As a certified creativity and life purpose coach, and a certified journal writing facilitator, I work with highly-creative and spiritually-minded women who are facing a variety of life and business transitions that lead them on paths of new beginnings that inspire self-discovery and creative expression.
These new beginnings often involve a deeper exploration of their life stories, where miraculous healing can take place and a larger sense of purpose begins to emerge. It’s where they find their authentic voice coming to light.
So much could change in our lives, and in our world, if we just stepped into the power of our life story – learning its lessons, receiving its gifts, and bettering ourselves in the process – then finding our own diamond in the rough, giving it a good polish, and sharing it with others.
We all have a jewel of wisdom that’s meant to be shared with others – in a way that only we can share.
Today, I’ve asked my good friend and colleague Sandra Marinella , author of The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness or Loss, to join me for a discussion about life stories and how they can support one’s personal growth. Her book has just been released by New World Library and is already receiving rave reviews.
Sandra is a beautiful storyteller and an exquisite writer with a gift for inviting her readers into the depth of their stories by sharing the emotional threads of her own. And the writing exercises and prompts are perfect for each segment of the storytelling journey.
It’s a book that I will be referencing time and time again as I revisit my own story and the chapter that wants to be told next.
What’s the story you need to tell?
Perhaps this dialogue will inspire a nugget within you.
Tell me more about the title, The Story You Need to Tell. How did that title come about?
The book’s title found me! From years of teaching writing I knew that all of us have defining stories and that we often harbor painful stories deep inside of us where they can hurt us either psychologically or physically. Releasing these stories is an important part of being healthy and living well. I had just finished the second draft of my book when I attended a workshop at Omega Institute taught by author Cheryl Strayed. It was called The Story You Have to Tell. That week was magical for me as a writer. I met many writers who were trying to release painful stories and many of them agreed to be interviewed and included in the book. As I wrote my next draft and threaded a few of these stories into the manuscript, I kept saying, “It isn’t the story you have to tell, it is the story you need to tell.” Then I randomly typed those words at the front of the manuscript, and it stuck. I think it embraces the main message of the book – by releasing and rewriting our painful stories, we can make positive changes in our lives. We can even transform.
How did your role as a writing teacher inspire this book? How did the stories of your students play a role in shaping the book?
I have always been passionate about teaching writing. Initially I thought I was going to write a book about the magic of teaching writing. But when I learned I had breast cancer, everything changed. I left teaching to engage in my treatment, and I turned to my personal writing as a way of healing.
When I was recovering from surgery, I realized that my writing had always helped me – as well as my students – to navigate many difficulties. Once I had this powerful insight I could not let go of it. I dug through twenty-seven old journals I had kept all my life. Within those pages I reconnected with many of my classroom experiences as a writing teacher. And these experiences told a story of how writing can heal and change our lives. This is how my role as a writing teacher inspired this book. Teaching gave me the gift of experience and stories that I knew I had to share with others.
You’re such a brilliant storyteller, weaving your own story into the lessons of the book and synchronizing it with the various writing prompts. What was it about your own story – that needed to be told? And how does it serve as a good example for others who are just beginning to tell their stories?
Cancer was a hard experience for me. It was the first time I came face to face with my own mortality, and at first it was not easy to talk about it. I wrote my way through my cancer in a bright red journal, and I felt it allowed me to release my story and find my way forward. Indeed, it was my own writing that led me to volunteer with fellow cancer patients and veterans because I wanted to share the power of personal writing and storytelling with them. The initial drafts of the book were solely focused on the stories that needed to be told by these cancer patients and veterans. When my own writing group critiqued my work, they asked “Where is the story you needed to tell? “I was thunderstruck by the question. Of course, they were right. My story needed to frame the book. On their insistence I went back and included my story, and I am glad I did. I think my own experience shows that I, too, had a story that needed to be told. By including my story, my own life becomes a model of what I am teaching in the book.
How does journal writing factor into “the story one needs to tell?” How does it benefit the transformational writing process?
In transformational writing or storytelling there are stages. After we experience a traumatic experience, we need time to absorb it. When you are ready to break your silence, you work to accept it and to make sense of what has happened. After you reflect and find meaning in the experience, you can frame it and move forward. One of the easiest ways to work your way through a difficulty is by reflecting on it in a journal. A private journal can be a safe place to take your experience. With that said, I want to note that I have discovered that all forms of personal writing, not just personal journal writing, can give you the benefits of transformational writing. I have seen stories transform individuals who were writing poems, scripts, public blogs, stories, essays, and novels. But journal writing is an easy and safe way to explore and begin a personal writing practice.
Was there a defining moment, in your journey as a writer and a teacher, when you just knew this book had to be written?
I believe there was a defining moment when I felt my intuition embrace the idea of this book. It was shortly after my second cancer surgery, a double mastectomy. I remember waking up and feeling a bit fuzzy-headed. There was a gentle breeze floating through the room and a soft stream of sunlight whose fingers seemed to reach out and wrap me in their warmth. I found myself scribbling in my red journal, but also, I had the strange sense that I was outside myself, looking down at me writing. I could see myself from a distance, and I knew I had been writing endless notes in recent months trying to rise above the obstacles that cancer had presented me – and suddenly it hit me. I was struck with the belief that that my words had an unmatched power to help me, to heal me, and perhaps to change me. I sensed then that the universe was handing me an important insight. It seemed to whisper, “Yes! Our writing can transform us.” In that moment, I knew I had to listen and write to capture this message. And that is how this book was born.
Sandra Marinella is an award-winning teacher and author from Chandler, Arizona. For thirty years she immersed herself in teaching writing to students and educators. When she faced and survived breast cancer, she turned to her personal writing as a way to heal and change. She began volunteering with veterans and cancer patients. As she watched storytelling and writing help them transform their lives, she wrote her new book, The Story You Need to Tell. Her pioneering work shows us the power of finding our stories, sharing them, and writing our way out of darkness toward resilience and renewal. Funds from the book support veterans assistance and cancer research. For more information about Sandra and her work, please visit her website: www.StoryYouTell.com