The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote…By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.

Walt Whitman, With Walt Whitman in Camden (1915)

I’m no Walt Whitman, but I’ve Got a Yawp

I am a mediocre writer at best. At worst, I’m flat. Bland.

But I love writing. Writing is the cat I want to pet. I approach it palm down. Let it sniff out my hand. I wait for it to rub against my leg. Then, when I’m sure we’re on friendly terms, I let my hand down lightly to graze the surface of the page. And the page whips it’s head around and bites me with sharp adverbs.

It’s a love-hate relationship.

I continue to write. I write a bunch of cruddy junk, mostly. I write when I’m happy. I write when I’m sad. I abuse parenthesis and dashes. I write too much. I write too little. But I write.

Writing is cheap therapy. Sometimes, when I can’t find the word to name an emotion, I look for words that feel the emotion instead. Droop, drop, plop, dribble, plod, sag, slump, slosh. That’s my jig after weeks of holiday eating.

I keep a little journal and track my feelings by word lists. Sometimes I string the words into longer phrases, maybe even sentences. Paragraphs and pages often require too much commitment. I write small. Words and phrases are my comforts.

I don’t know that I’ll ever catch “the heartbeat of life” in my bits, but writing through the “gush” does make me feel better. It’s cathartic. It’s a healthier way of emptying out feelings. It’s better than numbing oneself with a pill, a tonic, or some other poison (my drug of choice is food). You can simply pour yourself out onto paper.

Writing helps you confront and control your feelings. Once it’s on the page, it’s real. It’s you. After the feelings are out, you’ve got options. Keep your pages. Use them to create poetry, or use them to inspire art (see my example below). Turn them into a story. Submit them to NaNoWriMo in November (National Novel Writing Month). Tear them up, and trash them. Or play basketball with them.

Go forth and write those jots, notes, letters, logs, or lists. Start small. If you’re interested in learning more about the healing power of the pen, then check out my Pinterest Board, “Writing Through Healing.”

Getting Started

You really need no more than pen and paper to get started. You could scratch out words in Crayola Crayon, or even type them out on the device you’re using now. However, if you’re like me and looking for any excuse to make a Hobby Lobby trip, go for it.

Journaling Ideas

  • Two-Voice Writing – Draw a line down the center of your page to create two columns. One one side, describe yourself the way you think others perceive you. On the opposite side, describe yourself the way you perceive you. Challenge the perceptions that are false.
  •  Letter to Younger Self – If you could write a letter to your younger self (the person you were five, ten, twenty, or more) years ago, then what would you say? What do you wish the younger you knew? (Survivors, this is extremely cathartic for processing old emotions, but you may want to discuss this with a licensed therapist before you revisit any traumatic event.)
  • Writing through Pictures – Find either an old personal photograph, or find stock images online. Personally, I prefer old photographs that depict real life (think Vivian Maier photos). First, feel the scene depicted. Then, set a timer. Recreate the feeling of the photo in words. The aim is to recreate the feeling, not the scene itself. Write freely for the duration of the timer. Write scribbles, words, paragraphs, a poem. Just keep the pencil to the page. (Try the strategy with one of the photographs below.)

Healing Through Writing: My Example

Here’s an example of some of my own emptied bits. I started with words and phrases. Then, I sketched based on the feeling of the phrases. Finally, I strung the phrases together, shuffled some, spliced and diced, and ended up with this narrative poem.

“The Potter’s Field,” Parts I & II
“The Potter’s Field,” Parts III & IV
“The Potter’s Field,” Parts V & VI