Writing is Living Twice

I don’t know if I believe the old saw about “only going around once” but I know the life I inhabit now is the only one I have to work with.  And, as I chronicled in Sailing Down the Moonbeam, I believe you live more fully when you dwell in the moment rather than waiting for the future or longing for the past.

DSC_0309So why did I resonate so strongly with a chapter title — Writing is Living Twice — in Susan Weidener’s lovely memoir, Morning at Wellington Square

It’s linked, I think, to the benefits of journaling … that by writing, we can access the deeper meaning of the events and emotions that swirl around our lives. Sometimes, that deeper meaning comes through recollections or insights that emerge as you write.  Sometimes, it comes from examining the unspoken assumptions we’ve made or contradictions we’ve ignored.  Sometimes, it comes from letting our imagination run free, from exploring what could be or what might have been.

I first learned that lesson, in a mostly intellectual way, during my 30+ years in the financial markets, where I often taught about complex economic or financial concepts.  I discovered early on that if I couldn’t write my idea down clearly, I didn’t understand it well enough to explain it to someone else.  

It was a lesson I learned again in writing Moonbeam, some twenty years after that voyage ended.  For many years, for example, I recalled my months in Panama as an unscheduled diversion from the main thread of my journey, a middle life coming-of-age story.  But in writing the memoir, I came to see that it was during those months in Panama that the seeds of my growth were sown and so richly fertilized.  It was the first time that I had to — and was free to — build a persona without the burden of other people’s expectations. That realization permanently altered the way I think about getting through the day.   

Has your writing changed the way you live your life? I would love to hear about it!


  1. Great post, Mary. I think “the unexamined life is not worth living” also comes into play here. In my own experience, it’s only after some time passes that the meaning of an event becomes more clear. Journaling and other writing may shorten that time lapse. For nearly three decades I neither wrote nor talked about my first marriage to a gay man. Writing and talking about that experience broke the dam and brought honesty, openness, and freedom into my life in ways they’d never existed before. Without a doubt, my life is different now.

    • Thanks Carol … You are so right about the “unexamined life.” Another thought that occurred to me is that “those who forget history are destined to repeat it.” Understanding how and why we made our choices in teh past helps us to make better choices in the future.

  2. Hi Mary, you are right and this post resonated with me as well. I get a new perspective after I write about it later. It’s really very healing!

  3. Evelyn Dunbar Webb says

    Love your post, Mary, especially the thought that “deeper meaning…comes from letting our imagination run free, from exploring what could be or what might have been.” How true! For me, this works both as a personal reflection as well as a creative reflection. I’ve kept a writing journal for many years that blends both the personal and creative elements of my day. This need to reconcile the “coulds” and “mights” of daily events helps the flow of creativity with my characters and the situations they encounter, fueling my understanding of their world and how they are able to handle challenges.

    • Evelyn … I often think about keeping a daily journal, and making it creative as well as personal is a great idea. Unfortunately, I seem unable to manage it on a regular basis except when I am traveling or otherwise “outside of my comfort zone.” My blog is, I think, as close as I can get to that discipline!

  4. Hi Mary, what wonderful insights. Because I write fiction, to me, writing is living multiple times temporarily through the lives of my characters. I do agree that it can be cathartic and it has definitely helped me deal with grief and unresolved emotions, even if fictionalized. My latest book, Hidden Under Her Heart, has helped me accept and deal with the death of my premature son more than 17 years ago. I’ll still have sad feelings, but it’s not hidden and tucked away anymore, and I’m not afraid to cry when I need to. Of course, I gave my protagonist an uplifting and hopeful ending. Writing can allow me to change the story and experience the joy of pulling through such an ordeal. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for so thoughtful a comment. I aspire to, someday, be as prolific a writer as you are … in large part because of the ability to deal with so many different ideas and issues. Fiction allows more opportunity to explore emotional issues than memoir, but once you’ve created your characters, they are bound by their personalities. Writing more fiction, I think, offers more opportunities to explore human behavior and experience from different perspectives.

  5. Mary, I’m @onsailboats 🙂 Beautifully written piece. You capture the need for reflection with the need to move on from the past. I enjoy your writing much. Thanks for your honesty and willingness to share.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Thanks Colleen … for your kinds words and for taking the time to add them here. I’m so looking forward to reading your reflections on life on a sailboat