November 8, 2016

Writing Was the Place Where I Could Be Free

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to Jen Cross, amazing woman, advocate, survivor, and writer. I'm so excited to bring you this month's series in which we will explore healing through creativity.


For nearly 15 years, I have worked with survivors of sexual abuse and others to find words for the stories they held in their bodies, in their hearts, in their hurts. I have led writing groups in which folks could put into words the unspoken, the unspeakable, and begin to experience themselves as creators as well as survivors.

As a survivor, writing has been the first, most consistent, and safest healing practice for me — before therapy or even talking with best friends or lovers. I write first, to figure out what it is I want to say to best friends or lovers or therapists. Writing was the way I thought, learned, grew.

Since 1993, I've gone to the notebook when nothing made sense, when everything felt wrong, when I was falling apart, messy, confused, scared, triggered, ashamed, excited, overjoyed, afraid — there were almost no circumstances under which I didn’t want to be writing. Writing helped me to make sense of myself. 

By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was getting up every morning at 4:30 or 5am just to have quiet time by myself, alone with candle and cup of coffee and notebook, writing into the stories of my adolescence, writing into a future I was only just beginning to allow myself to imagine. I like the ritual of it, and by that I mean regular practice, and a sense that inherent in that regular practice was some devotion to self and space. For me, this regular practice of morning writing is a way to reaffirm my dedication to writing — a way to say to writing, “my first and best breaths are still yours.”

Writing saved my life. Isn’t that true for so many of us? If I hadn’t had writing as an outlet back when I was twenty-one and trying to figure out what had really happened to me, once I got away from my mother's second husband, the man who’d been sexually abusing me, I don't know what I would have done, or who I would be now.

I was someone who’d been trained to trust no one, and did not open my deepest thoughts to even my most significant others. The safest place for me, at least in the first years of my healing work, was the page. I wanted there to be a record of what I’d experienced, what I’d done and what had been done to me. The notebook was a place for me to rage, to ask the questions no one had answers to, to say, exactly, all the secrets that his abuse had force fed me.

To this day, writing helps me to figure out what I know, what I think. I follow the philosophical lineage of Natalie Goldberg, freewriting daily, following any surprising or ridiculous thought, getting it down onto the paper and moving on, not stopping to analyze or decipher: just writing, just writing, just writing. This transformative writing practice is my exercise and meditation, it’s possibility and dreaming, it’s sometimes just working my way to get through the mire of my survivor's mind.

Transformative writing is writing that changes you in the process of its creation. A dictionary gives one definition of transform as “to change completely for the better.” Another definition: “to convert one form of energy to another.”

Writing that’s transformative is writing that surprises the writer as it’s emerging. It’s writing through which the writer maybe learns something about themselves on the other end. In my experience, there’s much writing that’s transformative. Freewriting as a practice works well for me, when I can let the writing come, can get the editor out of the way and discover after I’m done what it was that I was trying to say.

In my experience, a transformative writing practice like this one opens us up. It teaches us that we do have words (even when we have been/felt silenced, been told not to speak, or not been given the words to express what we were going through). We have body and words, a body of words, we have words of our body, we have language to describe what has happens to us, what we have experienced, what we have been. We move from silence to storytelling, and storytellers are beautiful and necessary in this world. Writing is a way to put words to things that were never meant to be spoken – and, in so doing, to undermine, one word at a time, the isolation and shame that makes rape culture possible. So thank you, thank you, for your words.

Read Part 2...


A widely-anthologized writer and performer, Jen Cross has written with sexual trauma survivors and other writers for nearly fifteen years. In 2003, Jen founded Writing Ourselves Whole, an organization that offers transformative writing workshops, creating spaces in which the true and complicated stories of the body can emerge. Jen’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in over 30 anthologies and other publications, including Nobody Passes, The Healing Art of Writing 2010, make/shift, Visible: A Femmethology (Vol. 1), and Best Sex Writing 2008. She's the co-editor of Sex Still Spoken Here (CSC Press, 2014). Jen is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at San Francisco State University. Find out more about Jen at


  1. Jen Cross rocks! This makes me smile today. Rachel Grant and Jen Cross are two of my favorite advocates for all people.


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