Writing to heal. It’s what columnists do, but perhaps many of us don’t think of it that way. We entertain. We opine. We guide. But heal?
Lifestyle or family columnists reach out to readers who often identify with the columnist’s emotions or a memory shared. To relate and to not feel alone in a largely impersonal world is reassuring.
Humor columnists exercise our guffaw muscles, too often unused. Studies show laughter, a most welcome escape, is a genuine component in wellness.
Investigative columnists try to heal the wrongs of society, uncovering truth and giving voice to the victimized. Opinion columnists spark public dialogue and debate, which is restorative to a free society (blog trolls aside).
Writing to heal. Even how-to columnists offer a cure, whether the remedy is a wondrous garden or sound money management.
We columnists get caught up in the job aspects of our craft – deadlines, added assignments, marketing, branding, or chasing after the money – and we forget what makes our place in journalism so unique, and why we do what we do.
For example, Julie Fay of Milton, MA is a family columnist who writes “Just a Minute” for The Patriot Ledger. Julie is the mother of three children; two have autism spectrum disorders. In that regard, her column is a window into her family’s unique challenges. But just as often, Julie shares endearing, comical, or exasperating episodes common to all parents. I had featured her as a guest on my TV show about writing, “It’s All Write with Suzette,” on the topic of point of view.
At first she was resistant to write from the viewpoint of a mother of children with autism. Being protective, she worried about making her children a public focus. Would they be hurt? Would she be judged? She wasn’t an expert on autism.
But she made that writing leap, and what fueled her decision was not marketability or niche appeal (though I’m sure they were factors with her editors). To Julie, parents of children with special needs would know they were not alone. Removing fear and bringing those unfamiliar with autism into her world through family stories had value.
Likewise, many of us reach beyond our own comfort zone. Yet we columnists get caught up in our craft – ideas, leads, a fresh angle, and prose – that we might forget that we write to heal and our efforts also heal us.
Recently, I had Dr. Allan Hunter, a writing professor and author, on my show. He has authored books about writing, and has a special expertise in memoir. As columnists, we always seek ways to make our work more sensory, evocative, and vivid, and he did share such ideas.
But Dr. Hunter also spoke of the inner growth that takes place when one mines a memory. There is the alchemy of transmuting base emotions into gold. The writer might initially be going for “this,” but discovers her piece is really about “that.” Something resonant and universal, and therein lies the profound lesson that transforms both the writer and her reader.
And isn’t that what we try to do on deadline all the time?
Writing to heal. It’s a two-way street.
Episodes from “It’s All Write with Suzette”:
JULIE FAY, GUEST
A “point of view” is a columnist’s fixed identity in print. How to define and refine one’s column writing persona is explored by host Suzette Martinez Standring and Julie Fay, a family columnist who writes “Just a Minute” for The Patriot Ledger (MA) as well as a local happenings column for The Milton (MA) Patch.
ALLAN HUNTER, Ph.D. – MEMOIR WRITING
Host Suzette Standring talks to Dr. Allan Hunter about memoir writing. He believes that writing down one’s experiences can be energizing, healing and can lead to genuine psychological growth.
Suzette Standring is the award-winning author of The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists. Visit www.readsuzette.com