Writing memoir isn’t ‘therapeutic,’ says author, but it can make you happier

How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size BedTheo Pauline Nestor took to the Huffington Post yesterday to talk about her experience creating How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over. Apparently, everybody thinks writing a memoir must be “therapeutic.” Her reaction was to cringe.

“I cringed because I see the book as a story that I had worked long hours to craft and shape,” she wrote. “I see writing as something I love, but it’s also my job. When I think of ‘therapeutic writing,’ I picture long scrawled journal pages of unfiltered, uncensored feelings. When the word therapeutic is used in reference to my work, I feel a smidge patronized. Why don’t you just pat me on the head while you’re at it?”

Nestor admits that she understands where these people — her readers — are coming from when they use the word she so loathes. They’re only trying to connect with her and learn more about the writing process and its inherent rewards. Penning the memoir did bring Nestor joy, but not because it’s therapeutic (although early portions of the book were) or because publishing is some big miracle cure.

The answer came to her after watching a 20-minute TED talk about “The Power of Vulnerability.” It’s all about how opening ourselves to others — becoming vulnerable and revealing our authentic selves — increases happiness.

“To write a full-length memoir, you have to share plenty of stuff that you’d just as soon keep out of public view,” she wrote. “There are many reasons to avoid this, and many writers are out there avoiding it right now. It’s scary to write about your own experiences and share a hunk of the real you with people you’ve never met (and — even worse — with people you have met), but writing and specifically publishing a memoir has brought me an increased connection to others.”

I find this painfully true for the same reason that joining social media can either bring people together (through reconnecting, sharing life events or daily thoughts, and having a voice in a “community”) or make them lonelier than they were when they signed on — look at all these people who you could be spending time with while you’re here, alone, sitting behind a computer screen. These sites are only supportive if you have someone to talk to; otherwise, it’s just like staying quiet in a mingling crowd.

The same risk/reward is involved in forming relationships in face-to-face social situations. Do you dare let others in, or are you too shy to be “vulnerable”?

Nestor objects to the word “therapeutic” because it’s too wild to describe what the writing process is like (authoring a memoir is not like keeping a diary), but she asserts that establishing connections with other people is what helped her find happiness. So my question is, is writing in a way that enables you to communicate with others a “therapeutic” act in itself? What do you think is key to successful catharsis in writing?

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