As part of ACPA creator Kathy Mac's "Wording Around with Prose" webinars, ACPA managing editor Jamie Kitts responds to their chosen text for lesson 2.1: Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. This blogpost covers Chapter 10: "Writing the Wounded Body," and the Epilogue, "From Silence to Testimony."
Well, we're at the end. I have mixed feelings about this book. While I found the first few chapters to be really useful in a skill-building sense, everything past that point felt either unhelpful or needlessly complex. Which is too bad because I think there are some very strong points to this book.
I think if it could have kept pushing readers to develop skills in one area it would have felt more helpful. But as it stands I felt like I was getting a whole semester of a great creative writing course squished into 10 chapters in a really uneven way. Chapters 1-4 feel like they could be classes 1-4, and as such feel like they're building in an appropriate way. The writing exercises in those chapters all fit neatly into the 20-minute journaling exercise and really made that standard exercise feel unique and guided. But then everything after that feels like either a set of classes cut short or several classes condensed into one chapter. The last section in particular, Chapters 9-10, feel like the whole final month of a semester squished into 50 pages. They're not particularly satisfying to read, even though the ideas are very compelling. If nothing else, nearly every chapter gave me something to think about and sent me in a direction I was happy to think in.
But as you can tell, since there's no mention of it so far, Chapter 10 is the only one I couldn't connect to. It asks questions of the body that I can't relate to right now. Chapters 9 and 10 are about the same length and focus on the mind and body, respectively, and I have so much more to think about about thinking than I do my body (which is probably its own interesting consideration but for now I'm drawing a big blank).
Honestly, my biggest complaint is DeSalvo's writing. Not that I'm one to talk, but the quality of the prose is not that high. DeSalvo often summarizes and quotes other writers, including some of her former students, and never fail every time I think, Could I just read that book instead? I only bring it up because of all the books on writing I've read, this is easily the least engaging as a reading experience. But as a thinking experience, as a practical experience, I got more than a few neat ideas and some good writing practice to keep up with.
Overall I do recommend the book, but I especially recommend the Epilogue to any writers currently in a workshop or workshop-style class. I spoke with a friend a while back about how critique works and how much we dislike the lack of empathy a workshop group may engender. And I don't say that as though I haven't played a part in that. When I was doing my Concentration in Creative Writing, I earned a reputation for being a very harsh critic, but paradoxically also a very close and personal confidant for more than a few people as a deeply caring empath. I am nothing if not relentlessly passionate for my friends and their work but I also do not hold back on my thoughts about their work. I've spoken with a few people about this and I've never gotten a consensus about whether I need an attitude adjustment, but I've felt for the last little while that I absolutely do. So, I recommend the Epilogue to Writing as a Way of Healing because it touches on how to be an effective and helpful reader/listener, because God could I have used that a while ago and I'm sure someone else could use it now.
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