Jessica Lourey believes in the healing power of writing. Working on her first novel, May Day, helped her process a traumatic event from her own life.

Lourey’s husband, Jay, committed suicide not long after they married. She sunk into a depression, unable to deal with her grief. Then she rediscovered an old passion: writing fiction.photo_weekend with your novel_may day

“I had all these emotions, these memories, these questions, this shame,” says Lourey, who will explain how to “Rewrite Your Life” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Weekend With Your Novel on Nov. 4-6. “When your new husband commits suicide there is so much shame. And I poured it all into May Day.”

May Day, the story of a woman whose husband is murdered, marked the start of Lourey’s successful writing career. She followed it with other well-received novels in the mystery, young adult, and fantasy genres. But she argues that publishing a book is not the important thing for those looking to put their lives in context. The important thing is simply going through the writing process.

“This healing power of writing, this ability to rewrite your life, does not just belong to professional writers,” Lourey says in a recent TEDx talk. “Humans are born storytellers, and we all have a story. We have always used story to make sense of what doesn’t make sense.”

Writing an experience-based novel

The annual Weekend With Your Novel retreat features an expert staff of writers, editors, and teachers who help participants start or fine-tune their work. This year’s theme is “Your Novel and Your Life,” emphasizing the connection between what happens in a novelist’s real life and what ends up on the page. Along with Lourey, speakers include Agate Nesaule and Matthew J. Hefti, who have also channeled intense personal experiences in their fiction. Nesaule’s A Woman in Amber is based on her exile from Latvia during World War II, and Hefti’s A Hard and Heavy Thing draws on his military service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Weekend With Your Novel features 15 sessions at the UW Pyle Center, including “Mystery, Suspense, and Dramatic Irony,” “Making a Scene,” “Creating Your Brand as a Novelist,” and “Basing Your Novel on Real Life.” There are also six optional manuscript critique workshops. The retreat offers multiple tracks to accommodate both beginning and experienced writers, along with people who merely love to read novels and want to learn more about how they’re put together.

In “Rewrite Your Life,” Lourey will provide a seven-step process for writing an experience-based novel. Her session is geared to writers at any level and in any genre.

“There’s a mountain of research on the healing power of writing,” Lourey says. “Social scientists have established that writing about what we are experiencing reduces physical pain, decreases anxiety and depression, positively addresses a whole host of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and strengthens social relationships.”

If you can turn your experiences into compelling fiction that gets the attention of publishers and readers, so much the better.

To register for Weekend with Your Novel, see here. For more information, contact Christopher Chambers, christopher.chambers@wisc.edu, 608-262-5095.