Writing About Illness Print
Writing Workshops

Multimedia Lecture & Illness Writing Workshop

Here's a video introducing Sanctuary's "Multimedia Lecture" and my "Writing about Illness" workshop for patients and medical professionals on heart disease.

Please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more information.

Among the most necessary journeys these days for Americans is to heal from, or confront, the ravages of an illness—whether yours, someone you love, or someone who's your patient.

To heal, more and more people are turning to writing about illness in book, article, essay, and journal. Our literature has grown abundant with stories about cancer, AIDS, heart disease, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, PTSD, even soul sickness. Wounds as much physical as psychological. The acute and the chronic. The slow-developing, the long-lasting, the permanent. Treatments involving drugs, therapy, lifestyle changes, diet.

One recent study, from New Zealand, reports that those who write about the feelings and meaning of their condition heal faster than those who don’t write.

Narrative Medicine is a new field of study. It is being offered to medical professionals in hospitals, med schools, and universities. It aims to develop the craft of writing with those who toil in medicine and to express the personal joys and frustrations of tending to a patient's health and to one's own well-being.

With the January 2014 publication of my book, The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease (Hudson Whitman Press), I’m offering a new workshop based on the story of my three heart attacks. The workshop is open to all, from beginner to professional, writers, patients, and people in the medical field.

The audience for the workshop is physicians, nurses, social workers, mental health and public health professionals, chaplains, writers, academics, scholars, patients, and all those interested in the intersection of narrative, medicine, and healing.

My workshops have three time-frames: two-hour, all-day, and weekend. For example, a workshop may feature a Friday night reading/presentation/discussion of The Sanctuary of Illness, followed by a Saturday-morning writing workshop.

Among the writing issues we cover:

  • writing in the illness versus after, that is, during recovery;
  • writing about those we love who are suffering an illness;
  • sharing a difficult condition with others who cannot know what we've endured;
  • tailoring the writing to those with the ailment or to a broader audience;
  • reflecting on why some of us get more or less of the brunt of our condition;
  • how an illness expresses a culture, a society, a healthcare system, a generation;
  • choosing a style of illness narrative with which to work;
  • publishing our work by targeting communities of readers;
  • and using video and podcasts as methods to spread the message.

My workshop also showcases readings from published illness narratives, handouts on narrative technique, annotated lists of illness memoirs, and more.

Sappho Recalled to Life By the Charm of Music

 Based on our work, participants will be able to:

  • create more meaningful doctor-patient or patient-doctor relationships;
  • practice speaking directly and listening actively to medical professionals and patients;
  • reflect on the purposes, whether overt or hidden, with medicine and healing in our everyday encounters;
  • foster increased participation of families and healthcare workers in a patient's program.

Please contact us to schedule a workshop in 2014 or to have me speak about heart disease at your book festival, library, bookstore, writers’ center, cardiology conference, hospital colloquy, integrative medical program, wellness institute, or narrative medicine program, panel, or workshop.

The workshop features brief lectures, much writing, and some discussion. I require seminar tables or desks in the round for participants to work. An ideal number is 10 to 15.