorder, I believe this to be true, and I’ll tell you why.
Several years ago I wrote a creative thesis and I chose an event in my life that I thought was significant due to its traumatic aspects, but the more I wrote about it the more my supervisor told me to look for the meaning behind the events I was putting on the page. It turned out that when I got right into it I was able to find a source of phobias and anxiety stemming from an incident when I was three. Not bad considering no therapist has ever made that happen!
And now here I am writing about coming-of-age, and finally I’m able to see meaning in experiences that continue to impact me to this day. It’s quite an educational and emotional experience.
As a side note, I strongly recommend reading Vivian Gornick’s ‘The Situation and the Story’ as it explains the difference between writing pure reportage scenes and finding the story in great detail.
Once you can put down enough of these kinds of experiences the writing becomes much like a quilt with patches that form a pattern and ultimately tell a much larger story, which hopefully deep dives the meaning of each experience to find the big one, the arc of a memoir for example.