Writing is one of my most beloved methods for being well and staying well. In recent years, I have been surprised by its many benefits, increasingly relying on it as a way of bringing greater clarity and joy to my life. Writing makes me happy.

The specific form is secondary – what matters most is putting my thoughts, feelings, and ideas on paper. It may be a flood of unedited emotion in a journal, a sentimental poem scribbled on the back of a shopping list, or a carefully crafted essay … maybe even a three hundred page memoir. In the end it all nourishes me. Perhaps this may be true for you too.

My time invested in writing has provided continual enrichment. It has given me a sense of catharsis, clarified my viewpoint, and communicated my feelings to others. Through writing I become more balanced and self-assured and less burdened and confused. It helps me navigate my struggles – arriving at the other side with my feet firmly planted. What remains are personal artifacts to look back on, and occasionally, even enjoy for their beauty.

Writing can serve so many purposes: self-care, self-expression, creative endeavor, a compelling method of telling your story, or an avenue for connecting with others. Powerful feelings can provide the spark for an evocative poem. Have you made a curious observation? Write about it. Do you have an idea for a little story? Write it! Have you had a transformative life experience? Consider writing a memoir.

When you attempt to say what must be said to someone special, sometimes the words come out all wrong. At a pivotal time, you may be better able to express yourself through writing a letter than approaching your dear one face-to-face.  Although you may be tongue-tied, you are not hog-tied; pick up a pen! It slows the communication, calms the nerves, and allows more time for reflection before the message is delivered. This thoughtful clarity can strengthen honesty and intimacy. Through writing, you can speak your mind.

In getting started, you may experience an unfortunate cultural barrier: writers have long been shrouded in smoky mystery as The Artists. They are often viewed as brilliant, mercurial, tortured and lonely. Perhaps you’re picturing Hemingway: pen-in-hand, scowl on face, scribbling tales of foreign adventure, a near-empty bottle his only companion. Indeed, some writers are shining artists, celebrated icons … fulfilling our romantic ideal of the writer.

But you too have a human capacity to write, even if it will never earn you a dime or an ounce of acclaim. Writing has value for its own sake. Sadly, we have been taught that writing is for the rare “creative types” who are different than everyone else. This is a myth. We can all be writers. There is no pre-requisite to write, other than being literate in the most basic sense. One doesn’t have to be published, intellectually gifted, embarking on the next great work of fiction, or even have an innate talent. And despite the memorialized words of Virginia Woolf, one does not even need a room of one’s own. Anyone can write, anywhere, any time. And everyone can benefit from writing.

Silence your internal critic that tells you your writing must be worthy by some external standard. It can simply be by you and for you. What is within you is unique and has intrinsic value. Writing is simply allowing that uniqueness and value to emerge in a tangible way … on the page. It will serve a purpose, whether it is for you, a friend, or the public. You get to decide.

Many people associate writing with wretched memories from high school English class: composition due … staring forlornly at the blank page, blocked by frustration and fear of failure, awaiting harsh red markings from an uptight school marm. This is not a recipe for creative expression!

Re-define your writer self. Don’t be a casualty of the rigid, repressed, and faulty notions about your capacity with the written word. Rid yourself of these unnecessary burdens – and be free. Just write. No demands. No rules. No red pen. Let yourself play with words, ideas, images. You are only a few strokes away from expressing yourself.

Writing coach and prolific author in varied genres, Julia Cameron, wrote a wonderful book on this subject entitled The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life.* Her philosophy is that writing can become a natural, intensely personal part of life. She provides both inspiration and practical tools for making writing a daily practice that is playful, practical and profound. She emphasizes permission rather than discipline.  Cameron explains, “Writing is therapeutic. Writing connects the self to the Self … I have seen writing work less like a tool than a medicine. It is a medicine all of us can make and administer to ourselves.” After reading a few pages, I am twitching with the desire to write. It is good medicine.

I have never considered myself a poet. But in a number of instances in my life, when no other method of release seemed available, I found myself compelled to write a poem.  This is one I wrote when I saw my oldest child, then fifteen, holding hands with his first girlfriend. I was overwhelmed with a mix of bittersweet emotion. I had to describe it. Immediately. But no one was near. I had only the back side of a shopping list and a pen. This is what I wrote:

 

A Mother’s Glimpse

 

I stole a glimpse of them,

on the path near the waterfall.

Walking hand in hand,

awkward, hesitant affection.

 

My boy and “his girl,”

exploring new feelings.

surely welcomed and thrilling,

blindly tumbling into that

foreign land adulthood.

 

And me,

awash in old feelings.

A mother hanging on,

reaching for this man-child.

 

Was it yesterday,

he marched off to kindergarten?

“I can walk alone,” he said.

Assured little man.

 

The tears dampen my face.

Bittersweet liminality,

boyhood and manhood;

so impossibly simultaneous.

 

And me having joined

that army of mothers,

silently waving the unseen banner.

 

Considering, “Did I

give him enough?”

Pleading, “I need more

time. What about …

 

But manhood approaching

makes no allowances

for such uncertainties.

 

He is. He will be

just more of who

he always was.

 

Created, yes molded

(happily by me).

Now emerging his own.

 

A few days later, I even decided to show it to my son. For this fifteen-year-old boy of Scandinavian descent, his response was the height of receptivity and encouragement.

“That’s really good, Mom,” he said.

Not only did I find blessed release in writing it, I had the pleasure of a fleeting moment of connection with my boy. And seven years later, this admittedly syrupy poem is a treasure that brings a reminiscent tear to my eye.

Exercise your right to write … today and tomorrow. Gladness will follow.

 

*Cameron, Julia, The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life. Penguin Putman Inc., 1998.

 

 

 

Create for Life

We were born to create. The creative drive – to make something out of nothing from our own sustained effort and imagination – is woven into the fiber of our being. If we accept the axiom of God as creator, and that we are made in His image, then we too are creators!

This goes beyond our most fundamental instinct: to perpetuate our species through procreation. We create because it nourishes us, sustains us, motivates us, heals us, defines us, and connects us to each other and to God.  Through creative expression we begin to understand both our selves and our world.

How is this done? I prefer a broad definition of creativity: any form of self-expression. While for many people avenues such as music, art, or writing are the most satisfying, there are countless other methods of creating that are readily available and deeply satisfying. And they are all fueled by artistic vision.

Think about what gives you joy, wonder, and a sense of accomplishment. You undoubtedly apply creative energy in these activities.

My father loves anything with an engine, and he has always used his creativity to build motorized contraptions beyond the wide-eyed comprehension of people around him. My mother created through gardening, fashioning the most beautiful rock garden in our neighborhood – the envy of the neighbor ladies and her fellow rock garden club members. My son writes poetry – deep and enigmatic, the kind his parents struggle to understand. His professors applaud and say “he has an old soul.” My daughter can write with humor, whimsy, and originality. Her unique way of seeing is evident in her insightful stories. My husband can craft a sermon with theology, language, illustrations, and oratorical flourish that make craggy old men cry. What an inventive preacher!

Despite my conventional appearance I am a “right brain” person who approaches my work with a distinct “differentness.” My leadership style has been described as “thinking outside the box.” What strengthens this method is my proclivity to embrace my creative flow. I am in love with my work  when I am so engaged that I forget about time. It is exciting and energizing to create something new. This makes every day unique, and fuels me through the unavoidable minutiae of community mental health services.

But matters as simple as playing with a child, telling a joke, cooking a meal, or decorating a room can invite creative expression. How about choosing one’s clothes in the morning? Artistic considerations are made with each decision about color, design, shape, form, and texture. Every mood can inspire a new pairing of clothes and accessories. The possibilities are endless … especially if you have a closet as jam-packed as mine!

I recently spent a year writing my memoir about my experience with major depression. This was the most sustained creative process I have ever engaged in. Now finished, I miss the discovery and delight that come from taking facts and turning them into beauty. The creative challenge of selecting a structure, images, symbols, metaphors, syntax, and meaning behind my story was like formulating my own universe. I can imagine the otherworldly transcendence that fiction writers must feel. Writing this blog provides some of that same satisfaction.

Creativity is a natural way of life and it can be a spiritual practice. I learned about this in the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her work involves a self-discovery and renewal process to recover one’s creative vision. Ms. Cameron works with people interested in practicing the art of creative living. She teaches tools that dissolve blocks to creative capacities. She helps people develop and maintain their creativity regardless of their vocation: artists, painters, filmmakers, homemakers, lawyers, social workers … anyone.

One of her key disciplines is the practice of the “morning pages.” This involves starting the day writing three longhand pages, strictly stream-of-consciousness. It is designed to be a form of “brain drain;” there is no wrong way to do morning pages. They are not meant to be art, or even writing. Morning pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, silly, stupid, or weird to be included. The goal is to evade the censor; there are no mistakes in writing morning pages. The logic brain must stand aside and let the artist brain play. It is the triumph of the right-brain over the left-brain.

Several years ago something powerful happened while I was doing my morning pages. I became aware of an area of my life that needed to change, and I suddenly had the clarity and imagination to envision it. A creative and emotional block was powerfully removed. And then it was inevitable; I just did it. Consequently, my life has been much richer. (The specific tale is one for another blog post). I am so glad that I opened myself up to the creative process of the morning pages.

In support of being well and staying well, I urge you: explore many avenues for creativity. Embrace them vigorously and consistently. You will find your life enriched, and you will arrive in places you would have never imagined. Create for life.

“I want to live like a river flows … carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

 -John O-Donahue, Irish poet and priest