A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from human lips; not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself. —Henry David Thoreau
One aspect of writing that I am aware of, yet was not prepared to become reacquainted with, is its therapeutic value. Writing has long been recognized as a valid treatment for all types of emotional things. Just this past month the American Psychological Association issued a story suggesting that new research affirms the value of writing as therapy. They went on to say that it might even benefit our immune systems! Who knew? There were several other ideas discussed in the article. I’ll link it here, but let me return to my original statement and talk a bit about how writing is therapeutic for me.
When I was in school, one of my middle-grade language teachers required us to keep a journal. I could not stand doing it! I’m not sure why, but I have thought about it from time to time. In all honesty, the biggest reason was probably that I was a tremendous procrastinator ( I say ‘was’ because I have genuinely tried to reform myself over the years). However, another reason I think that I shied away from it is that I always found myself using the journal as a diary. We were rarely required to write about anything specific, but we did get a grade for doing it. Knowing the teacher was going to look at it, I think I felt a little trapped. My inner thoughts would pour onto the page and the moment I handed in that little blue, spiral-bound steno pad I regretted it! I kept that steno pad for a long time, until finally, well over a decade later, I looked back through it, read all of the stories, laughed a little, and destroyed it forever. I no longer needed to keep it to remember it forever.
Fast forward to 2019 when I started writing Dunnigan. Through that experience, I finally grasped what my teacher was trying to get me to accomplish with that steno pad. She just wanted us to write! She knew that we had thoughts and feelings that we were not going to express openly, and she wanted to provide that platform to us. “Just writing” can be half the battle sometimes. You don’t always know where it is going to lead you (as I discussed in the previous blog Driving at Night), but you just keep writing. As I prepare to embark upon the writing of a second novel, I find myself telling folks, “I plan to start in the late fall- it’s a good winter project.” It gives me a purposeful activity to keep me busy during the dreary part of the winter when I cannot get outside and do my favorite things. It also allows me to channel my emotions into the characters and expend some pent-up winter, ‘cabin fever’ energy. In the end, I found the entire process to be very cathartic. Even this very blog with you carries an emotional benefit for me. If you have never considered writing as a therapeutic activity, try it! You may be pleasantly surprised.