Daily Archives: August 30, 2012

Guest post: A Writer’s Heart by Sandra Humphrey

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing as therapy, is brought to you by middle-grade and YA author Sandra Humphrey. You can read Sandra’s previous guest post, about characters, here.

A Writer’s Heart

When you hear a writer say, “I can’t not write,” it’s more than a truism–it’s the truth!

When my friend Tess is angry, she scrubs the kitchen floor or shops the mall till she drops. What do I do? I write.

When my friend Jeanette is depressed, she raids the fridge and binges big-time. What do I do? I write.

Writing is more than a way of life for us–it IS our life.  We write when we’re high on the mountaintops, and we write when we’re making our tortuous way through the valleys.

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, what did I do?  I wrote a book for her–I Want to LIVE until I Die!. It was a book about life and about hope. In my heart of hearts, I knew she’d never read it, but it was something I had do–because I’m a writer.

When I developed breast cancer, my immediate reaction was not to find out more about cancer treatments (that came much later) but rather a need to journal. So the first thing I did was to go out and buy a notebook.

As it turned out, I did not have to journal alone. Our granddaughter who was ten at the time, journaled right along with me, and we ended up writing a children’s book together: A Family Affair.

The book is written from her viewpoint and in her words, and it is filled with humor because we want the children who read our book to laugh a little. Maybe even a lot.

As a clinical psychologist for over thirty-one years, the patients who probably touched me the most (and most painfully) were those who cut and burned themselves in order to “feel better.”

They’d never learned how to deal with psychological pain and felt more comfortable dealing with physical pain. For them, the physical pain was a temporary respite from their psychological pain.

After I retired, the memories of those young patients’ suffering were still painfully and permanently etched in my heart, so I wrote Making Bad Stuff Good! in an effort to help children learn some coping skills and hopefully how to deal with psychological pain early on before they ended up needing the services of a psychotherapist.

My young adult novel Letters from Camp is brimming over with characters reminiscent of my young patients. There’s Jennifer the anorexic, Rachel the cutter, Andrea the budding hypochondriac, and Kim with all her self-image problems.

These characters became so real to me and so much a part of my life that I would find the camp director, Mrs. A, at my breakfast table shoveling sugar into her tea or rummaging through my fridge, looking for avocados for her guacamole dip.

And I even ran into Cynthia Winston, the villain of the piece, right in my own bathroom–usurping the bathroom mirror while she  applied her eye make-up. It seemed for a while that I saw Cynthia whenever I passed any mirror. She was always there, preening and giving me her little Mona Lisa half-smile.

I wrote my middle-grade chapter book Rules of the Game when I began receiving weekly letters from a young girl in Chicago, whose school I had visited. As she told me how the other girls in her class taunted and tormented her, I knew I had to write about her pain.

The dedication page reads:

To Annie and young people everywhere who every day meet their challenges with personal integrity and courage.

Annie wrote back from Chicago telling me it “was the best book ever,” and that she keeps it under her pillow. Who could ask for a better review than that!

Then there was the confirmation class I led for so many years. The questions they asked during our group discussions were good questions, and those same questions ended up in my book Keepin’ It Real: A Young Teen Talks With God.

I wrote Dare to Dream!: 25  Extraordinary Lives and They Stood Alone!: 25 Men and Women Who Made a Difference to encourage kids to not only have a dream but to also have the necessary perseverance to attain their dream.

To me strong character is more important than ever as society’s values change and role models are transient and questionable at best. That’s why I wrote the three books in my What Would You Do? series–to get kids thinking and talking about moral choices long before they actually encounter these difficult moral situations in real life.

Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-Downs is a collection of 26 stories depicting various forms of bullying with thought questions following each story and all the stories are based on true experiences students shared with me during my school visits. The book is dedicated to a 12-year-old boy who took his own life as a result of being bullied and these were all stories that needed to be told!

Some of my books may never find actual publishing homes, but as long as they find a home in someone’s heart, what more can I ask?

After all, isn’t that why we write? To touch someone and give them something they need at the time–hope or encouragement or maybe just a good laugh.

We are all in our own way encouragers. And what could be more noble a mission than that!


Hear, hear. Thank you, Sandy!

Sandra McLeod Humphrey is a retired clinical psychologist, a character education consultant, and an award-winning author of eight middle-grade and young adult books.  She’s also the recipient of the National Character Education Center’s Award for Exemplary Leadership in Ethics Education (2000) and the 2005 Helen Keating Ott Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature.

You can learn more about her books by visiting her website at Connect with Sandy at:

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with travel writer Thirza Vallois – the four hundred and seventy-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.


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