You don't have to be a professional writer to experience the
benefits of putting pen to paper
You remember the five-paragraph essays from high school and
still have nightmares about those 10-page college term papers. Back
then, a writing assignment was often a laborious task to bemoan.
Even now, as adults, writing is often associated with work-reports,
But it doesn't have to be all work and no play. Writing can even
be therapeutic-a way to connect with others and with your own
emotions. In that respect, the pen is mightier than a lot of
things. Here are five steps toward harnessing its power.
1. Realize the power of the arts. "I think that any artistic
outlet has a therapeutic aspect to it, especially for people whose
day job might not include any creative activity," says Marilyn
Friedman, a writing teacher who opened Writing Pad, a Los Angeles
writing school, two years ago.
Being able to transfer your feelings to words is a way to vent
stress, explore sadness or express happiness. Whether you're
composing a story or writing in your journal, you can benefit from
"Writing, in part, gives you an outlet to express yourself,"
Friedman says. "It also can be like meditation in a way."
2. Stop thinking like your eighth-grade teacher. Many of us can
think back to a time in our lives when a teacher made us feel about
an inch tall. Maybe you were told you weren't a good writer or you
recall all of your papers oozing red ink. Those experiences could
still be affecting you, writing coaches warn.
"Writing can be scary and stressful-that's the other side of the
art," Friedman says. "People put a lot of pressure on themselves."
The more you focus on details and mechanics, the harder it is to
experience the therapeutic benefits.
To avoid the self-critic in your head, focus on the meaning of
your words and the way you feel when you express yourself. Forget
about perfect punctuation or subject-verb agreement, and just let
the words flow.
3. Diffuse writer's block. If you find the blank page stressful
or intimidating, don't be put off. Start with a comfortable
physical space, Friedman suggests. "When you sit down to write, so
many things can distract you-sitting in a hard chair or someone
running a lawn mower," she says. "I take the phone off the hook,
sit in a space with a nice view, put on music and light a
Once you're relaxed, there are plenty of exercises to help you
get started. "I think writing is a way that everyone can connect,"
says Janet Tanguay, a creativity and life coach and owner of Art n
Soul Inc. in New York. "Everyone can write and has a story to tell.
We have techniques to draw people out." Friedman reminds people to
focus on the enjoyment of writing. "Set a timer and write for 10
minutes with no censoring," she says. Or engage in list exercises:
Make a list of people you admire or your most memorable kisses.
Then pick something from the list to write about.
4. Find a group. While writing is personal, you might benefit
from joining a group. Both Tanguay and Friedman coach writers
through the creative process and see a benefit in working with a
"It's fun to share your thoughts and express yourself with other
people," Friedman says. "But it needs to be a space where you can
share." Both coaches say it's critical to find a group that doesn't
allow criticism, so you can be free to create. "The beautiful thing
about the expressive arts is that they're nonjudgmental," Tanguay
says. "Traditional art therapy looks at a painting, sees the color
red and assumes the person is angry. Expressive art therapy says,
'What does red mean to you?' It could be passion or love. No one
else can tell you what your
5. Don't worry about getting published … yet. While you may feel
your writing isn't "valid" unless it's published, remember that
writing really can just be about a personal creative release.
"I'm all for writers trying to get their work published or to
share their work at a reading, but when you enter that process, it
can be very critical," Friedman warns.
To focus on the therapeutic benefits of writing, consider these
forms of expression:
- Write letters to friends to let them know how much you miss
- Write a letter to express anger-but don't mail it. Find an
alternative way to resolve the issue.
- Keep a journal.
- Start a blog.
- Write a children's story.
And don't forget to reward yourself-writing is hard work. After
you've written, get a Swedish Massage or a Hot Stone Massage,
splurge on a dessert or go see a movie. "It's about being kind to
yourself and turning it into something fun," Friedman says. -By