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VDS Feature: Telling a Truthful Narrative: Lessons in Creative Writing

Posted by on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 in Feature, , , .

by Julia Nusbaum, MTS2

I have always found healing in words. While growing up and feeling sad or lonely, I would find a book and become absorbed in the words. Stories made me feel whole again— the words made worlds come alive inside of me. I wanted to make people feel the way I did when I read stories. I wanted people to become immersed in the raw emotion of a finely woven tale.

In middle school, a teacher convinced me to buy a journal during a school book fair. She said it would help me with my writing. I bought it, took it home, yet I didn’t know what to do with it. No stories came to mind—at least not any that didn’t seem false and contrived.  I was trying too hard to create something that was not inside of me.

When I finally put my pen to paper, all that came from me were the details of my day. The mundane events of a middle school life—I wrote about my friends; I wrote about at which lunch table I sat; I wrote about a fight with my brother over the TV remote. It felt good to put these experiences on paper—these little details—these chronicles of my day. It felt good to know my feelings.

I wrote in that journal until it was full, and then I took it to my mother and demanded (as middle school girls do) that she buy me another one. She did, and I wrote. I wrote all of my feelings, all of the stories ideas in my head. I wrote down poems that I made up and poems that I found in books. I wrote down quotations, sayings, and song lyrics. I wrote, and I wrote, and I kept on writing. This year I filled up my fourteenth journal with the words that are inside of me.

The stories I’ve written, the stories of myself that I keep tucked in my journals, and the fictional stories I’ve written for school, pleasure, and contests have had for me the same healing effects as a book. I am not always escaping from myself, but I am telling truths about myself that I did not know were inside of me. These truths, these narratives of my life, heal me.

As part of my field education placement at the Magdalene Community and Thistle Farms, I started teaching a creative writing class for the women of Magdalene who are survivors of trafficking, addiction, and life on the street. The two-year recovery program emphasizes storytelling and encourages all of the women to take agency over their stories—to reclaim their stolen narratives.

When the suggestion came for me to teach a class that would give women a creative outlet to write their own stories or simply express themselves creatively, I was both excited and terrified. I had never taught anyone to write creatively. I was sure there would be only two women in the class, maybe three. But when I walked into the room for the first class, there were eleven women waiting.

“Are you the writer?” they asked.

Was I the writer?

I asked each woman what had brought her to the class that day, and nearly all of them answered the same. “I have a story inside me. I have things to say, and I want to get them out.”

We all have stories inside of us. Each one of us has something to say and a longing in some way to bear our story to the world. Teaching creative writing has taught me that there is healing in words and power in telling one’s own story. There is healing that comes from putting pen to paper.

When I say I love you…
The ebb and flow of life’s undercurrent.
It is such a beautiful sunny day
I would love to have a great day today.
My God will always carry me through
Even when my heart is sad.
I hold my head up, and I say,
I am proud of who I am
I am holding on, standing strong
Healing comes by faith,
And the day comes with singing.

—Written by the women of Magdalene







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One Comment on “VDS Feature: Telling a Truthful Narrative: Lessons in Creative Writing”

Thank you for writing this, Julia. All too often, we subscribe to a hierarchy of needs and for some reason the needs that are too “touchy-feely” get left behind. But the ability to discover and tell your story – that seems like one of the most basic needs of human beings. Thank goodness for Thistle Farms and their treatment of whole people.

It makes me think of a writing group developed at Door of Hope in Memphis. Door of Hope provides transitional housing for adults with disabilities who are unhoused. Yet one of the most life-giving parts of the program is a Wednesday writing group that not only writes for each other but also compiles a monthly publication and is currently finalizing a book!

I wonder how the stories of the Thistle Farm ladies could be life-giving to others who read them…

Gabe Horton on April 3rd, 2014 at 10:54 am

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