Why Expressive Writing Matters

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”

E.L. Doctorow


Ten years ago or so, I received an unmerited harsh email from an unexpected sender. I usually don’t need much to set things straight immediately when I feel I have been wronged. In this case, however, the situation required that I’d be more tactful and respond with absolute aplomb. Yet, I couldn't compose a measured response because I was mad as hell, and every word I could think of was, let’s say, less than polite. Evidently, I needed to calm down first. So, I went to my computer, opened a blank Word document, and wrote everything that was going through my mind, totally unfiltered. I may have written 500 words in a matter of a few minutes. It was a cathartic experience that made me feel better immediately. I had drained all the anger I was feeling inside me and now had a clearer head. After that, I was able to write an appropriate response setting the record straight, of course, but in a poised manner.


Keep a small notebook with you so you can write whenever you have the chance.

That was not the first time I did that. I use writing as a tool to clear my mind from negative thoughts, stress, or anger. It allows me to open up and get in touch with my bare emotions. I choose to type my diatribes on my computer instead of using pen and paper -which otherwise would be my preference. For some reason, knowing that when I'm done, I can just hit delete and the whole rant magically disappears, motivates me to let my thoughts flow freely.


Much has been written about expressive writing and its health benefits. Most of us write every day for school or work or what have you, but we rarely take the time to write as a form of self-care. We should. I've talked to many people who claim to get petrified at the sight of a white piece of paper; who think they’re incapable of writing even a Thank You note. Are they really that incapable? Of course not. It’s definitely true that most of us will never be accomplished writers with published best-sellers, but who cares. That's not what we’re after here, after all.


Back to expressive writing. What I find enticing about expressive writing is that there are no rules. You just write for as long as you want -or can-, about whatever you like, without adhering to grammatical regulations or standards. Just write, spontaneously. It's fascinatingly simple. People tend to associate expressive writing with the need for emotional healing, but the two are not inevitably related. Expressive writing can also be about positive events in your life, about expectations, hopes, and gratitude. Again, expressive writing is just writing about whatever you want.


Another important aspect of expressive writing is that you write for your own eyes. Nobody has to read what you write unless you decide to share it. Knowing that you are writing only for yourself allows you to pour your feelings more wholeheartedly. After you’re done, you can save your writing, or discard it. Expressive writing is done your way.


What are the benefits of expressive writing? Research shows that writing promotes lower blood pressure, diminished stress levels, and improved mood. When you write, and your thoughts start flowing, it’s sort of a liberating feeling. Sometimes, you don't even know where those thoughts will take you, what ideas will jump out, or what solution to a nagging problem will pop-up in your head.

Thankfully, we don't write rants every day; that would be just exhausting! So, start a daily habit of keeping a journal where you write a couple of lines about the events of your day, your goals for the following day, things you're grateful for and why.

Creating a new habit takes time, but the sooner you see the advantages, the sooner it will become part of your daily routine. As I said before, to practice expressive writing you don't need a particular set up, time of the day, or special tools other than a notebook and a pen. Start by keeping a small journal with you and write while waiting for your children to get out of school, or while waiting during baseball practice. What's important is that you take the time to do something to help you manage your emotions and explore your feelings. What about or when you write is entirely up to you.


Are you in the habit of expressive writing? Opening up and expressing our feelings is not always easy and many people are not comfortable with that. What do you think? Do you write about your concerns, feelings, and hopes? Share your comments below!

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