Writing can be a powerful tool for healing as you navigate major transitions in life. Jennifer Wolfe, founder of Women Writing for (a) Change Jacksonville, explains how to get started and where to plug into a supportive community.
What if your next big step toward healing and wholeness was as easy as putting pen to paper? According to Jennifer Wolfe, founder of Women Writing for (a) Change Jacksonville, writing offers surprisingly therapeutic benefits no matter what your skill level.
Wolfe started journaling from an early age. She grew up in a family where words were valued and hand-written letters preceded email. Later in her childhood, she landed in a gifted class, and her teacher, Mrs. Fern, had her group start writing. “It just so happens my parents were going through a divorce,” says Wolfe. “I got to write my thoughts, and nobody but Mrs. Fern ever saw them.”
Much later, when she went through her own divorce, Wolfe picked up her pen again—a refreshing change of pace after having had children and investing much of her time in her work life.
“I was giving the best parts of me to PowerPoint and emails, and that was vastly unsatisfying,” says Wolfe. “Going through a divorce gave me a good excuse to get started writing again.”
The Gift of Writing Through Transition
Transitions are an opportunity to reassess, listen to ourselves, and ask “Hey, what’s going on with me?” When she first started writing through her divorce, Wolfe would furiously type things out on her computer. “I could type so fast,” she recalls. “All of this stuff was pouring out. It was even overwhelming to me.”
What’s more is that everything was black and white. Even when she transitioned to pen and paper to help ground her over-anxious verbosity, her pen and journal were both black. Then somebody challenged her and told her she had 24 hours to do something kind for herself. She went to the bookstore and saw beautiful colorful journals and pens, bought a stack of them, and started writing with color in her life.
“That was a documentation of the transition I was going through, from my black-and-white self to my new permission-to-be-colorful life,” says Wolfe.
It was such a powerful experience that she knew she would want to share it with others.
4 Surprising Benefits of Journaling
It was about that time when one of her friends took a journaling series and Wolfe realized it was the type of work she might be interested in pursuing. She got certified to facilitate journaling classes and began bringing her love of words to other women. Through her own work and her work with others, Wolfe discovered that the simple act of journaling your way through transitions offers powerful benefits you may not expect.
1. Journaling helps you to acknowledge what happened. Some of life’s larger transitions, like divorce and single motherhood, can feel surreal—especially in the initial stages. When you write down the events on paper, it can help you acknowledge what happened and start to make it feel more real so you can face it, says Wolfe.
2. Journaling provides a container for out-of-control situations and feelings. Once you put those thoughts and feelings on the page, your journal acts as a physical container for the things that would otherwise cycle in your head. When you’re feeling raw and freshly wounded, it helps you to feel more in control by working with those thoughts in a safe, physical space, she adds.
3. Journaling allows you to make choices about what to share with others. This is an especially important outlet when you’re writing from your fresh, open wounds. Your journal can never be overwhelmed by your grief or your anger, she points out. Once you get it out, you can see what crystalizes on the page and then make choices about what you want and need to share with others.
4. Journaling engages your creative mind to solve problems. Sometimes we have to get outside our rational minds to be able to see new solutions, says Wolfe. When you’re faced with a dilemma, taking the time to write about your feelings or explore journaling through collage and other creative writing forms can help you let go of unproductive thoughts and discover a new perspective.
Keys to a Safe Community
While journaling is an excellent place to start your healing journey, being part of a supportive writing community can take you even deeper. Wolfe helps women discover the value of community through her work with Women Writing for (a) Change Jacksonville, her local social entrepreneurship that provides workshops and events for women writers of all skill levels. Her groups go beyond what you might expect from a standard writing circle.
In an unstructured, unsafe community, people are in danger of being interrupted and somebody dominates the conversation, explains Wolfe. Ideas are judged. Peoples’ writing is judged. Advice is given that might be poor or from someone who is not a trusted source. In short, the loudest person gets the most attention.
Since women tend to be relational and often more sensitive to these types of disturbances in a community, many will withdraw and not express themselves, says Wolfe. The opposite is true for Women Writing for (a) Change. Instead they use rituals and a structured process for sharing to prevent any one person from dominating.
When you sign up for a workshop with Wolfe, here’s what you can expect:
Quality content. The backbone of Wolfe’s workshops is strong text. Trusted content is invaluable when working with people in any sort of crisis. Her transitions content is researched and based on the expertise of people like author William Bridges and Leia Francisco, a coach and student of Bridges who has worked with women and transitions for more than 30 years. Her book, Writing Through Transitions, is the basis of Wolfe’s Writing Through Transitions course.
Writing circle. Seating for Wolfe’s workshops is arranged in a circle—an important symbol that brings people together in a healthy way. In a circle, there’s no head. Everyone can see each other and connect on equal terms.
Rituals. Wolfe’s standard rituals, many of which she learned through her certifications, further create a safe space for her workshop participants. At the beginning of each gathering, everyone has the opportunity to get present by holding and passing a candle around the circle. A talking stone gives each person equal time and equal weight to speak and practice being listened to. Small groups and pair work allow women to share things more privately if they choose.
Silence. Socialization occurs in a designated space, but once women enter the circle, silence is encouraged. This allows peoples’ words to be heard when it is their turn to speak, and helps them hear their own wisdom in the silence.
Acceptance. Writing, sharing, and listening in a group like Women Writing for (a) Change can incite intense experiences, emotions, and insights. Participants are encouraged to listen and not advise, accept and not judge. Each woman gets a safe space to process her own journey uninhibited.
Wolfe describes the process that takes place in her workshops as sacred. “After spending so much time in the electronic world, to be face to face with people and listening intently, hearing their story…this is powerful medicine, for me and for them,” she says.
How to Get Started
If you’re ready to explore the therapeutic value of writing, Wolfe’s number-one piece of advice is to get a journal and a colorful set of pens, and start writing.
Try not to write too much at first. Wolfe recommends doing a timed write instead so that you don’t overwhelm yourself if you’re going through a very difficult life transition. Set the timer for 10 minutes and then take a break. Read over what you’ve written and reflect on what it tells you. Then write about that. This is similar to the rhythm Wolfe takes her workshop participants through.
“We write so fast. We talk so much. We keep ourselves so busy, that we can’t hear the message that our own inner wisdom is trying to get through to us,” says Wolfe. “Providing a space for that, literally and metaphorically, we allow people to heal themselves in their own wisdom.”
If you’re looking to plug into a writing community, here’s where to look.
Women Writing for (a) Change. Check out www.womenwritingjacksonville.com for a full listing of workshops and events, including sampler workshops and free community circles. If you’re not local to Jacksonville, FL, check to see if there is an affiliate in your area here. They may be offering similar classes.
Center for Journal Therapy. Look for additional workshops and online offerings at journaltherapy.com.
Community Groups. It’s also possible to find writing circles, workshops, or classes in your community. And don’t forget to check out the many valuable books that you can use individually or in a group to guide you on your journey. Wolfe recommends The Artist’s Way, Journal to the Self, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, and Writing Through Transitions.
Jennifer Wolfe is a writer, trainer, and business owner who’s been facilitating change for corporate clients for the past 20 years. She’s also been keeping a journal since she was 10 years old. As a licensed site owner for Women Writing for (a) Change and a certified instructor for The Center for Journal Therapy, Jennifer hopes to bring her own change and growth experiences to others who want to use writing as a tool for their own personal growth, creative expression, and self-directed change. A social entrepreneur and a ukulele fan, Jennifer has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She’s also taught at Tulane, reared two children, kept a journal, written a blog, started a Happiness Project, launched a recycling program, and tended a garden. Check out her blog at www.inthegardenofthedivine.com. Her corporate work can be found at www.learn-inc.com.