Dr. Jo Ellen Pitzer uses creative writing to engage her family and enrich her life.
Jo Ellen Pitzer had never taken a creative writing class in her life. But
when the family medicine physician at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group decided to write a story to help her then-5-year-old learn how to read,
it spawned a self-published book, a second novel in the works, a short
story in an upcoming anthology—and a hobby that has enriched her
life and health by strengthening family relationships, forming social
connections, and bringing her happiness .
“Studies have shown that hobbies have health benefits—they
can decrease depression, lower blood pressure and
decrease stress,” Dr. Pitzer says. “My mood is so much better when I’m
writing; it’s a great way to let go of the stress of the day. When
I complete a chapter and I’m happy with what I’ve created,
there is a positive energy that stays with me.”
Dr. Pitzer’s writing hobby is about as far away from her career as
you can get—no medical thrillers for her. Instead, she has focused
on fantasy novels for children and young adults. That first story followed
a 12-year-old child to a magical world where baseball and ninjas were
prominent. She had 10 copies of the novel published and hardbound for
“Writing allowed me to engage with my family in a different and meaningful
way,” Dr. Pitzer says. “The kids were always so excited to
hear what happened next in the stories. And it gave me an excuse to daydream—moms
sometimes can feel they’re not allowed to take time for themselves.
After I finished that first book, I decided to write for me.”
Dr. Pitzer doesn’t keep a strict writing schedule. “It goes
in fits and spurts. I feel as if I’m always writing in my head.
I can go on a run and turn off my left brain from work and let my right
brain take over and imagine a story or scene. It stays with me—I
can go to sleep thinking about it. If something hits me, I’ll write
it down. Usually on the weekends I start writing and editing whenever
She took her hobby to another level when she joined a weekly writing critique
group, Pure Fiction League. “I can see my writing when I started
with them and where it is now—it’s made me a better writer
and storyteller,” she says. “I know about the components of
storytelling; if a story is dragging I can recognize it.”
The members of the group—which number about 10—have been valuable
in giving feedback during critiques and offering positive motivation.
The friendships that have formed are also important. “It’s
great getting to meet new people,” Dr. Pitzer says.
Dr. Pitzer continues to get input on her writing from her children, even
though her oldest is now in college. Because she writes for young adults,
Dr. Pitzer asks her teens for “reality checks” on her characters.
“My kids are so encouraging to me and it’s fun to see them
interested in what I’m doing,” she says. “We’ve
had great conversations—I’m always asking my kids about stories
they’ve heard or what’s happening with them and their friends,
and then if it makes sense I explore it further, or maybe they have something
more to talk to me about, too. We kind of connect on that level.”
This year marks a milestone for Dr. Pitzer’s writing hobby. A short
story she wrote, inspired by a loved one’s recovery from surgical
complications, has been selected for “It’s All in the Story,”
a book of California-themed fiction that will be published in October
2017. Her critique group is encouraging her to submit her latest work-in-progress,
“Moonspell,” to publishers. She’s even thinking about
writing a different type of project, incorporating ideas and techniques
she’s gleaned from her time with the group. But Dr. Pitzer never
considers any of it “work”—her writing is for pleasure.
“When I am writing, I am so present for that—I let everything
else fall to the background,” Dr. Pitzer says. “There’s
a lot of stress and worry in society and there are times you need to get
away from it—not ignore it, but not dwell on it 24/7.”
She adds that “another benefit of a hobby is when you have a goal
and everybody knows you have that goal, you’re giving yourself permission
to work on something."
“If I’m spending an hour just daydreaming, my husband would
say, ‘What are you doing?’ But if I say I’m working
on a story it’s OK. I don’t feel as guilty about it, either.
There can be so much mom guilt if you’re not 100 percent focused
on family, and sometimes we can place that guilt on ourselves, whether
the goal is to get in shape, quilt or run a marathon,” she says.
“You have to be willing to say no to other things to find time for
yourself. My family gets it because I’m still there for the important
things. You need to have balance.”
For more information on “It’s All in the Story,” visit