Writing Through the Muck: Finding Self and Story for Personal Growth, Healing, and Transcendence

Years ago, I got stuck in some pretty deep muck along the banks of the Rio Grande. For real. And long story short: The harder I tried to heave myself out, the more impossible it became. My hiking boots filled with what seemed like concrete, and I was pretty sure I was going to drown in quicksand.

Obviously, I survived. But it was quite an ordeal, and I later came to see that Life is a lot like that muck. You’re going along perfectly fine on a cloudless day, and then—wham! Something grabs onto you, knocking you off kilter, pulling you down. You get stressed out. Your self-esteem plummets. Maybe you even have physical reactions. No matter how it manifests itself, this muck impacts your outlook, interferes with your plans, and infects your relationships. It’s happened to me time and again, from abuse to addiction, infertility to infidelity, disease to death. I’ve slogged through a lot of muck, and sometimes I nearly drowned—literally and figuratively.

Legendary author Ursula K. Le Guin said suffering offers something that comfort and happiness don’t, so long as you can make it through. Adventurer Maria Coffey said the hardest challenges are the ones that reveal our true identities, shine a light on our potential, and open us to the infinite beauty of the universe.

The big question is: How do we get through the pain to arrive at truth and beauty?

One constant for me over the past many years has been writing. From journaling to fiction, writing gave my subconscious self the time and space to explore, roam, gain new perspective, and heal. Eventually I began to offer what I called wellness writing workshops to women in domestic violence shelters, cancer survivors, and lots of other people. Each workshop solidified my conviction and proved the theories behind writing therapy that I’d studied.

Funny thing: My intention for these workshops had been to help others, but in fact, the participants helped me learn and grow as I witnessed the power of their introspection and reflection, and the impact that even a tiny shift in perspective made for them. They demonstrated the healing potential of expressing oneself and the growth that comes from owning one’s vulnerabilities—and ultimately, they inspired me to write my first self-help book.

Writing Through the Muck: Finding Self and Story for Personal Growth, Healing, and Transcendence originally began as a rich potpourri of theoretical evidence, poetry, writing prompts, and other good information I’d accumulated from the workshops. But something was missing. Or rather, someone was missing: Me.

In my workshops, I had kept my personal self out of the picture so the participants could focus on whatever they needed. But that wasn’t going to work in the book, or else it would sound like I was sitting on my soapbox, preaching. I needed to share. And the best way I could share in a way that would make sense to my readers was to do exactly what I encouraged them to do: find myself—and my stories—and write it all down.

I dug through cobwebs. I ventured down dark, rickety stairs. I walked through a house of mirrors, seeing images I didn’t want to look at and triggering emotions I didn’t want to face. But with each memory I unearthed came a sense of relief, as well as the joyful knowledge that this story or that poem might help someone else. And it seems that’s already come to fruition. One reader said my book helped her peer into corners of her psyche she’d “never before had the courage to examine.”

Writing Through the Muck is a book that can help anyone, regardless of reading or writing experience, to learn how to find and express their thoughts, feelings, stories, and dreams. Packed with informative data and quotes, inspirational poems, and discussions about all sorts of muck we might encounter in life, it also includes dozens of easy writing exercises that can be used in any number of contexts. It’s written in short chapters, with busy people in mind who just want to tackle a little bit with each reading. And perhaps best of all, 100% of the author’s profits will be donated to fight cancer, domestic violence, and climate change.

I don’t usually say I’m proud of something I’ve done; self-promotion feels as uncomfortable to me as wearing stilettos on ice. But I strongly believe in this book as a powerful tool anyone can use to help navigate their way through life. And for those who can’t access the book right now, I’ve also launched a free series on YouTube called 5-Minute MuckBusters. It’s not meant to replace the book, but it does present a number of the same tools and anecdotes to get viewers going on their wellness writing journeys right away.

Writing Through the Muck: Finding Self and Story for Personal Growth, Healing, and Transcendence can be special-ordered in print through independent bookstores or purchased in print or Kindle format at Amazon.

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

About the Author | G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer writes self-help, fiction, essays, and articles that have widely appeared in The New York Times and other publications. Like the participants in her wellness writing workshops, she is a survivor of life. She earned her MFA from Pacific University and lives in the Seattle area with her husband, two dogs, and a cat, who remind her daily what it means to be true to self.

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