Heartbreak workshop: writing your way to a new life

Good writing has an air of authenticity about it.

The reader gets a sense that the writer has been there, done that. When shared experience is written from the heart we relate to it and, with luck, derive comfort from it.

When my children were growing up, I was never short of subjects to write about.

Courtesy mainly of my eldest son, I had enough raw material for a regular Melbourne’s Child column for years. Friends used to tell me I should pay him a commission.

A reward for his sometimes bad, often suspect, occasionally adorable behaviour?

I think not.

The slings and arrows of life provide writers with their best material, sometimes at huge personal cost. I often joke about how much copy was generated from the car accident that nearly killed me. I can afford to make light of it – I survived and thrived. And DIY Woman was born.

The death of my nephew Tom in 2013 was something else altogether.

black and white, young man, smiling, Tom Quinn | See more at www.diywoman.net

When Tom’s Mum and I were young and carefree – she a quietly committed Catholic, me a curious agnostic – we would sometimes go to her church together. I would plague her with questions throughout the service:

‘What’s with the cracker?’

‘The body of Christ.’

‘Is the wine horrible?’


‘What’s that little house behind the pulpit?’

‘The tabernacle – where Jesus lives.’

None of it made much sense to me then or now, but I loved the idea of the tabernacle being a kind of dolls house for Jesus. I think of my writing about my nephew as performing the same function. It’s where Tom lives, and as long as I speak his name, his spirit endures.

Writing about grief and loss can be a form of therapy.

fountain pen, writing, journal, flowers | See more at www.diywoman.net
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

When tragedy strikes, we are not always capable of logical thought. Writing can help us still the white noise in our heads, albeit slowly and painfully. It helps us to discover ourselves.

I was reminded of this when reading a piece called ‘Prescribing Paragraphs’ in this month’s Victorian Writer magazine. Author David McLean tells of his experience running a writing workshop for second year medical students at Epworth HealthCare:

Writing for writing’s sake can clarify, touch emotions, build communities and help explore what has hitherto remained unexpressed.

Reading of the impact it had on his students – making them ‘more mindful of the person, rather than the disease’, challenging them to extract ‘the core of how I feel’ about their medical studies – gave me an idea.

Women undergoing separation and divorce often tell me they could ‘write a book about it’. They want to release the pressure, to express the gamut of emotions they experience on the way, maybe to start working through them to the happy-ever-after. I came up with a notional Heartbreak Workshop, where women could gather to write their experiences and share them – or not – and learn a little bit about the craft of writing and a lot about themselves.

Women friendships | see more at www.diywoman.net

A safe space where women could be encouraged to find their voice, with the help of a professional writer. With a relationship therapist on standby and baked goods to see them through to lunchtime. And most importantly, the sense of belonging that comes with finding your tribe.

If you are interested in the idea of a Heartbreak Workshop, let me know via the comments below or email me at elizabeth@diywoman.net. And share with anyone who might benefit from a bit of DIY heart-repair.

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