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 I have them participate in activities I would not normally engage in. Fiction also allows me to explore the familiar. I write about traits within me or people I know, I give my characters my hobbies and interests, and I 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, the participants, take turns sharing our writing and provide feedback in a way that highlights the 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. She 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. However, it can be freeing and empowering.
Writing about our experiences also 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 it 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 brings 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.
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