Rewrite Your Story through Imagistic Writing

Have you ever reached a point where you recognized that an early life-story has led you down a dead-end path? It may be a story we heard over and over in our family and so accepted as truth. It may be an experience we recall clearly but whose interpretation was colored by the needs of others and their own stories. Whatever the source of that faulty story, you can rewrite your own story through “imagistic writing.”

An internalized story

An eight-year-old girl sits contently reading in a Pullman sleeper compartment, on a 2000 mile rail journey with her mother and younger brother. Her mother says that she’s going to the dining car for coffee and to “keep an eye” on her brother. He plays quietly, so the girl eagerly escapes back into her book. When the mother returns, the unattended four-year-old has gotten into a piece of hand luggage. He has opened many small, wrapped packages meant to be opened a few at a time on each day of the journey. The mother is not angry, but deeply disappointed in the eight-year-old girl for being “irresponsible.” The girl internalizes her mother’s story of irresponsible behavior. Over time, it develops into a fixed belief – she is solely responsible for keeping her brother from “unwrapping packages” he shouldn’t as he progresses through life.

medical ilness, mental illness, healing by writing

Rewrite your story

What is imagistic writing and how can it help?

“Imagistic writing” is a term from poetry. It uses everyday words, chosen carefully, to create a crisp image of the subject. No word is wasted or unclear. It also is used to “create new rhythms – as the expression of new moods” (Lowell, 1917). My use of the term here suggests that we can write crisp new images of both experiences and moods (emotions) and in doing so, rewrite a story that has been troublesome. This rewritten story becomes a form of guided imagery. (For thoughts on the use of guided imagery to rewrite your story, see Dr. Diane Engelman’s post Finding Safety: Rewrite Your Story through Guided Imagery.)

The rewritten story

In rewriting the story told above, the beginning might be the same: Girl reading, mother goes for coffee, etc. But the middle and ending could be reworked with different images. Perhaps the mother comes back sooner, bringing her coffee back to the compartment. In that case, she would be there to stop the boy from getting into mischief. Or if the story remained as written till the end, she could take responsibility herself for the boy’s behavior and not blame the eight-year-old.

Steps to rewrite your story

However it is recast, writing down new images and new behaviors and emotions can move a person toward a revised experience of an old story. Feeling responsible for others in your world may or may not have been your challenge. Perhaps you were cast in an early story as the misbehaving younger child. Or perhaps your story is entirely different, but has led to anxiety, fear, depression, or guilt. Whatever the story, once you have recognized a troublesome story, you can rewrite it this way:

  • Be as specific as possible in your mind about the details of the story and how it led to the way you continue to enact it.
  • Ask yourself how you might change those details to alter the parts that complicate your life.
  • Write down in clear and exact words the changed story.
  • Reread it often – or change the details and outcome, as they occur to you, until you begin to feel the change in your own perception of that story.

Sources:  Lowell, Amy (1917) “On Imagism” Tendencies in Modern American Poetry (New York: Macmillan Company) Retrieved online at

Lowell, Amy (ed.) (1917) Some Imagist Poets An Annual Anthology

Note: In this post, the author, JB Allyn, is not directly or indirectly giving psychological or medical advice. Nor is she prescribing the use of any technique to treat medical, physical, or emotional problems. The author intends only to offer information of a general nature that may assist you in seeking personal growth. If you choose to use any of the information the author presents, she assumes no responsibility for your choices or actions.

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