Therapeutic writing has been part of my “mental health” routine for a long time, as it is for many other writers. I have written about my soul scars, healed an unhealed: about my less-than-perfect relationship with my late father, about my perfectionism and the myriad of unfinished novels and stories that are languishing in files and notebooks in my office, about my sugar cravings and about those days when all I want to do is lie in bed, reading Terry Pratchett’s novels because the world outside is ugly.
I write every day: a few lines or a whole chapter. I’ve been doing it since I was a young girl so I’ve had time enough to reflect on the act of writing. As far as I can tell from my own experience and that of other fellow writers, writing can be:
- A necessity: something we cannot stop doing; separated from our notebooks and word processors, we suffer. We’re addicted to words because they let us say what our mouths won’t say.
- An outlet: we write because it’s liberating. There’s something in the mind-eye-hand coordination that writers find relaxing as if all the tensions and nasty experiences could evaporate once our thoughts are on paper (or on the screen).
- A job: but not in the sense of “what a fabulous job I have: I am a writer!”—although this also happens. It’s more like “I can’t believe I accepted writing 2000 words on the sexual life of the rhinoceros beetle. I hate insects!” Writing, then, feels like a chore, like a punishment. We even forget those days when we’re flowing and flying with the words.
- As a stressful, anxiety-provoking activity: this happens when we dig deep down into those sensitive areas of our life, those past experiences we have swept under our psychological carpet. Such introspection is usually part of therapeutic writing: you’re asked to unearth an uncomfortable episode from your past suddenly realizing that it hurts much more than you expected. It hurts like crazy.
I had such feeling a couple of weeks ago. I was writing about my tendency to procrastinate —something I’m not proud about but which isn’t a big worry, either. As words and lines went on, I realized that in fact, I was writing about opportunities lost, about being a failure, and a lazybones, too old now to reach my goals. The next minute, I had this choking feeling in my throat, as if I were about to cry.
Sometimes, taking it all out into the light is not a good idea. What shall we do when writing suddenly feels like picking a scab?
- Stop writing: Obvious, isn’t it? But you’d be surprised to know how many writers just can’t leave a paragraph unfinished. When it hurts, please stop. You can always come back to it later.
- Change scenario: Leave the room; leave your studio or wherever you’re writing. Go take a walk around the block or get yourself a chilled beer. Just being in a different place will soothe your emotions.
- Move your body: What I did was putting on my training gear and hitting the gym. A sweaty Zumba class can clear up your head and help you get rid of your gloominess.
- Cry your sadness away: crying can be really liberating and a very good way of letting all that emotional pressure off your soul. A good cry is nothing to be ashamed of.
- Write a short story on a different subject: children’s stories work best for me (there’s something truly optimistic about a talking frog or a stupid, little princess), but choose any subject you like. Sci-fi, maybe?
Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure only death can stop it.
Remember that writing shouldn’t be an act of masochism: if dumping your feelings or memories on paper is making you unhappy, stop doing it. Little is gained by writing bitter words.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable or sad when writing? How do you cope when writing hurts?