Mary's Blog:
How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book

















Can writing serve as physical therapy, as a means of healing the body as well as the mind? Author, teacher and cancer survivor Mary Carroll Moore answers with a resounding, "Yes!" . . . . She offers her students practical, hands-on writing exercises and works one-one-one with them, critiquing their work and applying her professional editing skills. She also offers an insider's look at how to sell this kind of writing in the booming inspirational market.
—The Minnesota Women's Press

Mary has presented this topic to art groups, cancer support groups, women's business groups, and writing groups. To find out how a workshop or class can be brought to your area or group, please
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Writing through Healing, Healing through Writing

by Mary Carroll Moore, The Women's Press (continued)

I began writing a short story about Melvin, a man whose wife is dying from breast cancer recurrence. Melvin and Kate take a last vacation; they go to a Caribbean resort. There Melvin falls in love with another woman, a healthy woman, a woman with two breasts and no disease. Writing this story took me to the edge of my own fears—what if my husband left me, what if I died from complications, what if? Nineteen drafts and rewrites later, I submitted the story to a national fiction contest. It won fourth place. Encouraged, I began to write more. My writing journal became my fantasy island where I explored topics I couldn't talk about. During a trip to France the summer before I was diagnosed, I'd bought a stack of bound student notebooks, with pale blue crosshatched pages. These notebooks became my way to make the journey visible to myself.

I took notes like a reporter: pages each day describing the cancer patient's worries and fears, the exhaustion of round after round of doctors appointments and tests, the weighty decisions that would affect the rest of the person's life&mdashmy life.

I studied exercises other cancer patients use for healing: "Each day write three things you are grateful for." I tried this one wintry afternoon when Adriamycin, a chemotherapy drug, left me too weak to get out of bed. Very small things began the list: my dog's sweet breath, a bouquet of snapdragons from friends in Virginia that caught the pale afternoon light, the smell of my husband's morning coffee. A surgeon I had found after much searching. How much I liked her, her quirky black glasses that reminded me of a favorite writing teacher. Sleeping through the night.

As I got braver, I began using writing to listen to my body. I'd ask it questions: How do I heal from the latest treatment, how do I eat today, how do I say good-bye to my dying cells? I let it answer in dialogue, surprising myself with the communication that grew as I listened better and better. Writing became not only a means to explore my stories, but also a kind of applied kinesiology, of muscle testing my inner self, and how often it was accurate astonished me.

Finally, I began holding conversations with death. The fear of dying hovers over cancer like a cloud the size of Lake Superior. As I wrote, death began to talk to me. It began to tell me why it was here, what had happened to bring it so strongly into my every moment, what it could teach me. Writing became a potent antidote for fear. Passages appeared in my fiction. Sentences I wrote dispelled the terror, moved me closer to stillness, to the present moment. All you can count on, said death, is this moment, this breath, this ray of sunshine. I began to know that was true.

As my stories allowed me to express my fear of dying, slowly my fear of living began to recede. Writing every day, living with characters who acted out my worst nightmares, kept those nightmares at bay. The writing focused me on the thing most directly in front of me, on the light on a lake's surface. I trusted the opposite shore was there, but I no longer needed to see it to keep on living.

Nine months of treatment passed. I finished my first writing journal and began my second. A year passed. My eyebrows grew back. Ten short stories. I sent them out to more contests. Two more won prizes.

My hair was beginning to grow back when one night I had a dream that showed me how firmly my writing had held my hand during the journey I was just beginning. In the dream, someone stole my new car. Overnight the vandals changed the car's color, rearranged the car's interior, and took away the bells and whistles. Before I woke, the thieves put my "new" car back in its parking spot.

As I wrote the dream in my journal the next morning, I realized the car is a metaphor for my changed life since cancer. It's simpler. The interior is not what I had in mind when I signed up. But it is still my life.

Writing has helped me reclaim that life. I am no longer running through it. I stop alot, I watch. You have to do that to write good fiction, but you also have to do that to live. Writing has been the hand that led me through the experience. In the process, parts of me evaporated like steam from a soup kettle. But I like the richness that is left.

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