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WriteCast Episode 61: Restorative Writing

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WriteCast Episode 61: Restorative Writing

© Walden University Writing Center 2019

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[Introduction music]


CLAIRE: Welcome to Write Cast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers, a monthly podcast by the Walden University Writing Center. I’m Claire Helakoski,…


KACY: and I’m Kacy Walz.


CLAIRE: Today we’ll talk with Writing Center Writing Instructors Ellen Zamarripa and Miranda Mattingly about restorative writing and the role it can play in your Walden studies. Ellen and Miranda will provide us with some background into restorative writing, and then we’ll conclude with an activity to help you put your restorative writing into practice.


KACY: Welcome to WriteCast, Ellen and Miranda! Before we get started talking abut what restorative writing is and how students can use it, could you take a minute to introduce yourselves to our listeners?


MIRANDA: Sure! Thanks for having me back, Claire and Kacy, I know I was just here a few months ago to talk about goal setting, so, I’m really excited to be here to talk about restorative writing as well. And, just as a bit of a refresher, I’m a Writing Instructor here at the Writing Center so my job is to do paper reviews, however I also seem to do work with course visits occasionally a student webinar, but more so faculty webinars and faculty outreach, so that’s my primary work.


ELLEN: And thanks for having me as well, Claire and Kacy, this is my first time on WriteCast, so I’m really excited to be here. I’m a Writing Instructor as well, as well as the Coordinator of Residency Planning. So like Miranda I also review student work, but I also work with residencies in the capacity of helping train staff for residencies, plan curriculum, and do all the logistical work associated with residencies for the Writing Center.


CLAIRE: Thanks so much for introducing yourselves and for being here today. So, let’s dive right in: Restorative writing is a concept that I’m thinking might not be familiar to everyone listening. We’ve had some previous podcasts on mindful writing, but are these two topics related or connected or are they a little bit different? Would you mind sharing a little bit more about what restorative writing is and how it’s different than other types of writing or approaches to writing?


MIRANDA: Yes, of course Claire, we’d be happy to. So I think this comparison between restorative writing and mindful writing is really common. To confuse or to relate the two as they both kind of have these positive health benefits, and they’re both related to writing. So, to give you an example, mindful writing tends to focus on being aware of the stressors or of these anxieties associated with the writing process or your past writing experiences. So, if you had previous feedback from an instructor that was geared towards your grammar and then as a result every time you go to write you get stuck because you’re worried about your grammar, you can’t get words on the page of ideas if you’re thinking about grammar, or if you kind of know that you’re a person that can’t work in a busy space or something that’s noisy and you need peacefulness, right? Those are types of ways that you have to be kind of mindful of your writing process and how they relate to addressing those stressors or anxieties. And how they impact your writing. Now, restorative writing, on the other hand, is kind of being aware of anxiety and stressors, but it’s really rooted in understanding and overcoming trauma. So, I’m going to give you the technical definition, it’s probably a little much, but it might help us to get some foundation. So, according to Baxter, restorative writing is when writing becomes a vehicle for transforming one’s pain into engagement. So, it’s this idea of dealing with trauma whether it’s trauma in your larger community like going through a natural disaster or dealing crim in the community, it might be related to something individual in your life that you’re trying to overcome. So, for me at least, restorative writing is all about using writing as a vehicle to just not only understand and process trauma, that we face as individuals or as a community, but ultimately discover ways to heal and then overcome those challenges particularly through social change. So that’s how I kind of break the two down, Ellen, what do you think?


ELLEN: Yeah, my understanding really mirrors yours, Miranda. Restorative writing is the practice of linking events with feelings as a way to heal, as a way to better understand yourself, and even as a way to better understand your community and cultivate empathy. Restorative writing can help you process and understand your emotions as well as understand the root causes […] troubling and as you said, Miranda, traumatic events. And it’s really a form of self-care, right? So, it can lead to engagement with your community and then hopefully prompt social change.


KACY: That all makes a lot of sense to me, and I’m sure these practices and their benefits will really connect with our listeners since all of us at Walden are really invested social change. So, can you tell us a little bit about more about how you became interested in restorative writing? Have you seen it impact other people? Has it had an impact on you personally?


MIRANDA: I love this question, Kacy, because while I don’t have significant or any time of long-term experience with restorative writing, what I have seen and experienced has been wonderfully rewarding and enlightening in so many ways. So, for example, I came to restorative writing through a previous teaching position. I’d been teaching at a time when the campus where I was working at that time was facing some troubling events that impacted our entire community and campuses. So, we as a campus community, needed some space to process and heal and recover from those events. And the classroom became a perfect place for that because in a very low stakes way, with no type of evaluation that’s a big piece of restorative writing, we were able to put together or put our feelings about recent events down into words. Which, that just putting it down into words is half the challenge in and of itself, but it also gave us this ability to have a genuine conversation about how to move forward and I know that as an instructor I recall being so anxious about the results of employing restorative writing activity, but my students took to it immediately, and it was mainly because they hadn’t had any other place to process or work through those emotions. And that’s essentially the impact of restorative writing to be. That ability to process, heal, and ultimately start to make small strides towards social change.


ELLEN: And it’s funny, Miranda, that you say that you haven’t had any significant experience because to me that’s quite significant! And I love that, that is what you add to this podcast as well as our webinar that we had about restorative writing. And, especially compared to my experience. Restorative writing is not a concept that I had really heard of until I attended a conference last year, and at this conference I attended a session presented by writing center professionals, actually, and they presented about how they incorporated restorative writing into writing center practices for students. And I was really inspired by their presentation, I was really inspired by learning more about the concept of restorative writing, and I actually realized that I’ve been reading a lot of restorative writing in the form of health-related blogs, for a long time. But I’d really never put kind of a name to the practice before. And so since then, I’ve tried to incorporate restorative writing into my own writing practices, and I was really excited to work with Miranda on our restorative writing webinar project and I’m excited to still be working with you, Miranda, because I can learn from your knowledge and your experience.


CLAIRE: Thanks so much, both of you for sharing about what restorative writing is and your own experiences with it. And having heard you talk about it, it sounds really familiar to me, too, and I didn’t know that that was the name for it so much, but in creative writing circles, we sometimes talk about writing as a type of catharsis, you know, kind of working through your feelings or thoughts about something that happened, especially when you’re writing nonfiction, so it’s really neat to kind of have this action especially with a sort of filter on social change for students and more than just processing, thinking about what can we do, what’s an action step? I love action steps and it’s always nice to kind of think about those and work them into your writing and kind of whatever process you’re dealing with going through your emotions with something. So, can you tell us a little bit more about how restorative writing works? What would our listeners need to do to start a restorative writing practice? And, having had some experience with this, are there specific tips that you would want to share with them?


ELLEN: Yeah, great questions, Claire. Like you said, restorative writing seems to be a concept that people might be familiar with but haven’t put a name to the practice. So, restorative writing can come in a lot of different forms. Things like journals, action plans, blogging, like I mentioned before, letters to an editor, even social media posts, discussion posts, free-writing reflection essays, I could go on and on, there are a lot of different forms where you can utilize restorative writing to reach different goals. But really a couple of important things to remember about restorative writing include the fact that restorative writing is expressing your point of view. And that can be confusing, that can be scary, that can be difficult, especially since, as we’ve mentioned earlier, trauma tends to be a central focus of restorative writing. focusing on that traumatic event and then analyzing that and gauging how we feel about it. But in it’s essence, restorative writing is meant to be a non-threatening starting point to analyzing a problem or a project. This can take practice, of course, but it allows for the discovery of your authentic and/or your community voice. But a couple of simple questions that you can ask yourself when you’re thinking about restorative writing, so now we’re getting in to the nitty-gritty, how do we do this? How do we practice restorative writing? And you can ask yourself two simple questions. And I say these simple questions, but I also say that the answers are not so simple usually. So those questions, as stated by Louise de Salvo in her 2000 text are: What happened? And usually this relates to an event, sometimes a traumatic event, so ask yourself what happened? And then you ask yourself how you do feel about what happened? And in this way you can link an event that you have experienced to the feelings that you experienced related to that event. And that is the starting point for restorative writing. And this can lead to a lot of different things, but it’s a good starting point to identify what you want to feel or how you want to express your feelings rather about a specific event.


KACY: It seems really important, Ellen, what you were just talking about with the need to practice and the need to understand, this can be something that’s difficult. Miranda, I loved how you mentioned you had provided this non-evaluative form of writing as a way for students to work through something. So I think that’s a great reminder of, you know, what restorative writing is meant to do, not meant to be something that you feel judged about, but something that is a process that you’re working through something. So, we have an activity that we wanted to talk through with our listeners, but before we do that, I was hoping we could get a better sense of how restorative writing might impact Walden students in particular. Is there something that, is it something they can practice in coursework, or should they be doing it privately? Is it something that we do in the general Walden community or in their larger communities of their own?


ELLEN: Thanks for asking that, Kacy, I think that’s a great question. Generally restorative writing is a good practice for healthy well-being, thinking about different things that have happened to you in your life, in your community, analyzing those and connecting your feelings to them, can be therapeutic in a lot of ways. So, kind of the healthy benefits of restorative writing are something that students can consider, but also restorative writing can perhaps help students find purpose and direction in their larger projects. And I’m thinking specifically of the capstone here, though that is not to say that it cannot be applied to coursework, and it can also be applied to community efforts. And the capstone efforts can always be connected to the community efforts because capstones are usually based on the idea of social change here at Walden. So I think it’s helpful to think about what community means, at least for me. When I think about community or really thought about community before thinking more about restorative writing, I was thinking more about kind of my neighborhood community. But community can come in a lot of different forms. So community can be family, community can be your neighborhood as was my concept of it, it can be what is happening in your county, your state, your country, or even something that impacts you worldwide. It can be a community of people that you meet with that have certain shared aspects with you. And so for me that concept of community was quite broadened, and when I was thinking about community in that more broad way, I was able to think about how I could apply restorative writing more broadly. So, in terms of where restorative writing can be practiced, of course it can be practiced individually, right? It’s something you could do for yourself, for your own healthy well-being, as I mentioned. It’s something that can also be practiced within your community. So that could be a lot of different things for you of course, but it’s something that you can implement with the people in your community to help think about, perhaps, a problem or an event that has happened or did happen in your community and think through how we all feel about that together and again, this can have a goal in mind. That goal could be to make connections between community members. And a goal after that could be solving or remedying that problem. And the problem could be, could come in a lot of different forms as well. Remember that social writing can be practiced through things like social media and all those other forms, journaling, blogs, perhaps a lot of students and a lot of people in general to practice restorative writing in a more public forum, and that can also be really helpful and build community in itself. But also students can watch or anyone can watch our restorative writing webinar Using Restorative Writing to Enact Social Change, that’s located on the Writing Center’s website under “Webinars” it’s archived there. And in that webinar we really go over a couple of key features of restorative writing like we’re doing now, but we also have some great activities that students can start with if they’re thinking about restorative writing for the first time.


CLAIRE: Great, thanks so much for that elaboration, Ellen. I found that really helpful as a listener and newbie to restorative writing myself as well. And, I’m thinking about our students and how like Ellen kind of said, it sounds like restorative writing is a great sort of pre-writing step to help you with your projects, I’m thinking about students’ dissertations and action projects here at Walden that I can usually tell when they’re fueled by this sort of personal investment. And, while you might not incorporate the actual restorative writing that you do into that project, you can use that as you know, your fuel and your inspiration to get started and find out what you’re really passionate about and what changes you do want to make in your community. So, we do have an activity for you to help walk you through what this restorative writing process might look like. So, you can sit back and listen and, if you’d like to take out writing materials, you can do that as well.


MIRANDA: Thanks, Claire.

So, for our activity, I want to make a quick note before we get started. And the first thing I wanted to remind listeners is that restorative writing often starts with the self and it’s meant to be an open space that’s free from judgment. So, when you are writing restoratively, you don’t need to worry about what you say, or how you say it. It’s really for yourself. And it’s really just a matter of allowing yourself the opportunity to put those feelings and ideas down into words. So that’s one really important detail that I always like to keep in mind in writing restoratively. So, let’s begin.

Now I always like to start these types of exercises with a deep breath in and deep breath out, just to clear my mind.

Ok, great. Thanks for indulging me there.

So now, if you can, take a moment and consider a struggle you’ve faced as an individual, in your community, or perhaps it’s a challenge your community faces as a whole.

Once you have that challenge in mind, I want you to try and visualize the first moment or a significant moment when you recognized this challenge as impactful on you or your community.

Where were you at that moment?

What was around you?

What were you doing at that time?

You may also think about what emotions you were experiencing, how you would describe your feelings at time, whether you were stressed, anxious, afraid, frustrated, motivated to create change…

Ok. Great. Now that you have that challenging issue or event in mind, what you want to do is consider what you can make or do with these emotions. So here’s where the writing comes in. Now if possible, we’d like you to take out a pen or paper, as Claire was saying, or you can open your computer to a blank screen. If not, you can always listen along and continue to visualize your response, it really doesn’t matter, but I’ll give you a moment to grab those materials if you need them.

Ok. Are you ready? Great. Let’s get started!

So to finish our restorative writing exercise, we’d like to ask you to consider two main questions: why was the moment you chose so impactful on you, and what is one thing you can do today to make change in how you or others experience that challenge?

Now I’m going to repeat the prompt and give everyone a few moments to write and reflect.

Why was the moment you chose so impactful on you? And what is one thing you can do today to make a change in how you or others experience that challenge?

Now I’m going to give everyone a moment to do a little writing, and feel free to press pause on this podcast to give you that space to write, and we’ll come back together in just a moment.

All right! Great! You did it! Thank you so much for participating in our restorative writing exercise! We so appreciate your willingness to explore and engage those emotions alongside us.


KACY: Thanks, Miranda, and thanks everybody for participating. We hope that you got as much out of that exercise we did. I know I was definitely along and trying to imagine myself and my own specific experience. So, since restorative writing is something that might be new for a lot of our listeners, do you have any final thoughts on next steps of what students should do once they complete this type of exercise?


MIRANDA: Yes, I do! That’s a good question, because it’s kind of like you go through the whole exercise and maybe you’ve worked through something and you’re like what do I do now, right? So ultimately restorative writing starts with you. And what that really means is that it doesn’t have to lead to specific result or action items. It can just be an exercise that you use simply to work through your own understanding, your own understanding and emotions regarding that challenging or traumatic event in some way. So, restorative writing in this case may seem small, but it’s a result that can be significant for each individual. So, I like to remind that detail, just so you don’t have to feel like you’re implicated to do something. However, if you are interested in next steps for implementing some type of change, I tend to suggest starting with identifying someone, some group, or some resource that can help you enact that change. Sometimes a specific individual or an aid organization comes to mind, however you may find it’s useful to almost brainstorm your own contact list like a resource list of some kind that brings all of this information together into one space that can kind of build those networks and connections you need. And resources to help you enact social change regarding that particular issue. so, that’s one way that you might start to write restoratively and then enact that social change. Ellen, any other thoughts?


ELLEN: I do. My suggestions is similar to yours, Miranda, what comes next after that restorative writing process whether individually or in your community. I suggest one you have completed some kind of restorative writing activity, to codify your intent by writing something of a statement of purpose. So you can again do this as an individual just by yourself for your own benefit, or collaborate with one of your communities to write this statement together. And I think that writing such a statement kind of like I said a statement of purpose can help you narrow your focus and really realize your goals. So those next steps for social change are going to be different for every person and for every individualized community. But if you work together, or think about it on your own to focus and narrow that focus, it can help you realize your goals or your next steps. So, when you collaborate, the same things can happen, but when you do it with a community, you can cultivate that community connection in the process. Which I think is always beneficial.


CLAIRE: Thanks so much, both of you. Yeah, I found this exercise really helpful in thinking about my own community and things that are important to me in that community, and it reminds me a little bit of, we had a podcast not too long ago about contacting local offices and ways to engage in your larger community with social change in mind. So, you might want to give that episode a listen, too, once you’ve done your restorative writing, for some ideas of action steps.


KACY: Yeah, and I love that idea of creating a purpose statement, Ellen, because I know that something that is so important in our academic writing, right, like that’s a comment I often make on papers is, “make sure that your thesis sentence or your objective is really, really clear to your audience” and in this case, your audience is really yourself. So, making that purpose statement clear is so important in just so many different ways from when you’re writing a course paper to when you are working through these really major things. So I think that’s really awesome. And I want to thank Miranda and Ellen, for being our guests today. Thank you so much and thanks for leading that really fascinating and interesting reflection.


ELLEN: Thank you so much for having us!


MIRANDA: Yeah, it was so much fun to be part of WriteCast. So, thank you!


CLAIRE: It was wonderful. Thank you both. And thank you, listeners, for joining us and participating in some restorative writing work. We’ll link to some additional resources in our show notes, and we especially encourage you to check out the recording of our webinar are restorative that we’ll link to. Until next time, keep writing…


KACY: Keep inspiring!




KACY: WriteCast is a monthly podcast produced by the Walden University Writing Center. Visit our online Writing Center at Find more WriteCast episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn or your favorite podcast app. We would love to hear from you. Connect with us on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter, and at Thanks for listening!


[Dog barking]


CLAIRE: Gemma!