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Criticism, Dark Fiction, Fiction, Ruminations, The Writer's Life, Writings

Creative Writing as Therapy: The Things We Remember

I won’t say I had a hidden past, but some events and relationships of my childhood and adolescence laid dormant for decades. My writing over the last year has uncovered them.

There was the teenager down the street who shot his father, and the day my grandfather fell off the ramp of the moving truck with the dining room hutch on his shoulder. (He jumped right back up, unhurt, or at least he said he was unhurt.) There was the time I nearly catapulted my little nephew into the hospital (long story, that one). I was not looking for them; I had not intended to mine this field.

The search for story led me there. I have written creative fiction for the last five years. For the first four, my stories dealt with characters of my imagination who addressed broad cultural issues. There is nothing incorrect with that approach. Just ask T.C. Boyle.

But lately, as I scan my imagination for stories, I more frequently recall episodes long forgotten, of people from my past. Instead of distilling a broad theme into archetypes, these new stories offer small scenes, featuring those remembered, from which meaning can be inferred.

Beyond that, those scenes intimate feelings and beliefs my psyche chose to bury within my subconscious, things which would have remained buried had not my need to tell stories unearthed them. And perhaps that need was prompted by the pressure of all those events aching to get to the surface.

Already these memories and stories have led me to reevaluate the venues of my adolescence, to view them not as worlds unto themselves, but as places that can be analyzed against the standards of a larger reality. And in that analysis I now see exposed the hatreds and prejudices that then were considered acceptable.

I have begun to look at creative writing as a form of therapy. This is not to say I will indulge in the cardinal sin of beginning writers to pen incessantly and heroically about themselves. But it does mean I will continue to explore this past for insights into my own self, and how the events of that past might illustrate themes and values that others may identify with.

The results so far have been surprising and illuminating.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


6 thoughts on “Creative Writing as Therapy: The Things We Remember

  1. I find the idea of what the subconscious will release through the writing process to be facinating. Even if the author isn’t being enlightened by his own work, he leaves behind a puzzle for others to solve. One only has to seriously read Hemingway, carefully considering his word choice and revealed information to know the torment of the man and the deep depression which eventually led him down the road to suicide. Reading Bradbury, even if I am incorrect in my assessment, I can see his issues with his father and the difficulty he has in letting go of an idealized past. I can tell, through his writing and recurring themes, his rich enjoyment for life and at the same time his sometimes inflated sense of self.

    And what is evening more frightening? As I analyze these works, thinking about what they might reveal about the inner person, I fear through my analysis of others I am in many ways revealing more about myself.

    Thanks. Thoughtful post.

    Posted by ssternberg | April 8, 2011, 2:24 PM
    • Thanks, Stewart. It’s a little scary, to be honest, to remember some of these incidents from my childhood. Like most people I only thought of my old neighborhood as the place where I grew up, but now it seems a far more dangerous place. Guess it’s probably better I didn’t figure it out until recently.

      Posted by jpon | April 11, 2011, 12:28 AM
  2. Yes. Small stories can be the most illustrative. The real stories are not about armies but about Privates. Not about churches but about single worshipers. The tag line to the old TV series, The Naked City, was, “There are six million stories in the naked city…this is one of them.”
    The trick is to imbue a character with that individuality, and where better to find that reality than in ourselves?
    In the genre of Situation Comedy, one takes a milieu and introduces a twist. In other literatures the same holds. Invent a world, populate it and then give it an intimate nugget you know intimately well.
    A fiction story that is entirely fictional sounds entirely fictional…false…phoney…hollow.
    So, write what and who you know. How corney. How true.

    Posted by jonzech | April 8, 2011, 2:56 PM
    • I think the attraction of these kinds of stories is that it’s a little easier for the reader to develop sympathy for the characters, since they are at least partially based on real people and not an archetype.

      Thanks, Jon

      Posted by jpon | April 11, 2011, 12:34 AM
  3. I think that writing IS tapping into the subconscious, that the subconscious is the place of myth and story. Though I tried to make conscious decision not to write about myself or put myself in my work in the writing of this novel, I’m in there. We write about our obsessions… which are only the repeated or strong themes in our lives, buried or not so buried. And I don’t think it is write what you know, so much as write what you care about. If you don’t care, can’t empathize, can’t relate to the people in your work then you aren’t writing honestly, not inhabiting the work. And in order to empathize, we have to see them, connect with them on some deeper level. We have to see ourselves in them, and see them in ourselves, our shared humanity. And then that’s what makes a book great, when the reader also shares in that experience. Ultimately, that’s the difference between writing that is constructed-imposing theme, metaphor, etc… onto a piece- and writing organically, letting it all bubble up from below on its own. And yes, I used to despise the idea of writing as therapy, but I’ve grown so much and faced so many of my demons through the writing process that I just don’t see how it couldn’t be.

    Posted by moondaria | April 8, 2011, 6:21 PM
    • Gwen, I cant recommend writing as therapy for all writers, and I certainly didn’t begin writing fiction to discover anything about myself, but it has certainly turned out that way, and I’m glad it happened.

      And you’re right about empathizing with the people in one’s stories—a writer needs to love his characters, even the villains, in order to allow them to show their passions.

      Posted by jpon | April 11, 2011, 12:37 AM

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