What Writing About Personal Experience Teaches

What Writing About Personal Experience Teaches

What Writing About Personal Experience Teaches

By Writing Gym Alumnae Sonee Singh

I have been in the Writing Gym for eight months and it has transformed the way I write. The program has pushed me to expand and explore my writing in unexpected ways. I am in the midst of editing a women’s fiction novel, yet I have realized there is value in writing about my personal experiences.

I enjoy writing fiction, because it allows me to explore the unfamiliar. I write characters unlike myself and have them participate in activities I would not normally engage in. However, fiction also allows me to explore the familiar. I write about traits within me or people I know, give my characters my hobbies or interests, and place them in settings I have visited. I give a voice to the experiences in my life under the cover of made-up scenes.

Salons are an integral part of the Writing Gym experience. In these salons, Annalisa Parent, who runs the Writing Gym, provides us a writing prompt and gives us 20 minutes to write non-stop. We take turns sharing our writing and providing feedback in a way that highlights strengths in our pieces.

Salons have helped me gain confidence as a writer, discover skills in my writing that I didn’t know were in me, and build a supportive bond with my fellow writers.

A couple of weeks ago, Annalisa did something unexpected, and asked us to write about a personal experience. I panicked. When I have written about myself in the past, no one knew. Now they would and it made me feel naked. Salons are safe environments, but I felt exposed.

It’s natural to feel vulnerable. When we share our personal stories, we open ourselves to criticism. It shouldn’t matter what other people think. After all, writing is something we do for ourselves. Still, we need to get over the fear of judgment, and that takes courage. It can be freeing and empowering.

Writing about our experiences forces us to look within.

This can lead us to recall the positive and joyful moments, but anytime we peer into the recesses of our past, we also run the risk of finding buried hurts, shunned memories, or dulled pain. It exposes that which we never intended to see the light. It exposes what we have lived through, and what we have survived.

There is a benefit in that. It allows us to accept what happened to us– good and bad.

We can’t change our history, but we don’t have to hold on to it.

Accepting the past helps us heal. It helps us release. It allows us to let go of the experience, let go of what it holds within us, and let go of the emotions that we attached to it. In bringing the past to light, it ceases to fester, diminishing its significance.

It is not about exposing ourselves. It is about unburdening. It is about the catharsis. And that has another consequence. Sharing is authentic. Sharing gives a voice to our experiences, and it makes our writing unique. It makes us relatable. It also allows us to feel lighter. At least it has done for me. After the salon where I shared my story, I felt oddly liberated, and it brought a smile to my face. It opened up something for me– a sense of ease I hadn’t felt before. I was motivated to do more.

I encourage everyone to be open to writing about personal experiences. It may result in a pleasant surprise.

While in the Writing Gym, not only has Sonee revised her women’s fiction to publishable, she has also published two poetry anthologies.
Want to know how you can get the same results?

Annalisa’s Top Book Picks

Annalisa’s Top Book Picks

Annalisa’s Top Book Picks 


If you’re writing, then you absolutely should be reading, and not just reading in your genre. You want to be reading widely.

And I practice what I preach.

For the writers over in the Writing Gym, we set goals and we put strategies in place to reach them.

Part of that should be your reading strategy. Because, of course, in order to be a good writer, you need to be reading.

Did I say that already? I think I did. I must mean it.

First, I wanted to share my top three nonfiction books. 


  • The Go-Giver Influencer by Bob Burg and John David Mann
    • My top pick. This book changed my life. It was exceptional. This is a book that I had to stop reading and think. So I read two pages and went, “Woah. That’s a big idea. I need to think through that.” There was a lot of journaling that happened. This book is about so much more than business, though it is also about business. This book is about how to live a quality life, how to problem solve, so that people can get along. And I think that this book is particularly important right now, right? We’re in a very contentious political situation. I’m not going to get into the details of that, but there are a lot of people who are having difficulty getting along with each other. If everybody read this book, maybe things would be a little bit better. I highly, highly, highly recommend this book.
  • How to Be Rich by J. Paul Getty. 
    • An oldie but a goodie. And let me tell you what I love about this book. First of all, great title. Don’t you want to know how to be rich? And it’s a misnomer. It’s a really good pitch. Although this book is about getting rich, it’s also really more sociological and philosophical. It’s  about the creation of wealth, the obligation that wealth creates, how we create jobs and share that wealth, and how we contribute to our culture patrimony through wealth to share that. Think Rockefeller. It’s a really really interesting book.
  • Mastering Fear: A Navy SEAL’s Guide, written by Brandon Webb and John David Mann.
    • Many of you have heard John David Mann on the Writing Gym podcast. He had some great thoughts to share on the writing of this book that he and John went through. Brandon and John put a really great book together. I particularly loved their philosophy on mastering fear. A lot of times, we talk about really mastering fear. And he really nips that myth in the bud through this book. We’ve all been afraid of something in our lives. Sometimes it’s big things. Sometimes fear really gets in the way of our dreams. I don’t want fear to get in the way of your dreams, your publishing dreams. 

Now, my favorite fiction picks.


  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. 
    • One of the things we talk about over in the Writing Gym a whole lot is how you integrate your literary devices to augment your theme and plot points. It’s really, really hard to do. And this book did it really well. Not only is it a good, interesting, character-driven story, but the pacing is amazing. She gives you just enough information for you to always be on the edge of your seat, wondering what’s going to happen next.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. 
    • You’ve probably seen this book about. It was a New York Times bestseller. Very popular book. Again, the pacing was really beautiful. Just spot-on, how the author was able to give out the information and it did have a surprise ending. No spoilers here, but the way that the book was able to come full circle in it’s theme but also to have a surprise at the end was very masterful. Really, really loved this book.
  • Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington. 


I want to send some shout-outs to some amazing members of the Writing Gym who published as well. I’m really excited for their victories, for their success, for the way that they were able to complete their writing dreams.

My first shout-out goes to Dr. Priya Saklani, who finished her book, The Wounded Healer: The True Story of a Child Sexual Abuse Survivor. She finished this book in 2017, published in 2018. 

This is a really great memoir where she is really honest about some really tough stuff. She and I had some good, tearful moments together as we worked through the contents of this book. This isn’t easy stuff to talk about. It’s not easy stuff to read. But the victory message is here. 

We talked about mastering fear earlier. Here, she’s talking about mastering an experience, moving through something and coming out the other side with positivity. This is a really powerful book from the Writing Gym. 

Next I want to send a big shout-out to our very own Stephanie Scott-Snyder, who wrote this book, not in the Writing Gym, but it was published in 2018. Stephanie works in the field of crime–I won’t tell you more than that. I’ll let her tell her own story. And her novel, When Women Offend: Crime and the Female Perpetrator, is a very compelling nonfiction. Stephanie is certainly an expert in this field who has a lot to share. 

And the last Writing Gym shout-out that I want to give is to Terry Harkin, who wrote The Big Buddha Bicycle Race. We met in New York a few years back and we worked on some of his pages and got his pitch ready. Then Terry got a three-book deal.

He’s doing really great for himself. His publishing company just sent him on a speaking tour, so I was able to meet up with him in Colorado. We had lunch, and we talked about his journey as a writer. I’m super proud of him, super happy for him, really could not be more thrilled for his success and what he’s been able to do with his story and his books.

Please support your fellow writers. Leave a review on any of these books if you’ve read them. 

This is one of the most important things you can do for the authors that you love. Take five minutes on Amazon, or Goodreads, and leave them a glowing review!

Lastly, I want to thank you all for your support of Storytelling for Pantsers. This book has sold so well. Many of you have reached out to me and asked for a signed copy that I’ve sent to you with so much joy in my heart. 

I appreciate you and I look forward to hearing from you all about the books that you love and your plans for the future.

Until next time. Happy reading and writing. 

Writing during a time of International Crisis

Writing during a time of International Crisis

Writing during a Time of International Crisis

As you obviously know, we are currently dealing with an international health crisis. People have a variety of feelings about it. Denial, stress, anger, fear, and panic–all of the natural things humans feel when they are faced with a crisis. 

However, over here in the Writing Gym, we are all about being real and having real solutions.  

I’ve been working with writers for a long time, and one of the most popular statements I hear from writers all over the world is this: “I wish I had the time to write.”

Here’s a new spin: you have been given the gift of time. What writers have always been wishing for is here. So use this time that you have been given to write.

But how? 

Perhaps you can find 15 minutes in the morning or after the kids go to bed just to jot down some of your ideas. Think about it. 15 minutes? You could probably write at least 2 pages. If this goes on for a couple of weeks, you’re gonna have several chapters done by the time we are out of our homes, embracing one another and socializing in person once again. 

So, please use this time wisely. It’s a real gift to write. 

I’d like to give you a tip I usually save just for the Writing Gym members. 

When you’re in moment of strong emotions, like fear, anxiety, anger, write it down. Write exactly what you’re feeling. Write it all down and then save that. Save it in a notebook, in a file on your computer. Title it “uncertainty” or “fear” or whatever emotion you were feeling while you were writing. You’re creating for yourself a bank that you can go back to. 

Maybe 5 years from now, you’ve got a character who’s feeling really uncertain but you’re not sure how to convey this emotional authenticity into your piece. Well, you’ve created a bank for yourself where you can access a distant memory of that emotion. 

Here’s the thing. At the Writing Gym, we always want to reframe things positively. Let me reiterate.

You’ve been given the time to write and you’ve been given the gift of emotional authenticity to really add to your writing. 

Take care. Happy writing. 

Making Time for Reflection

Making Time for Reflection

Making Time for Reflection


As I was walking through the Vermont woods on a beautiful sunny but cold day, I thought about the writing process. Some of you know I’m in the process of writing two books at the moment, and one is due back to my editor on Monday, so we’re wrapping up that draft.

I could have stayed at home and worked on that draft, because I’ve certainly got work to do, but as I walked through the woods, I thought about the importance of taking time to reflect. It’s important to set aside time for inspiration, take time to let your brain relax a little bit, give it space to reflect, and get inspiration. 

It’s amazing the ideas that come to you while you’re walking.

You don’t have to walk out in the woods; you can walk in your neighborhood, or around a track at your local college.

What matters is getting out, doing something different, and allowing your story to run in the background, to give it some time to marinate while you’re ruminating. 

It’s really important to the creative process to take time off from your book and not worry about it. Instead of thinking, “Am I ever gonna get published?” “Am I ever gonna finish it?” “Am I ever gonna do it?” give your brain a break and take some time off.

I hope you are finding inspiration, and ways to find inspiration.

Happy Writing. 


How is FEEDBACK Related to Publishing SUCCESS?

How is FEEDBACK Related to Publishing SUCCESS?

How is FEEDBACK Related to Publishing Success?

Recently, I was featured in our local newspaper. They gave me a full page, which was kind of a big deal. During the interview for the article, I was asked how I felt about one of the big local writing groups. This group was huge in our city; they have many participants, and I’ve actually taught as an instructor. 

They might have been looking for a bit of sensationalism when they asked me this question. The reporter read my book, Storytelling for Pantsers, and knew how I felt about bad feedback, especially from this writing group. Of course, I answered the question—I’m not really one to disparage and believe that there is a place for free writing groups.

In truth, free writing groups are only great for camaraderie.

So what is the difference between someone who’s a hobbyist and someone who wants to be a professional?

I enjoy painting. I’m not very good at it, but I really enjoy it. I can spend time with other painters, share ideas, give each other a little feedback and such. This is great because we’re having fun doing our hobby, but not one of us dreams of becoming a professional painter one day. This is the same as writing groups

If you’re a hobbyist and you just want to write for fun, these free writing groups will meet your needs. However, if you actually want to become a professional, and are looking for professional results, you need professional feedback.

Let’s take another analogy: If I want to become a professional skiier I won’t just hang out at the ski club. Instead, I’ll hire a professional and dedicate a lot of time to training.

To be a professional writer you need professional training.

Are there anomalies to this? Yes. However, most of us would need training, support, and feedback that will make us successful professional writers. 

In Write to Publish, you will find the same sense of camaraderie with other as those free local writing groups. However, here we focus on bringing you to the path of publishing success. We provide different tools that can take you to this end goal. The feedback that we do here is based on my study of neuroscience. You might have heard me mention about my time at the brain-imaging lab at MIT and how I study and teach how the brain impacts creativity. 

What we use in the Writing Gym is just that: neuroscience-based feedback. And we do it well. If you are ready to learn more and speak with me about where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you can get there, put yourself right into my calendar. 

The Writing Gym England Retreat 

The Writing Gym England Retreat 

The Writing Gym England Retreat 

This past month, we held the May Writing Gym Retreat at the manor house in Devon, England.

Every year many writers come to England and have lots of fun spending time with their fellow writers. But this retreat is not just about having fun, it’s also about getting into your creativity, getting into that right relationship with your inner critic, and finishing that writing project.

Most of all, it’s about the experience of being here in England to have some time away from your daily concerns. It’s truly a beautiful place to get away from everything and get some writing done.

This is truly a wonderful experience that’s changing lives. People have already talked about how amazing the retreat is, and we haven’t even been there for twenty-four hours. That is the power of the Writing Gym and our programs.

We get results, grow writers, and help people to become the very best writer that they can become so they can publish in the best way. 

We create the author lifestyle for so many writers who want it.

If you’d like to talk to me about where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you can get there I’d be happy to hop on the phone with you and talk about how we can get you living the author lifestyle.  

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