arol Celeste has been a freelance writer for 20+ years publishing books, articles, reviews, essays and an array of miscellaneous works. In 2006, she took her career to a new level and acquired an existing business and began teaching personal essay writing online at http://www.writingtoheal.com. Carol has a certificate in Health-Script studies and licenses programs for therapeutic writing, and many of her students repeat courses and have been published.
Living in Orange County, California for over 30 years, Carol has been on the memoir faculty of Cal State U. Fullerton and currently serves on the writing program advisory board. As president of the Orange County (CA) Branch of California Writers Club and a member of the CWC Central Board, she advances the group's mission of educating writers and the public in the craft and marketing of written words. She has represented CWC at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books held at UCLA and formerly was president of the Orange County chapter of the National Writers Association.
From October13-19, She will present "It's All About You!: Writing Personal Stories" on the 2008 Muse Online Writers Conference at www.themuseonlinewritersconference.com
Carol’s professional writing career is truly an inspiration as she has combined her passion for the written word with her business of helping others to do the same.
WOW: Since your business focuses on the growth and healing power of writing, how important is it for people to write about traumatic or difficult things they have been through?
Carol: When you write your deep thoughts and feelings about the things that trouble or irritate you, physical and mental changes take place. Numerous studies have measured vital signs before and after writing sessions, indicating that blood pressure and heart rate slow, and immune system function improves.
People with medical problems as diverse as cancer, arthritis, HIV, diabetes, and other conditions, make fewer doctor visits, experience fewer symptoms, and gain a greater sense of well-being. Researchers don’t know why this happens, but measured results show that it does.
Also, writing frees our emotions, giving rise to revelations about who we are, and helping us resolve issues that prevent us from reaching our goals and potential.
WOW: The physical and mental health benefits of writing seem to be incredible. How has your career focus on personal writing helped in your own life?
Carol: I’ve always written out my personal feelings, starting with poetry as a teen. In recent years, personal essays and journaling helped me relieve the stress of family tragedy. Expressive writing really does yield physical and mental benefits.
WOW: You have been a freelance writer for several years, how did you get started in the business?
Carol: I was out-sized from a corporate marketing job that involved a lot of writing, and I decided to take a break from that confining world. I started off with my business connections and gradually moved to feature articles, columns, web content, and just about any type of writing that fit my schedule, including a book for adult children caring for difficult, aging parents.
“Writing frees our emotions, giving rise to revelations about who we are, and helping us resolve issues that prevent us from reaching our goals and potential.”
WOW: Your career background is very impressive and diverse, so why did you decide to concentrate on personal essay and journal writing?
Carol: Several years ago my aging parents became the focus of my life. I was freelancing, but care-giving duties demanded a lot of time and I wanted something that would give me more flexible hours than working with businesses. Serendipity brought me notice on a writers’ forum of a search for a buyer for Writing to Heal, Writing to Grow, a business teaching personal essay writing and licensing therapeutic writing workshops. It was the perfect match for my skills and needs.
WOW: You are licensed to teach therapeutic writing, how did that come about?
Carol: I completed a course in health-scripts writing, very similar to expressive writing. The people who conduct studies in therapeutic writing are mainly psychology professors and doctors, not writers.
In fact, it all started with psychologist James Pennebaker, Ph.D. writing about his own personal problems. He found the procedure so helpful he tested it on college students. Other professionals were inspired by his results so that over 140 expressive writing studies have been conducted with people facing various diseases and emotional upheavals.
What I do is more facilitating and coaching than strictly teaching. I consider it my job to guide participants to explore their inner selves and reflect on experiences that shaped the person they’ve become, as much as help improve their writing.
WOW: As a guide and coach, seeing your students embark on their own personal journeys through writing, must be very rewarding.
Carol: Yes, reading the comments from people who come to terms with negative situations that have controlled their lives for a long time is a huge reward. I know from personal experience and all the research I’ve done that expressive writing does a body, mind, and spirit good. It brings me true joy to see it help others, and to coach more writers to refine their storytelling techniques as they learn more about themselves.
“…expressive writing does a body, mind, and spirit good .”
WOW: What can potential students expect from the offerings of your online Writing to Heal courses?
Carol: This isn’t writing in the sense of structure, grammar, etc. The point of expressive writing is to unload what bothers you at the time, and to make a story out of it. Interruptions and distractions battle with the benefits that honest, steady writing yields.
Anyone wanting to publish their essays needs to pay attention to the mechanics of writing, but for self-help, which describes therapeutic writing, that isn’t important. The advanced essay course and Your Life in Essays, deal with making works publish-worthy. The Writing Personal Essays initial course focuses on self- exploration and ignores spelling and grammar.
The courses are handled by email. Each session contains lecture material and writing prompts for those who can’t think of a topic themselves. I encourage everyone to write about what matters to them rather than select a prompt. Depending on the class, essays are due either one week or 10 days later and I return comments within a few days of receiving assignments. I begin classes every Friday so participants can work the courses into their schedule.
WOW: That is great that the courses are on a flexible schedule, so students can just focus on writing out raw and real emotions. What do you expect them to get out of your courses?
Carol: I hope that participants will learn to reflect on the moments of their lives, how they felt at the time an event happened compared to their feelings now. I expect they will realize the stress-reducing effect of expressive writing and learn more about themselves, to understand and like themselves. In the advanced courses, they learn techniques for developing professional-quality life stories to share with family or for possible publication to inspire others. Writing to Sell suggests marketing techniques for personal stories. Most of all, I want students to adopt a writing regimen for good health and personal growth, and have fun doing it.
“Interruptions and distractions battle with the benefits that honest, steady writing yields.”
WOW: In addition to the personal writing courses, the website also has a monthly newsletter. Can you share some of its features?
Carol: The newsletter contains an article about some aspect of personal writing, a selection of paying markets and contests seeking personal stories, a writing prompt, and information about the courses available online and for licensing.
WOW: From the response to your newsletter and course offerings, do you see a growing trend in the publishing world for writings about personal healing?
Carol: A number of books have been written on this topic over the last ten years, mostly with a psychological emphasis. Anthologies of personal stories abound, but very few stress a healing message. Perhaps because this type of writing deals with such personal matters, many are reluctant to broadcast their struggles and successes with the world. Cancer seems to be the area that most inspires people to share their stories, and cancer clinics are often receptive to writing therapy.
WOW: Since personal writing can be beneficial for good health, how has the medical profession responded to this type of writing?
Carol: Some medical institutions are beginning to introduce writing therapy, but the medical industry in general seems to view this as alternative medicine. This type of writing will not cure any disease, but it has been shown to help reduce stress which contributes to poor health and worsened symptoms in the ill. As health care costs continue to escalate, I expect more attention to be paid to this low-cost method of self-help.
WOW: In addition to people dealing with healthcare challenges or traumatic situations, you also target your courses to healthcare professionals and caregivers, why is that?
Carol: Those are licensed programs. Healthcare professionals live with tremendous stress as they are often overworked and are responsible for other people’s lives. They also deal with occasionally difficult patients, families, and bureaucracies that add to the tension. An astonishing percentage of personal caregivers die before the loved one they care for. My own experiences make this a particularly special course for me.
The numbers of family caregivers increases with our aging population and prolonged life span. A major health crisis that has not been considered outside the care-giving population festers in the millions of caregivers who get little help and tend to neglect their own health and fail to plan for their own futures. Expressive writing can relieve a lot of that stress and lead those caregivers to improved lives during and after their caregiving days.
“This type of writing will not cure any disease, but it has been shown to help reduce stress…”
WOW: Writing to Grow, Writing to Heal offers an excellent way to deal with adverse challenges, are there any future plans?
Carol: The newsletter will continue to bring information and motivation to readers via email delivery and on the website. I appreciate suggestions for making the newsletter more useful. Recently, two of the licensed courses also became available as email courses; Writing About Cancer and Writing for Personal Caregivers. Both areas draw a lot of interest from readers which prompted me to make them available online. There is no limit to the specific areas that Writing to Heal, Writing to Grow concepts apply to. I am considering courses for grieving and job loss, plus other areas that currently impact many people.
Empish J. Thomas is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia. Her specialty is writing personal and career profiles. For the last two years, she has published a career column in Dialogue Magazine, an international publication for the blind and visually-impaired. She has highlighted blind cooks, musicians, artists, travel agents, newspaper reporters, and even actors. She has a passion for the disability community and devotes a portion of her time writing about the disabled. She uses her writing to educate, inform, and create positive images of the disabled to readers. You can view samples of her work at www.empishthomas.com.