November 5, 2019
If you’re one of my North American compadres, then you might’ve noticed a weakening of the sun. While many things seem in chaos these days, the Earth still reliably tilts at the axis and continues to spin in orbit around the sun. During these dimmer months, many of us writers shine a bright light on the recesses of our minds, conjuring images and stories and committing them to paper. For if we didn’t, we might find ourselves committing ourselves to the men in white jackets, our arms bound around our torso, tucked into a discrete wagon and hauled off to that happy place.
Writers can be such a moody lot. Perhaps it’s all those hours hunched in slavish solitude over keyboard, vainly tapping out mostly nonsense and the occasional runs of competence. But you do it anyway, despite the dangers to health and hearth.
Whatever your genre, fiction or not, your writings are the inevitable expression of who you are. That’s why for many of us it often invokes a sense of therapy. We feel well afterwards. Now imagine giving that feeling an extra boost, not only to your mental state, but your physical health.
Scientists call it “expressive writing”. It’s the type of writing where you explore your deepest thoughts and emotions. Numerous studies have shown its therapeutic use in treating depression, anxiety and those pesky intrusive thoughts of traumatic events. Once unburdened, subjects have often seen other health improvements. Perhaps you’re not in such a mental place and life has been treating you swimmingly. But if you’re like many of us, your subconscious might be hiding the inevitable cuts and bruises you’ve accumulated along life’s journey.
If you think about them, you know what they are. Without knowing it, they might be holding you back, getting in the way of your full potential. It’s not your fault you’ve been nurturing these wounds. We’re often told to toughen up and get over it. We bury them, cover them up, compensate for them, knowing they continue to lurk in the shadowy crevices of our brain. They’re like tiny vampires, sapping our energy, thoughts and even our health. But like the searing light of day, expressive writing exposes them, weakens them and often renders them powerless.
A daily journal is great. But this is often a breezy rehash of the day’s events, rather than a deep dive into that submerged wreck. For this to method to work, you’ll need to hop in the diving bell, connect the oxygen and flip on the halogen lights. Or in practical terms, hop on your typewriter, roll fresh paper into the platen, set the timer for 20 minutes and write.
A specific traumatic event is great, or other malignant thoughts and emotions. Loss and grief are often perennial pests. Do this for three consecutive days, maybe four if there’s some unexplored crevices. If writing from the first person perspective is too perilous, new research suggests third person may have greater health benefits. It allows exploration from multiple views and a distance. Like any writing on the typewriter, just let it go, ignore mistakes, grammar, whatever. You’re not going to save it. In fact, I recommend a ritual burning. It’s time to let it go. If starting a fire will raise the alarms, shred the stuff, cross-cut it, take a car ride, open the window and let the confetti fly! It may be littering, but the world is a better place because you’re a better you. It’s time to celebrate.
And who knows, with all these baddies expunged, you’ll finally be able to coax that shy muse from her hiding place.
Optimizing the perceived benefits and health outcomes of writing about traumatic life events. Andersson MA, Conley CS.
Stress Health. 2013 Feb;29(1):40-9.
Stepping back to move forward: Expressive writing promotes self-distancing. Park J, Ayduk Ö, Kross E.
Emotion. 2016 Apr;16(3):349-64
Becoming Human, seriykotik1970, via Flickr (Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0).
I used to think of myself as a writer, but now I think of myself as a man who lets words tell him what to do since the words dwell in those places where the suckling vampires can’t get to since they are all liars and sworn to lay low any confidence you’ve ever had that you are worth something to the world and yourself. We Word Doers talk it out on paper with our ever patient machines glad to be listening to those voices beyond the reach of the suckling vampires when others talk it out without paper and ink and such machines: There is, indeed, a certain magic only Word Doers can known that seasons those quiet spaces to hallowed places.
More a resurrection than therapy, creating and making words brings us into life anew each and every time, and why we do what words tell us to do.
Because we know that they know.
They do indeed know. Just make sure to burn the evidence!
Dear Daniel. Thank you for The Writing Cure. As soon as I saw it, for some reason I felt it deserved more than a reading. So I read it out loud in an empty living room in a friend’s house where I’m staying.
I’ll sit down at my Hermes 3000 or snappy Remington Monarch now and bang away. Thank you for being an inspiration. Erik Mølbach Hudson, NY
And here I read your comment out loud to my wife! Glad these forums have been useful. I’d go with the Monarch, has the metamorphosis feel to it — like the butterfly. Or perhaps, by defeating all your inner foes, you will be King of your domain! The Monarch! Best wishes on your journey, Daniel
What an inspirational piece! As a sometimes ‘deep diver’ myself, I know firsthand the soulful transformations it can bring about. I just wish I had the ‘oxygen’ to go deeper still–that’s a continuing challenge that my daily shallow dives hopefully prepare for. But what will we find when ‘diving into the wreck,’ as one famous poet once termed it? Maybe magical creatures, treasure maps . . . even gold! Thanks much, amigo, for your continuing inspired visions.
It’s these ‘shallow dives’ that only reveal the shifting sands of the tide, where only ground down fragments have washed ashore. You’re right, the rich discoveries are found in deeper waters. But like any dive, your descent should be in stages as your acclimate to the pressure. And for sure, don’t ascend too fast or else you’ll get the bends!