How writing a memoir helped me heal

In mid April Eleanor Vincent, author of Swimming with Maya, and I will lead a workshop titled Telling Healing Stories: scnlogo1997_150x150Writing A Compelling Memoir at the Story Circle Network’s Writers Conference in Austin TX. I have written and spoken much about writing to heal.  In the next couple of weeks I’ll again share some of these thoughts.

How Writing A Memoir Helped Me Heal

Writing has been part of my life since I was in grade school. However, when my son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and after his suicide I needed to write down my feelings daily. Writing in my journal became an obsession and a balm. It gave me a way to organize my fears, pain, and thoughts. I had used journaling during an earlier stressful period of my life to rant. So I felt that writing would help me again during what turned out to be the most stressful time of my life.

Early on during my son’s illness I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992), and her suggestion to write morning pages resonated with me. Because I was employed full-time then, my writing didn’t always take place in the morning, but I always finished my three pages before the end of the day.

Right after Paul died I received a gift of Anne Brener’s book, Mourning & Mitzvah A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993). It was the only self-help book I even opened, and I was compelled to write an answer to every prompt in the book.

Writing was healing because it helped me put my pain on the page. Instead of carrying it with me every moment of the day and night, I found a place where I could have a little relief. There was so much I couldn’t say out loud to anyone. My husband worried I was having a breakdown even if I cried too much. And since there was so much anger and grief in me, I needed a place to put it.  Writing in those days was like repeating a mantra. I just kept moving my pen across the page. And I wouldn’t let anything get in my way.

I recommend writing or another creative outlet to women who are looking for ways to heal. My husband and I also found many diversions working out, work, movies, plays, opera, reading, traveling that helped. I also recommend that women take good care of themselves and not let others tell them how long it should take to heal. Everyone needs to express their grief and take time to heal in their own way and own time.

I finally decided to take my journals and other writing and turn them into a book when one of my writing instructors kept telling me to get my story out. And the more he said it and the more the rest of the class agreed, the more empowered I felt. However, I didn’t have clue what to do next. Fortunately I met a former literary agent who read my poetry manuscript and suggested I organize my book in the order of the poems. She also gave me writing prompts that helped me round out my material.

Microsoft PowerPoint - LTHLO cover concept 0913.pptxThroughout the writing, the querying, the revising, and even now during the marketing of my memoir Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, I have had a village of qualified professionals who have been a huge support. These people have made my writing life so much easier. That was a true gift and the most unexpected result of all.


I’d love your thoughts on this topic as well – some that I can possibly share with our workshop attendees in April. Thanks so much.


  1. Madeline, you know well my thoughts on healing through writing. I wish you and Eleanor a safe journey to Austin and a stellar presentation at your workshop. Wish I could be there with you!

    • Madeline Sharples says

      Dear Sherrey, i wish you could be with us. We all share reasons to write about this topic. Thanks for everything. And of course healing thoughts to you and Bob. ❤️

  2. Madeline, I never tire of hearing your story and your message of healing through writing. I know your’s and Eleanor’s presentation will be poignant and powerful. Blessings to you both as you travel and continue to touch the lives of others through your testimonies. I’m with Sherrey. I wish I could join you in Austin. Enjoy!

    • Madeline Sharples says

      Dear Kathy,
      I wish you could be with us as well. But one of these days we’ll get to meet in person. In the meantime, thanks for always being here for me. xoxoxo

  3. Madeline – A wonderful post. You have such an eloquent style that touches the heart. Reading this today was a reminder to me to keep putting my thoughts down, to grow, to find myself. My book on my first year as a widow was more on the things I did, then the pain of loss. But at night I wrote about the pain and it helped me to move forward. Five years later I like to call myself a writer, but I think I am still someone trying to figure it out on paper. And that is the best part of keeping a journal (in my case blogging) is that you can clear your head of demons, figure things out, celebrate the good times, remember the past. I write late at night when there is no one to talk to. I talk to myself. Perhaps that is what keeps me going! I know it will be an incredible workshop. I hope to meet you some day.

    • Madeline Sharples says

      Dear Barbara. Thanks so much for your kind words. And yes, please keep putting your thoughts and pain and grief on the page. It will get you through, I promise. I hope to meet you too. All best.

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