Somebody recently asked me to describe what writing meant to me. That question feels a bit unmanageable, but I think I can describe some of the ways in which writing helps me. Here is a non-exhaustive list.
Every morning for the past few years, when I wake up, before getting out of bed, I write Morning Pages, an exercise from The Artist’s Way. This means filling three pages of a notebook with stream of consciousness writing—in other words, a brain dump, writing without editing, preferably without really thinking—just letting your hand move across the page.
This practice helps me realize what’s lurking in my mind—things I don’t want to think about, things bothering me or nagging at me. It allows me to vent frustrations, give voice to negative feelings and fears, and by not repressing them, I lessen them, become aware of them and sometimes even find steps to take or solutions. Ideas for the novel sometimes surprise me in the Morning Pages, and the practice of writing without editing myself makes writing first drafts of anything much easier.
In writing fiction, I can let my imagination roam, I can create. I love to let my fingers fly over the keys see what comes out. Through fiction I explore questions, I watch characters work through difficulties, and in the process, I gain inspiration and ideas I apply to challenges of my own. Plus, it's just great fun.
Nonfiction is scarier than fiction for me because I have to hew to the facts, like it or not. And if I’m writing about myself, I have to be brave. But this also helps me. I often don’t know what I feel or think about something until I write about it. If I put words on a page, play with them, arrange and rearrange them, at the end of the process, I’ve figured something out, I’ve realized something, and I’ve created something, which is its own satisfaction.
I don’t write a lot of poems. For me, they are a last resort, when plain old prose cannot capture the moment or emotion I want to describe. Sometimes writing a poem is the only thing that makes me feel better, because even when a situation is awful, there is comfort in creating something beautiful from it.
In all its forms, writing helps me figure out what I feel and what I think. After writing something I’m a little savvier, a little more self-aware. But maybe my favorite way that writing helps me is the satisfaction I feel when someone tells me that my writing has helped them in some way.
Does writing help you?