by Susanne Marie Poulette
I recently watched a video of Margaret Atwood where she explains that many people say they want to be writers. She adds that when asked what they want to write, they say, “I don’t know,” and then Atwood chuckles. Could it be that these folks certainly do have ideas, stories, and dreams to share…but something else holds them back?
After I completed my novel, some friends told me they’d like to write too, but felt they could never do it. “Oh, I can’t write like you, but I wish I could.” In most cases, their stated factors for not doing it are lack of time or lack of ideas.
I recall school days and sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper, scratching my head while trying to conjure up all the fantastically interesting events of my mind-numbing summer vacation for that dreaded writing assignment. Haven’t we all been there, staring at college ruled, blue lined paper with no clue of where to begin? And how about those thank you notes your mother made you write, trying to sound creatively grateful without being nerdy? Or, currently, that business letter or report you have to write for work?
Just because ideas don’t come easily in such contrived situations, does that mean you can’t–or shouldn’t write? It seems fair to say that many people desire to be writers. But aren’t they already, and don’t realize it? Those who avoid it like the plague are writers too, whether they know it or not. Aren’t we all emailing, texting, jotting calendar reminders, scribbling notes to take the trash out, or dashing off safely succinct messages at the bottom of greeting cards? Many folks who don’t consider themselves writers are composing holiday letters, or keeping journals, diaries or travel logs, just to mention a few examples.
I think journaling is a great place to start. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or need complete sentences or correct spelling. It’s just for you, and you don’t have to share. No one will come along with a red pen. Your writing is exempt from grading. Forget about “My Fabulous Summer Vacation.” Now you can write about anything you want. Make something up, or write meaningful lists of feelings, events, names; descriptions of sweet or painful experiences; memories made fresh by some reminder; poems, when the spirit moves you; logs of the day’s events; or gratitude lists, naming and celebrating your blessings. Recording our joys and pleasures allows us to relive them later. Conversely, journaling has always given me a means of whining catharsis without involving or annoying anybody. It’s an opportunity to release worries and concerns, and when stowed away and read later, it can provide new clarity and perspective on those same issues. Just as reading can take us inward to promote reflection and insight, so can writing.
Many clinical studies are showing that writing can provide physical and emotional health benefits as well as stress reduction. These findings are seen in survivors of physical trauma, service members recovering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury, female college students suffering from sleep disorders and eating disturbances, and that’s not all. Others suggest that writing about emotions and stress can boost immune functioning in patients with such illnesses as HIV/AIDS, asthma and arthritis. Please see the links listed below for more information on these health benefits.
If you want to write, but you’re holding back: go for it. It’s free, there are no rules, you can do it anytime or any where you please, and research is on your side—it’s good for you!
The following sources were consulted and are suggested for further reading concerning expressive writing’s health benefits as mentioned above:
Writing about Emotions May Ease Stress and Trauma. Harvard Health Publications: http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/writing-about-emotions-may-ease-stress-and-trauma
Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment: http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/11/5/338.full
Writing to Heal. American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun02/writing.aspx
Warrior Voices: Veterans Learn to Write the Words They Could Not Speak. New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/education/edlife/veterans-learn-to-write-and-heal.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
The Benefits of Expressive Writing on Sleep Difficulty and Appearance Concerns for College Women. Psychology & Health: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2011.558196
Write Yourself Well: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/write-yourself-well/201208/expressive-writing