Blog Post – 21st September 2022
Updated on 1st October 2022
Creative writing as self-therapy and therapy for my readers…
By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
Creative writing might seem to some to be a form of self-indulgence. A mere ego trip.
However, my experience tells me that I have done some of my best and most productive self-therapy when writing about my childhood, and the sex-love relationships of my early adulthood.
As I see it, fiction is particularly helpful for the following reasons:
- Firstly, many of our traumatic experiences are repressed out of conscious awareness, but they can often be accessed by allowing images to arise in our minds, as in the process of writing fiction.
- Secondly, if you had a traumatic experience, and then tried to write about it, you would run the risk of simply re-traumatizing yourself. However, if you create a fictional character – who might be a disguised alter-ego of yours – and put that character through a similar traumatic experience, then you are sufficiently “distanced” from the action to be able to process it to some degree.
- And if you repeat that process several times, you may very well burn out the entire traumatic memory; or reprocess it and strip it of its originally intense emotional charge.
I know this very well because I wrote the first forty years of my life as a fictionalized autobiography, and it healed a lot of my wounds. (For more, please see Metal Dog – Long Road Home).
Recently I wrote a short story which explored the life of a four-year-old boy who experienced maternal rejection and neglect; and that may well be another example of further completion of some of my own childhood experiences. (For more, please see Blue Boy Karma).
Immediately after completing Blue Boy Karma, I wrote a new story about A Young Woman in Transit. I have no idea how that relates to my own life, or my own therapy. This is how that story begins:
A Young Woman in Transit…
A short story by Jim Byrne
Copyright © Jim Byrne, September 2022
Nothing moves on the silent, moonlit platform, where no train is due till morn. Nothing, that is, apart from the young woman in the cocktail dress and patently ludicrous stiletto heeled party shoes. Red shoes; blue dress; blonde hair; and bare arms. Biting September coldness shudders through her goose-pimpled skin. Autumn has arrived early.
The only other body on the platform is motionless. Lying face down on the stone slabs. A small red stream is still running from the back of his head, glinting gold-like in the bright moonlight.
A little while ago he was full of cocky bravado; proudly announcing that, although his wife could not be got rid of right now, he would, given time, find a way out of his pointless marriage.
But the young woman in blue and red was not easily mollified.
“I’m five months pregnant, Michael”, she shouts. “Five months gone.”
She turns suddenly and takes two steps away from him. Then she turns back and raises her voice even more, to cross the gap between them:
“Soon I’ll have to stop working. How will I feed myself?”
“Keep your voice down”, he implores her, even though there is no evidence that anybody could possibly hear her raised voice. They haven’t seen another human since they left the main road, ten minutes ago, and walked up the narrow track to the railway station.
“Be reasonable, Steph!” he begs her. “A man can only do what he can do. Miracles take a bit longer. I never said it would be instant!”
She had walked away from him then, clicking her way up the platform, and into the ladies toilet to cry. Up the duff, with no idea how to survive. And the bastard, after all his promises, is prevaricating. Worried about his comfortably-off suburban bank-clerk wife.
She peed, and then pulled her panties up to just below the now visible bump of pregnancy. The death-knell of her youthful adventures. No more parties; no more foreign holidays. Just a dusty bedsit, and a social security giro cheque; and a baby to care for.
Poverty faced her like the yawning mouth of a fun-eating monster.
… End of extract.
Perhaps this is about my mother; or one of my sisters; and the kinds of traps some young women have fallen into for decades, or perhaps even for centuries.
Postscript – Dated 1st October 2022
Within days of writing those two stories, I wrote (or rewrote) another two stories, as follows: One about my first love affair. And one about the end of the affair I had after the end of my first marriage, when I was a relatively green thirty-year-old infant, in a foreign land.
Then a added a pre-existing story to produce a book of five short stories, as follows:
A book of short stories by Jim Byrne
Wounded hearts wandering hopelessly…
Five short stories about love, sex, passion and parting
Let me tell you a story. I’d been living inside of some very depowering stories for nineteen years before I was woken up by reading Catch 22, by Joseph Heller.
Over the subsequent decades, I used the reading of fiction to teach myself about the mysteries of the human heart. and the way stories shape, and reshape us.
We live inside of stories we got from our parents and teachers, right at the start of our lives. And we use those stories, outside of our awareness, as our map of the world. Many of those stories are helpful or benign; but many are false and misleading, and they cause us to crash into all kinds of invisible walls, as we struggle to find or create a viable road through this very difficult world.
The five stories in this collection have the potential to clarify some human values, and to heal some human suffering, by experiencing it to the full for the first time.
I hope you enjoy these five stories, and that they change your life for the better!
Jim Byrne, Hebden Bridge, September 27th 2022
Postscript: For guidance on writing therapy exercises, please see my book on How to Write a New Life for Yourself!
That’s all for now.
Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling