You Want Me to Do What?: Journaling for Caregivers
by B. Lynn Goodwin

Tate Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-1-606-96297-8.
Reviewed by Kathy Waller
Posted on 01/16/2010

Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Creative Life; Nonfiction: Elders

Asked "What do you need?" most caregivers would respond readily: rest; solitude; privacy; companionship; recreation; freedom from interruption, worry, frustration, anger, grief, depression.

Author B. Lynn Goodwin, who spent seven years doing "Mom Care," says caregivers need a lifeline. In You Want Me to Do What?: Journaling for Caregivers, she offers that lifeline—journal writing.

Referencing research done by Professor James W. Pennebaker and others into the effects of writing on the mind and the body, Goodwin says writing "heals wounds and enhances mental stability."

"One of the simplest, most private places to write," says Goodwin, "is in a journal. It allows you to vent, delve into issues, and untangle messes. It lets you analyze or celebrate. It allows you to finish a thought without interruption. Journaling releases mental toxins and deepens awareness. It enables you to strip away the daily debris and let the strong, safe, sane, healthy, hopeful parts of you emerge."

The guidelines Goodwin lays out are similar to those advocated by Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, and others who teach writing as a practice: write daily for at least fifteen minutes ("a goal, not a mandate"), write about anything, write fast, don't stop, don't judge.

What sets Goodwin's book apart is that it functions as a journal. Each of the core chapters contains approximately twenty-five pages of sentence prompts: "The truth is..."; "Today, I don't want..."; "I usually don't talk about..." Each prompt is followed by space for the caregiver to finish the sentence and continue the journal entry.

Prompts are carefully sequenced. In line with Goodwin's advice to "start where you are," the caregiver begins with "Thoughts About Me," and then moves outward to "Thoughts About Caregiving," and "Thoughts About the One I Care For." Prompts allow the writer to describe challenges ("I feel burned out when...." ) as well as joys and rewards ("Today my best moments are..." ). Some prompts are specific ("I wish I didn't resent..."), while others are open-ended ("When..."). Some invite analysis of the complex relationship between caregiver and patient ("I have trouble telling you..."). Finally, in "Thoughts About Reclaiming Myself," Goodwin encourages the writer to look to a future beyond caregiving ("I promise myself..."; "My healing..."; "I am ready to explore...").

The author sets aside two blank pages for writers to compose their own sentence prompts. She ends by offering suggestions for turning entries into other formats, such as letters or essays, and for learning more about the writing process.

You Want Me to Do What? is a small but powerful book. Telling the truth is hard. People in conflict, those on the edge of burn-out, may read about the healing power of writing but fail to follow through. Goodwin, by using a "workbook" format, provides an automatic transition from theory to practice, from reading to writing. It is exactly the right book for its target audience. In fact, the only drawback I see is that the tight binding doesn't allow the book to lie flat. Once the writer has become comfortable with the process, however, she's likely to switch from the workbook to a different format with room for longer entries.

Like Goodwin, I spent many years doing "Mom Care." A copy of You Want Me to Do What? would have helped me get through some difficult times. It would make a fine gift for any caregiver.

Writing itself, says Goodwin, is a gift. "Get your story, your nuances, your frustrations, your hopes, and your love on the page," she encourages. "Your story is buried treasure."

B. Lynn Goodwin is a widely published freelance writer, former caregiver, and retired drama and English teacher. She teaches workshops on caregiving and writing. She writes reviews and author interviews for Writer Advice and is its founder and managing editor.

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