Monica Suswin

5 March 2020

Monica is a published author specializing in writing for wellbeing.

Q: Do you find it easier to help others clearly define their emotions in writing than you do yourself?

A: Not at all. It is because I have been defining my own emotions in writing for most of my adult life through regular diary writing – so that my experience in exploring and acknowledging my own range of inner emotional life enables me to help others to do the same for themselves. I couldn’t do this work unless I had done it for myself.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced when writing about personal trauma in your first book A Fox Crossed My Path?

A: Of course, going public with very personal writing about my mental illness, which took the form of episodic periods of clinical depression requiring hospitalization. I felt supported to publish my book because there was such a lot in the media about mental illness, including the young royals and their Heads Together campaign. I had heard Rachel Kelly on Woman’s Hour speak about her experience and her book Black Rainbow. I contacted her and we corresponded – in fact she wrote a testimonial for A Fox Crossed My Path. It was a huge challenge to publish this book, but the rewards have been tremendous. Most importantly a loss of stigma about mental illness, which is now in the public domain.

Q: What is the difference between life writing and creative therapeutic writing?

A: The way a person writes always lies in their intention. So, life writing may focus on memoir writing staying within the narrative of a lived life, staying within the boundaries of autobiographical exploration. My interpretation of creative therapeutic writing allows the exploration to range freely into all literary forms and extend the imagination. This kind of writing is experiential and often has the power of transformation for the writer’s inner life. But that doesn’t mean life writing can’t achieve the same feelings for the writer. I’m not one who really likes genre definition in this field. And I know my own writing is hard to define. There are over a dozen ways of describing personal writing from autoethnography to the two you mention. As I said the intention lies with the writer and how they find themselves exploring the writing they want to do.

Q: Considering that you are a healing professional that offers writing workshops, do you ever suffer from vicarious trauma? If so, how do you manage it?

A: No I don’t.  All traumas are different. As a practitioner I have resources for any tricky issues which arise when running workshops. First of all, I use my work journal to write about things which crop up – as they always do – when running workshops. Sometimes it’s an interaction in the group and sometimes it might be feelings or thoughts which arise in myself.  I will explore these kind of issues after the workshop through writing about them. If they need further discussion, I will raise them in supervision. All practitioners benefit from ongoing supervision for their work. And this is vital when working with other people to keep your practice safe and contained. (also see the answer to the question below)

Q: Do you share your work with anyone for critical and constructive feedback during your editing and redrafting process? If so, do you share particular pieces of writing with specific people?

A: Throughout my process of writing over the last fifteen years I have worked with Dr Gillie Bolton (now retired) the author and editor of many books in the genre both academic and for the general reader. She has supervised my writing from the start and been my reader. Feedback is not really critical as in the critiquing which is done, say in a writers’ group. (I was a member of a writers’ group for many years before then.) This work focuses on process which is exploratory, particularly in redrafting. I do a lot of redrafting and this is stimulated from an exploratory process through discussion; this was shared in my writing sessions as well as the editing at later stages. I may have also shared pieces of writing with other trusted readers. My book Rope Mates: creative therapeutic writing on companionship for writers (published 2019) outlines all the different kinds of support I have received and by implication is available to any writer.

Q: What piece of advice can you offer to all the life writers out there?

A: If you want to write about your life, find ways to do it comfortably. That means if you have had difficult periods in your life which you want to write about and this causes you pain, really consider whether you do need to do this writing. You don’t have to do it. You don’t have to put yourself through unnecessary discomfort. But if you think it will help you to write about stressful issues in your life, then make sure you are supported by a good friend, and if that is not sufficient – seek counselling or therapy. Or do the writing with a practitioner in the healing arts who is experienced with both writing and a therapeutic background. There are imaginative and therapeutic ways of writing about trauma or difficult times which change your perception and are transformative. And this is a healing process.

If you just want to write about your life, and find you are procrastinating, there is only one answer: just write, just do it, there is always time to write if you want to write.

Interview conducted by Frankie Walters.