There are many ways in which writing can help us to understand ourselves better, heal wounds and gain a deeper insight into our lives. Here are three ways you might like to explore.
A. Regular continuous writing
Julia Cameron, in The Artists Way, describes an exercise she calls “Morning pages”. Essentially it involves writing every morning until you’ve filled three pages of an A4 notebook. With one additional, and crucial, rule – you can’t stop. Not for a moment. Your pen or pencil shouldn’t leave the paper, and your hand should never pause. This is not a thinking exercise. You aren’t to work out what you are going to write, and if you find yourself writing “I don’t know what I’m writing and I can’t stop moving the pencil so I’d better keep going and…..” – well, that’s OK. It’s a stream of consciousness thing.
People do different things with this kind of exercise. Some swear it only works if you do it as the very first thing you do on waking, others just in the mornings, some at other times of day. See what works best for you. What I have found is that the greatest benefit comes from it if you don’t read what you’ve written. At least not for a pre-fixed period of time – a week, 30 days, a month, three months. Again, see what works best for you.
Try it. I’m pretty sure it’ll surprise you
B. Gratitude journal
There are many traditions which recommend creating and regularly using a gratitude journal. Quite simply, it involves having a special notebook and every night, before you go to bed, taking a few moments to reflect on the day and recall something, just one thing, for which you are grateful. It might relate to something you saw or heard, something you ate, a conversation you had, a moment of being held…..it’s up to you. Then just note it down. You can write it in as much detail as you like. I find this has at least two benefits. It gives you an opportunity to re-experience a positive emotion (and that’s good for your heart, and good for your health). And it means you head off to bed with your most recent experience being a positive one.
C. The story you live by
In the inspiring “the stories we live by”, by Dan P McAdams, he describes a template to help you write out the story of your life, in a way which will enable you to clarify your own main themes and influences. I like this approach. I like the idea of the story of the self, especially as stories take us from the past, into the present and forward to the possible futures. Here’s a very brief synopsis of Dan’s template. It starts with writing down your chapter headings for the story of your life, then moves down through the seven further points of focus and reflection. You might want to try the whole thing, or you might like to pick and mix. As ever, see what works for you……
1. Chapters – titles and brief contents
2. Eight key events –
- Peak experience
- Nadir experience
- Turning point – significant change in understanding of yourself
- Earliest memory
- An important childhood memory
- An important adolescent memory
- An important adult memory
- Other important memory
3. Four significant people
4. Any heroes
5. Future script
6. Two areas of life where you are experiencing stress, conflict or challenge
7. Personal ideology
8. Life theme