“You have a soul in you of rare quality, an artist’s nature; never let it starve for lack of what it needs.”
~ Marcel Proust
Why do we write?
For some it’s because they have a story burning inside of them that needs to come out. They are born storytellers.
For others it’s the only way they know how to express their creative side.
Some may say it’s a form of survival, without which they would go mad.
For years I didn’t write because I was afraid of failure. I didn’t realize that I was suppressing emotions that could have been, and needed to be, released.
Since moving through my fears and giving myself over to the practice of writing, without worrying about the quality of the prose, I have discovered a new kind of release, and with it a path towards healing.
A new kind of writing?
This practice of writing is nothing new. People have been doing it for centuries. But not everyone does it on a way that actually results in personal growth or healing.
When we write we tend to do one of the following:
1. Record. We write about our lives in diary form, recording events.
2. Dump. We vent about how we feel and feel more of the same thing in the process, often with no resolution.
3. Fictionalize. We write about other people in the form of fiction. We create characters and place them in tense scenes. But when we’re done, how often do we see parts of ourselves in every character we have created?
4. Poetry. Poetry is a pathway to the soul. It’s a sensory exploration in which we really can’t avoid going deep with our emotions. But poetry is not necessarily cathartic.
5. Non-fiction essays and articles (including blog posts.) We write on a topic we are passionate about and share our opinions. This could be anything from fashion to politics or parenting. Depending on the audience we may also share our feelings, but this is rare.
There’s a sixth type of writing, one that has both physical and emotional benefits for the writer according to many clinical studies. There’s no fancy name, no new technique.
This writing simply involves writing about events and linking them to our emotions.
For example, a person may have experienced a trauma early in their lives such as the sudden loss of a parent. Writing about the incident and linking it to their feelings, both then and now, is a way of releasing suppressed emotions. The writer needs to explore the what (what am I feeling?) And the why (why am I feeling it?)
A one time fix?
Writing about a single event just one time is a great start but it’s not a one time fix. In fact this could have the adverse effect of ripping off a Band-Aid without applying any balm.
Much like in therapy, the writer needs to keep going back to these events, linking them to current life choices and emotions, exploring further. (S)he must uncover the dirt, like an archaeologist digging for bones.
Writing as a daily practice (even if you only have 15 minutes on the subway) is the key to growing both personally and as a writer.
This kind of writing may seem daunting at first. After years of leaving our emotions packed tightly away in boxes, the thought of releasing them can produce fear. In fact, it may be the last thing we want to do.
In his book Opening Up: The Healing Power of Confiding in Others, Psychology Professor James W. Pennebaker says this:
“Repeatedly confronting an upsetting experience through writing allows for a less emotionally laden assessment of its meaning and impact. Once organized, events become smaller and smaller and therefore easier to deal with. Writing moves us to resolution; it becomes psychologically complete and therefore there’s no need to ruminate about it. beyond the trauma.”
What do I do with the emotions?
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
― Anaïs Nin
You may be wondering what to do with these emotions once you have resurrected them. It’s true that for writing to be healing we must encounter painful memories and questions. This in itself can be enough to scare people away from the process. Embarking on this journey may at first be difficult; this is why it’s important to set some boundaries and to know how to care for yourself if you become overwhelmed.
More on that topic next week.
Will this help my writing?
Yes. However, when you begin to free write about your emotions, you must switch off your internal editor. Worry about the quality of your writing at a later point. This therapeutic kind of writing may even be for your eyes only, in which case you need never worry about it.
But remember this: at the core of many writing genres is the plight of mankind—it’s what connects us. The more we explore our emotions the better we we become at revealing them on the page, whether that’s in fiction or memoir. And the more we reveal the more layered our work becomes.
Writing to Heal by Dr James Pennebaker
10 Journaling Tips to Help You Heal, Grow and Thrive by C. Loran Hills
Writers and Depression: An Interview with Psychotherapist and Author, Philip Kenney
Image credit: Flickr.com, Gabriela Camerotti