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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Melissa Greene On the Healing Power of Writing

by Gisele Rinaldi Siebold

Melissa Greene is a full-time writer and teacher of Write From the Heart creative writing workshops. After September 11, 2001, she was moved to create a writing program designed to share her belief that the act of writing––without stress––has the power to console, illuminate and heal. She teaches adults, children and teens, collaborates with schools and therapists, and leads workshops for cancer patients at the Milton S. Hershey/Penn State Cancer Institute and the Lancaster General Health Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute.

When did you start writing? How has writing opened your heart?

I began writing stories around age 7. My father was a songwriter for Hollywood movies in the 1930s and 40s. I would sit on his lap at the piano when he sang his songs and savor the rhythm of his words, how they sat on each musical phrase. It was impossible not to experience the deep relief and joy that words and music brought to him. At these moments, I understood that writing was how he went inside to find a softness he rarely showed. It was his safe haven, and I wanted to connect with that place inside myself, too.

What inspired you to offer therapeutic writing classes?

In my 40-year career, I’ve written everything from advertising copy to Hollywood previews of coming attractions. I’m also a published poet, lyricist and short story writer. In the 1980s, I had the good fortune of working with a professor at Williams College who highlighted the good in my work rather than the errors, helping me to overcome anxiety and perfectionism. I learned to see beyond the academics of writing into the heart of the work, and into myself; to value my passion for writing over the need for publication. I discovered that it’s all about a longing to express, rather than simply about technique; that humor plays a huge role in helping us relax and write, so that ideas are able to unfold on their own. Most of all, I learned that my responsibility as a mentor is to hold a student’s deepest thoughts and feelings sacred.

How has the culture around therapeutic writing changed both in general and in health care?

The idea of expressive writing as emotional support, along with all the arts, is not new but has long been undervalued, especially within the medical community. Thankfully, those experiencing health challenges have recognized a need for healing options and spoken up. Because of this, the arts are no longer designated as New Age, but recognized as valid healing modalities. This is also thanks to oncologists and therapists at hospitals such as Hershey Medical Center, who recently gave Write From the Heart the opportunity to teach a clinical study researching the effect of creative writing on cancer patients. With these and other positive results, art and science have begun to link arms.

What is the biggest fear you see in new writers?

Perfectionism. The idea that we must hit the page running, that greatness must pour out of us within minutes, otherwise we’re no good.

What is your response to that fear?

That there is no right or wrong in creating. Writing is not a machine requiring answers. It’s a magic all its own, filling a person with the joy of self-understanding and the freedom to feel.

What are the most important things writing has taught you over the years?

Writing is the place I call home. It has taught me to trust my instincts and senses; to listen for and delight in the sound of geese in flight or the sight of dawn breaking across the desert; to be patient as these images emerge. But especially, that it is a frontier of endless surprises that lead to healing and hope.

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