Writing is a personal thing, no doubt about that. Write who you are. Write what you know. The willingness to explore yourself is the essence of the process. Writers commune to learn – and steal – from others, to develop in their ability to communicate. Work is developed at writing workshops, feedback offered on anything from how the text could be restructured to phrasings reconsidered as well as lines and ideas that are to be praised. Does the piece work? That’s the thing. The craft of writing is what writers help each other with. That’s it.
But then, given that writing is personal, therapy tends to bleed into the scene, which is highly problematic given that writers are not therapists. The only qualification to attend a writing conference is the ability to write. Nothing else. Truth be known, writers tend toward the asshole end of the spectrum and are often the last people to look to for empathy. And yet when a writer shares intensely personal pieces, the conversation focuses almost exclusively on the psychological aspects, the therapy of it.
When I think about real trauma and terror – those who have been victimized by hate crimes or survived war and famine – the issue is not the prose but the process of getting better. They are just surviving. And writing is clearly an effective tool for that. But that is not the work to be shared in a workshop because there is nothing that anyone can do except offer a sympathetic nod and talk about bravery. And what good is that? (Speaking as a writer who tends to the asshole end of the spectrum.)