Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Story-Editing - Not the Kind You Think

I have been reading Timothy Wilson's Redirect lately. While he writes in an approachable way, the main thing I want out of the book is actually the work of James Pennebaker, who has been researching writing as a healing technique for many decades.

The main exercise that interests me is called "story-editing." The twist I appreciate from Wilson is that one can focus on trying to understand what happened in a traumatic or difficult situation both a) from a multiple reasons perspective (aka don't just rehash again and again but try to find different reasons, especially ones that emphasize agency) and b) that actually work with multiple perspectives - in other words, writing about something that happened to you but in third or second person, so you can literally see it from another angle.

In this article about Pennebaker's work, you can see the story-editing process presented pretty clearly, minus Wilson's additions. Being a linguistic nerd, I am also super curious about Pennebaker's LIWC research - how can we estimate/see healing based on which words, how often they appear and how they change over time in someone's writing?

And all of this, does it relate to memoir? Of course it relates to memoir! It ties down deep in the way that contemplative writing in particular views the writing process. We are, from second to second, moment to moment, telling the story of who we are. It's how we develop ego, it's how we know there is an us - we are tying together our sense of who we are based on constant story telling. Revising that story also happens constantly. So to sit down and do it - whether for healing purposes or for full-length publish a memoir purposes - all of it is along the same spectrum, in my opinion. Our intentions and goals vary, but the research still bears importance, regardless of how you apply it.

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