Writing That Heals You
We often overevaluate what it means to write something. To demystify the act of putting words on paper, I want to introduce you to a term: expressive writing. The simplest definition I can offer is this: Expressive writing is the act of sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings about a subject on the page. Expressive writing can vary from prose to poetry to stream-of-consciousness to lists of feeling words to a bulleted list of thoughts on a subject. This is the type of writing that will help you heal and understand yourself in new ways.
I say this to make it clear that you don’t have to write a clinical trial or a perfectly organized event brief or a five-paragraph essay or screenplay or a book manuscript in order to do what I’m teaching you to do. Your daily writing, like a grocery list or a to-do list, won’t even do it. What you have to do is to consider what you think and how you feel about a subject, scribble a few words down on the page, and slowly, over time, watch your perspective and your life transform.
If I know one thing to be true about the writing process, it’s that no matter how much I demystify it, you will still find reasons to disqualify yourself. This is true for writers who are new to this process, and it’s equally true for writers who are experienced and even commercially successful at their craft. No matter who they are or what compels them to write, all of these writers say the same few phrases to me over and over again, almost word for word.
Those phrases go like this:
- I’m not a real writer.
- What would I write about?
- Who will read this?
- This is a waste of time.
- I’m stuck.
It’s not just you who feels like a fraud when you’re writing. It’s not just you who is worried that what comes out when you are honest with yourself won’t be palatable to everyone who reads it. It’s not just you who worries that your life is boring, and you don’t have anything interesting to say. Even the most gifted, talented, trained authors I work with say these same things to me.
But what if the very things you think disqualify you are actually the ones that qualify you? Do you feel you need an invitation to the “elite” club of writers I’m talking about? Consider this list of insecurities your initiation. Welcome to the club.
The questions we ask ourselves about our writing are not just questions about writing. They are questions about life. Do I have something to say that matters? What makes me qualified? Do I have what it takes to get the job done? What if I spend all this time, and it ends up being a waste? What if, when all is said and done, I am disappointed by what I see on the page? What if I am not proud of what I make?
When we lean into this connection between life and writing, we discover one of the most beautiful gifts of the writing life: writing practice is life practice. Where we get unstuck in our writing, we get unstuck in our lives.
Regardless of whether or not you see yourself as a writer, or whether or not you think you have a good idea, even if you never share a single word you write, writing can give you access to a strength and resolve and clarity you never thought possible but always knew existed.
Writing will help you find your voice.
Something to Say?
If you have constantly talked yourself out of the process of writing on the basis that “not everyone is supposed to write,” I’d like you to consider a question. How do we decide who “should” write and who “shouldn’t”? Should Joseph Epstein himself decide? Should we put someone else in charge? Should we indicate who should write with a blue check mark next to their name on Instagram?
The truth is, there are a thousand reasons to never put your words down on paper. There is no shortage of incredibly compelling, true, and even legitimate reasons that writing is far too much trouble:
- You don’t really have the time (who does?).
- You’ll never get the return on your investment that you want or deserve anyway.
- You don’t have a great idea to write about.
- Someone else already had the same idea and did a better job writing about it than you could.
- Writing should simply be left for the “real” writers out there — the ones for whom writing comes more easily, the ones who are gifted or trained or experienced.
In addition to all the compelling reasons to give up before you get started, there are also a whole host of compelling reasons to begin. For one thing, writing can heal your life from the inside out: body, soul, and mind.
The difference between you and the writers you admire is not that they have something worthy to say and you don’t. They have the same excuses you have. They have the same objections you have. There’s only one key difference between you and them: they’re doing it.
When that happens — when people write — something magical takes place. They not only record their message, they become their message. When they tell the truth, they embody the truth. They rise above their personal problems and find a way to metabolize their experience for themselves and, sometimes, for a small group of readers. They’re becoming the heroes of their own stories, their own wise and trusted narrators.
What I said before about there being a thousand reasons to not put your ideas on paper is only partially true. Because when you really boil down the reasons, there are only a handful — and maybe, at the end of the day, even fewer than that. The voice that’s telling you not to write is the same voice that’s telling you not to do any of the other beautiful, life-changing things you want to try. The excuses are not only keeping us from our best writing. They’re keeping us from becoming the kind of people we want to be in the world.
The great news? We can unravel the excuses, one by one. Expressive writing will help us get there.
So are you going to write? The point is, you get to decide. What an amazing gift and an incredible responsibility.
Writers write. I know this sounds simple enough, but if you consider the amount of time you spend not writing — considering writing, dreaming about writing, avoiding writing, wishing you could write — you’ll realize how important this truth is.
If you decide you’d like to do it, it’s time to finally get over your excuses and give it a try. In which case, this book is for you. It can be your road map, your companion, your biggest supporter, your sideline cheerleader as you do what so few people will ever do: find your voice.
Excerpted with permission from The Power of Writing It Down by Allison Fallon, copyright Allison Fallon.
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Do you have a story to tell? Have you been talking yourself out of writing it? Saying discouraging phrases to yourself? Welcome to the club! Write anyway. Find your voice. Share what the Lord gave you; share your story. We need to hear it! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full