Course Syllabus

The Healing Power of the Artful Essay

View Course
(Live Online Workshop)

When we create images and scenes and shape our stories—transforming experience into art—we can also transform ourselves.

The act of writing can be profoundly therapeutic.

Studies of expressive art therapy show many intersections between writing techniques that put the “creative” in creative nonfiction and techniques that can promote coping and healing, lower blood pressure and strengthen the immune system.

This class draws from Natalie Goldberg’s use of writing as a kind of Zen meditation, James Pennebaker’s studies of expressive art, and Louise DeSalvo’s examination of writing as a means of healing, among others. Through lessons, writing exercises, and workshops, we’ll examine how creating images and scenes and shaping our stories, transforming experience into art, can also transform us.

Each class session will include lessons and discussions, exercises, and workshop discussions of work by participants.

About our Live Online Workshops:

These courses are designed to provide real-time interaction, small class size (limited to 12 students), and the “live” experience of being in a (virtual) classroom.

Every Sunday for 8 weeks, students will meet with the instructor at 2 pm Eastern time for a 90-minute session featuring:

  • 35 minutes of lesson/discussion
  • 20 minutes of writing exercises
  • 35 minutes of workshop discussion (adjusted according to how much work students turn in.)

Over the course of the program, students will receive feedback on two writing samples of up to 3,500 words each.

Live sessions will be hosted via Zoom and writing will be submitted/uploaded to a Dropbox folder (link to be provided).

Week One: Introduction

When many people think of therapeutic writing, they picture writing about traumas or unresolved issues. That can be an important dimension of writing as a healing art, but there are other therapeutic uses of writing, too. This week, we’ll look at some of the ways that writing can help us to de-stress and redirect our focus.  We’ll also consider how writing about the struggles we have faced can help us to cope. We’ll start getting to know each other through exercises and breakout rooms, reflecting on our own experiences of healing through writing and ways of moving forward. Over the 8 weeks, we’ll continue to integrate these ideas into our processes.

After this session, participants may turn in an essay-in-progress for class feedback. Note: You are welcome to explore any experience you feel ready to write about. If you decide to write about a particularly traumatic experience, you will encounter a supportive environment in this class, but please be sure that you have the support you need outside of the classroom,  as well.

Week Two: The Intersections between Expressive Arts and Artistic Writing

This week, we’ll discuss the ideas of researchers like James Pennebaker and writers like Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, Louise DeSalvo, and Diana Raab. We’ll look at what studies have shown about the health benefits of writing and how various writers have addressed this topic. In addition, we’ll examine ways we can respond to others’ work that is not only supportive and nurturing but also ultimately can make us better writers. We’ll reflect on our own experiences of healing through writing and ways of moving forward to continue integrating these ideas into our processes. Beginning this week, we’ll also devote time to workshopping submitted works-in-progress.

week Three: Exploring Techniques of Writing that Promotes Healing

This week, we’ll delve more deeply into the mindsets, techniques, and processes that have proven to be most valuable for healing purposes, discuss approaches that inhibit us, look at some examples of essays that exemplify both healing and artistic techniques, and apply these ideas to our exercises and workshop discussion.

Week Four: Narrative Structure and Transformation

We’ll talk about narrative structure and how traditional and nontraditional ideas of narrative can offer us models for thinking about our own experiences and perspectives and our moments of revelation, transformation, understanding, and forgiveness.

Week Five: The Fragmented Essay, The Whole Self, Part 1

Lyric essays, particularly collages, braids, lists, and other forms that use fragmentation, can offer useful ways to explore our experiences and sometimes even shift our vision as we find connections between seemingly unrelated material. These forms may be ends in themselves, or they may give us techniques that we can integrate into other approaches. We’ll look at a variety of examples and explore techniques that can assist in developing your essay in progress, and discuss the stages of the writing process. After this week’s session, participants may turn in a second essay in progress for workshop discussion.

Week Six: The Fragmented Essay, the Whole Self, Part 2

This week we’ll look at other forms that use fragmentation, such as hermit crab essays, and the ways that such forms can offer us containers for difficult experiences. We’ll experiment with these forms and continue to discuss participants’ work in light of these concepts.

Week Seven: The Value of Revision to Aid in Healing and Discovery

How can the revision process—the deepening of our ideas, the development of our scenes and image patterns, the enlarging of symbols, the heightening of important moments—help us to understand the patterns both in our narratives and in our lives and give us new perspective? We’ll talk about approaches to revision—how revisiting, rethinking, recasting, reshaping, and fleshing out experiences can help us discover layers of meaning and lead to a greater sense of health and wholeness.

Week Eight: Final workshops and Discussion

This week we’ll wrap up our workshop discussions of participants’ drafts, reflect on our work together, and discuss how we’ll move forward to continue integrating these ideas into our processes.