By Angela Breidenbach
Sometimes emotional pain can be so overwhelming, the only way to release its grip comes from shedding light on it. To me, writing about painful experiences helps turn my agony into encouragement. Following are six tips on how you can do the same:
- Write the cathartic version for private use first.
Cathartic writing is personal, intense, emotional. Purging the pain onto the page. That kind of therapy needs to be free flowing, without concern for format or that anyone else will benefit from the experience. But then, use it to mine gems of wisdom.
- Recognize circular cathartic writing.
Cathartic writing races around in circles releasing emotion. The beauty is emotion spills out in descriptive words directly from our unique perspectives and personalities. Lots of repetition tends to popcorn through the storytelling. The work begins when we pull that cleansing stream of consciousness into a linear timeline. Now unravel the knotted-up balls of emotion into something that makes sense. Yes, this part is hard!
- Read it again for the lessons learned.
Reading through the pages of raw emotion, what stands out as lessons learned? What has someone else asked about? Which survival tips can help another through their struggles? What prayers were answered? We need to show those growth experiences to others.
- Break apart those lessons into separate themes.
We often learn many lessons along the paths to healing. In both fiction and non-fiction (whether memoir, Christian living, self-help, Bible study, devotions, etc.) it’s often best to focus on one lesson rather than an entire life of lessons. A theme allows deeper exploration of any topic and keeps an article or book focused.
- Share one of those lessons over coffee with a hurting soul.
Battle scars, not bleeding wounds, help to inspire others. Bleeding wounds cry out for bandaging. Battle scars show we’ve healed and offer wisdom from what we’ve experienced. Ask—am I looking for comfort or am I ready to comfort and guide someone with what I’ve learned? Be cautious telling the difficult story. Tough tales easily turn the corner into personal woe. The goal is take-away value for the reader, not pity for the writer. Focusing on sharing heart-to-heart also creates a personal, conversational style for the reader. That’s why we picture ourselves sharing in an intimate chat over coffee with a hurting friend.
- Be real, but discerning.
Let’s get real, raw emotion sells. Sales put books into the hands of readers who need help. Step up and use those emotional words, but do not use the original cathartic writing. Some things never need to be said. Those descriptive emotional words and phrases come back into the final work once the piece or book has been sifted for lessons learned, linear order, and gutted of circular writing. It’s crucial to remove anything that violates someone else’s privacy, dignity, or could be used as retribution disguised as “storytelling”. People see through vengeance, and that kind of retaliation negates all the good that might have happened. Content, format, and take-away matter.
Angela Breidenbach is a bestselling Montana author, genealogist, and radio personality. Nationally, Angela serves as president for the Christian Authors Network (CAN). With a volume of media appearances and speaking engagements, Angela loves to share her knowledge to help others. She often speaks and trains for organizations such as the Christian Booksellers Association, UNITE, the Christian Authors Network, and a myriad of writing conferences on platform, various facets of marketing, and the craft of writing, as well as family history and becoming a woman of confidence, courage, and candor. Angela is often asked to speak on her experience as a daughter of a schizophrenic. She has one foot in researching history and genealogy and the other as a 21st Century techie enthusiast.