Try writing new or resequenced versions of past events. Doing so can untangle sticky patterns and open your life to joy.
Patrice Vecchione is an author, poet, and writing teacher who’s been helping people speak their truths for over 40 years. She sees writing as a process of having a conversation with ourselves that’s different from what’s possible through thinking alone.
“Once you get words onto the page, the paper holds them for you, freeing you to think and feel your way into what else there is to consider,” she says. “The words that arrive are almost always surprising. Rarely could we have predicted them.”
Vecchione offers three powerful techniques to help us look more deeply at ourselves, view our stories with more clarity, and figure out how we truly feel and think. But, she cautions, “For writing to be transformative, we need to write honestly, which means feeling free to be our true selves on the page, allowing what we most need to say to come forward as it will. We must not let ourselves get hijacked by judgments or self-doubt. This means writing bravely and with compassion. Perfection is not the goal.”
Three Writing Practices for Illuminating Truths
One Experience, Three Versions
Vecchione explains that when we first write about something—a feeling, a memory, an experience, a wish, or a dream—we’re beginning to calibrate our relationship to it. The second time we write about that same subject, we’re able to receive more information and greater nuance because we’ve already created the frame for the story; the primary points are securely on paper. By the time we write the story for the third time, revelations begin to occur. In her experience, writing about something three times is the magic number.
“Consider the first time you write as building the scaffolding. The second time you write the same story, the walls are coming up—one room here, another there—and you begin to see things you missed the first time. The third time is analogous to furnishing your home and hanging pictures on the walls. You become aware of more feelings and particularities. There is always more to see than what we notice on first glance, in our own stories, as in life.”
Write What You Were Told Never to Tell
In her work both as a writer and a teacher, Vecchione has seen that keeping quiet about things we were told (or intuited) never to tell can keep our lives locked shut.
“Our silence is a tacit agreement—a form of compliance, a capitulation of our own power and ability to choose and have authority over our own experience,” she warns. “When our perspective isn’t recognized or when it is denied, we may feel that silence is our only refuge. In reality, that kind of silence is a prison.”
For example, if a childhood experience wasn’t reflected back to us at the time or was negated by the adults in charge (perhaps we were told, “No, that’s not how it was,” or “That didn’t happen”), we’re often unable to know or acknowledge our own truths. Not believing ourselves and not trusting our perspective prevents us from becoming whole.
Vecchione suggests we think about a time when we were silenced, ignored, or discredited, write about what happened, and ask ourselves these questions:
- How did this feel?
- How has it influenced the way I see myself?
- For how long have I forfeited my own experience and prioritized someone else’s truth over my own?
Next, to help us reclaim the parts of ourselves that were squelched, she advises trying to remember the person we were before the disempowering event took place by writing answers to these questions:
- How did I feel about myself and my truth before the event?
- What did I know?
- What was I talked out of?
- What do I know to be true right now?
Writing in Reverse—From the End to the Beginning
For this exercise, Vecchione asks us to first “think of a story that’s impacted you in any way, and begin by writing its essence, the bare bones of it—the way you’ve carried it with you in memory, how you’ve retold it to yourself over time.” Then, look at the ending, and begin telling the story looking backwards. “Start with the last portion of the story. There will be something—or a bunch of somethings—you discover about the experience that you didn’t know before.”
You can also try beginning a story in the middle. “Go from the middle to the beginning. Then return to the middle and write your way to the conclusion,” Vecchione instructs. “By doing these exercises you’ll shift the emphasis—what you’ve always thought of as the main point of the experience—which can open up both this story and parts of your life that were hiding in the shadows.”
She explains that when we take our stories out of their familiar sequence, it’s like rearranging the furniture in our house, which makes the familiar rooms look very different. The climax may no longer be as it appeared before. Stories—those series of moments—take on new dimensions when viewed out of their typical sequence.
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“When life is difficult, writing can be the key that unlocks the trouble,” Vecchione says. “I often tell my writing students, ‘You know more than you know you know.’ It’s through writing that we become aware of who we are, how we see the world, and where we’re stuck. Then we can discover new ways to be, what needs to change, and how to get there.”
Writing supports us during challenging times, and also during chapters of joy. Write your life open and watch your troubles lift and your joy grow.
Join Patrice Vecchione for a two-hour free, live, and virtual workshop on July 16.
For tips on healing through writing, check out “Writing and Healing: A Journaling Guide.”