Meet The Book Midwife

 Deborah Nedelman, Ph.D, is my book midwife.  I shape my books with her by my side because she has both the clinical understanding and the diving skills required for writing. She writes, offers writing workshops, and works with individual clients as a manuscript coach and an editor. One of her workshops is called Writing To Heal. My book, Transform Your Boundaries, has a journal component, to encourage you to write and dive into your experience.

There is a large body of psychological and medical literature that supports the idea that writing about difficult life events can enhance the healing process, both emotionally and physically.” Deborah Nedelman

1.You were a therapist and a psychotherapy professor. When and why did you decide to become a writing coach?

As you know, Sarri, I worked as a clinical psychologist in private practice for 35 years. In 2005, I wrote a self-help book with a colleague. In that process, I realized that writing was what got my juices flowing. After that book was published (with the help of a writing coach), I had caught the bug and began writing and taking classes in writing and editing. I eventually retired from my psychology practice and enrolled in an MFA program in Creative Writing through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, where I focused on fiction. That experience was life changing for me.

In addition to gaining skills in the craft of writing, I learned a tremendous amount about the process of getting a manuscript from the concept stage to publication. It seemed natural to combine my personal interaction skills, so important from my days as a therapist, with those I’ve gained in my years as a writer and student of writing. I now lead writing workshops where participants feel safe, supported, and encouraged to write from their hearts, and I offer individual manuscript coaching where I get the pleasure of working with writers to craft their vision into reality.

2. What is the difference between keeping a journal and writing to heal?

I am a deep believer in the power of journaling to promote growth and self-understanding (as well as a way to keep track of the spontaneous insights and bits of genius that pop up in all our minds from time to time and demand to be written down). And, yes, journaling can lead to healing, without a doubt.

A large body of psychological and medical literature supports the idea that writing about difficult life events can enhance the healing process, both emotionally and physically. But it is easy to get into an unproductive loop in a personal journal, where a writer goes over the same material from the same perspective without gaining new insights essential to healing. On the other hand, it can be tempting to avoid writing about traumatic events; without a sense of safety and a structure for the writing, the risk of re-traumatization is very real.

I have developed a Write to Heal workshop to provide a supportive structure for healing to happen. This structure is based on the work of James Pennebaker, Ph.D., Pat Schneider, and John Fox, among others. The most recent workshop I offered was co-lead by my colleague, Iris Graville, an experienced writer and maker of handcrafted journals. In that workshop, we incorporated the process of creating a hand-made journal as a safe container for exploring the charged subjects we wrote about.  Participants left with a set of questions to use as prompts for continued work, an emotional vocabulary list to facilitate deeper examination, and a journal they’d made themselves to contain the process.

3. What are some tips you would suggest to readers to use writing as a path to heal? What are some ways to begin?

Be gentle with yourself. When you set out to write about trauma, whether physical or emotional, it is important to be compassionate with yourself. This process can be painful, angering, confusing, and often, extremely tiring.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Give yourself permission not to write to anyone else’s standards – that includes Daniel Webster’s! Don’t worry about things like grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

Take your time. Be patient with yourself. This writing is for you and is best thought of as a way to help you reframe your experience so you can move on. Don’t push yourself to write about a traumatic event in any kind of chronological way. Try focusing in a particular detail, perhaps the shoes you were wearing or the taste in your mouth. Just stay with that detail and describe it as closely as you can. Let other things emerge as they will.

4. You have written psychotherapy and self-help books. What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a self-help book?

I love coaching folks writing self-help! So often these are brilliant therapists or experts in some other field who know so much and are great teachers, but they may not be experienced at writing books. It’s quite challenging to convert a body of knowledge into an effective self-help book.

My first bit of advice is to read! Go to the library or your local independent bookstore and pick up a stack of self-help books on a variety of subjects. Spend some time analyzing what works best for you: look at how the book is organized, how it is laid out, whether it is effectively illustrated. Are there specific things that grab your attention? Would you like your book to work in the same ways or are there things that won’t work for your subject matter? And while you’re at it, start a list of where these books were published and, if you can find them, the names of the agents who sold these books to the publishers. Such a list will be invaluable when you begin your journey to publication.

5.What have you been writing lately?

I am always working on a number of projects at the same time.

I recently completed the umpty-umpth draft of a novel I’ve been working on for years. It’s about family secrets and lies, loyalty, and logging in the Pacific Northwest during the spotted owl controversy.

I have a number of short stories in various stages of completion and am working on bringing them together into a threaded collection of tales.

And I’m playing around with some memoir material that has been bubbling up in me for a while.

You can reach Deborah at

Starting September 1, 2015 Deborah will be editor-in-chief of Soundings Review, a literary journal produced by The Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.
Soundings Review, which publishes works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, as well as writing for children and young adults, is always looking for good writing.
Soundings Review is open to different styles and voices, and is passionate about accessibility and depth. The submissions window for the Winter 2016 issue opens September 1.  Check the website for submission guidelines.

Opportunities to submit your writing to Transform Your Boundaries:

Transform Your Boundaries is sponsoring a writing contest. We are looking for an essay about an experience when you learned a powerful lesson about boundaries. Nearly every story ever told involves boundaries. Boundaries are integral to how we live, how we choose relationships, and how we make decisions. We are looking for essays that reveal the power of what happens when you really listen to what is a Yes for you and what is a No, and how your life changes. Submit by October 10. Prize money for best essays. More info: