Psychological Benefits of Creative Writing

Much of the research I am going to discuss is on writing and happiness. It deals with the therapeutic value of writing and its relation to improved well-being and reduced stress levels for those who do it regularly.

Research by Laura King, for instance, shows that writing about achieving future goals and dreams can make people happier and healthier. Another study by Adam Grant supports this claim. He found that when people did stressful fundraising jobs, and they kept a journal about how their work made a difference for a few days, their hourly effort had increased by 29% over the next two weeks.

This indicates that writing is not exclusively only for professional writers. In both emotional intelligence and hard sciences like mathematics, writing has been shown to help people communicate highly complex ideas more effectively. The reason is that writing helps eliminate the “it sounded well in my head” line of thinking by forcing your hand to put it out on a blank sheet and to give the thought a tangible form. Brains might forgive whimsical abstractions, but prose does not.

In one study that followed recently fired engineers, the researchers found that those engineers who consistently engaged with expressive writing were able to find another job faster:

“The engineers who wrote down their thoughts and feelings about losing their jobs reported feeling less anger and hostility toward their former employer. They also reported drinking less. Eight months later, less than 19% of the engineers in the control groups were reemployed full-time, compared with more than 52% of the engineers in the expressive writing group.”

The explanation is that writing helps you to give form to your ideas and gets them out of your head; it alleviates the stress of losing your thoughts to time or an overcrowded mind.

In social psychology, there is something, called Pennebaker’s Paradigm and it is tightly related to the benefits of writing. This writing paradigm was used to explore connections between disclosure and physical and mental health and to generate hypotheses about other psychological phenomena. Pennebaker began his research with interest in the impact of traumatic experiences on physical and mental health. He also had a hunch that if people expressed their feelings and thoughts about the traumatic event in words, it would enable them to avoid or improve already existing problems with mental and physical health. His research, now known as the Pennebaker’s Paradigm, has established that expressive writing is generally associated with better health. This work supports a key principle of health psychology which holds that there is an important connection between emotions and health.

However, one does not need to turn only to science to reach the same conclusions. Many creative writers agree that there is nothing better for one’s mental health than writing. The poet Anne Sexton, for example, said: “Poetry led me by the hand out of madness.” Virginia Woolf, on the other hand, acknowledged the critical significance of To the Lighthouse in working through issues connected with her parents. Writing was also a form of therapy for the novelist Graham Greene, who suffered from manic depression. A long line of outstanding writers – Eugene O’Neill, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Sylvia Plath, for example – have written about their emotional pain and produced major literary works. Although these studies do not involve therapeutic approaches, their findings suggest some therapeutic uses of creative and expressive writing that may well be on a firmer psycho-biological foundation. Writing can represent a direct line from feeling and thinking to healing – and there are increasing numbers of those who advocate “writing therapy.”

J.K. Rowling is another example of the therapeutic effects of creative writing. She discovered the power of writing to beat depression. Not just writing a little bit, but building it as a daily discipline and seeing it through. In her early 30s, she started writing the success-to-be book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. She struggled with personal problems during this time:

  • the death of her mother,
  • estrangement from her father,
  • a newborn child,
  • a volatile and short-lived marriage,
  • life on welfare,
  • a battle with clinical depression.

 

Stuck in fearful cycles of rumination and doubt she began writing the novel, Harry Potter.

The hooded monsters in the book, the Dementors, are Rowling’s incarnation of her experience of severe depression:

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.

Thus, writing and seeing her vision become a reality was the turning point in her depression.

Overall, there is already an impressive base of accumulating evidence, which is beginning to reveal how expressive writing may promote health and emotional well-being – possibly by stress-buffering and cognitive restructuring processes. Writing generates more structure in one’s life, countering the unstructured and chaotic lifestyle that mental health problems can produce. Secondly, writing helps people get out of their head by allowing the writer to concentrate on the page and let it all come out. As Umberto Eco puts it: “To survive, you must tell stories.”

***

Nesrin Nazlieva is a Psychology student at Erasmus University.  She decided to follow the example of her predecessors who, back in 1460, left the Karamanid beylik and immigrated to Bulgaria.  Instead of Bulgaria, however, she chose the Netherlands.  Her short story with a not so short title ‘The Story of a Wanderer Who Traveled the World in Search of His Hat’ earned her a second place in one of the most prestigious national literary contests in 2015.  When she is not glued to a book, she spends time working out in the garden, learning Spanish, and trying very hard not to be the worst player at Ludo.

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Is It Possible to Still Publish Epic Novels?

Courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo

I’ve been pondering the title of this article. It’s a heavy one, with three monumental words on it: Publish, epic, novel. Which of the three represents the biggest challenge? Well, that’s a big question too. To create and develop an interesting, epic plot. To have the discipline to write the draft until it can be called a novel. To get it published. Wow. There’s persistence behind these tasks. Tons of work behind these words. And much love for the craft of writing.

What does it take to transform the sparkle of an idea into a novel? And how do we know it will grow until it becomes an epic novel? There’s no universal answer here, although, to the first one I would say “persistence”. The acute feeling that this path is the one you want to follow no matter what. And you stick to that gem, your nails sinking into that lonely trunk afloat in the river. To the second one, I would attempt a quiet “we just don’t know”. We write that’s what we do. We work hard and enjoy while we work. Then we follow our hearts wherever they want to get us to. Maybe one day we’ll find ourselves struggling with the possibility of publishing that magnificent story we’ve poured into the pages along the years. Read More

Review: My Real Name Is Hanna

I am beginning to realize that freedom means you can be who you are meant to be, whatever that is. . . That breathing without any thought to it is a gift. Now, I think about breathing all the time. What is it like to take your last breath? What if the sound of it gave you away?

Tara Lynn Masih has dedicated five years of research and writing into her first novel—My Real Name Is Hanna. The narrative is set in the years of World War II in which fifty-six countries were involved between 1939 and 1945. At the heart of the disputes were rising nationalism, fascism, and unresolved territorial boundaries. Germany and Italy were seeking to control Europe, and in Asia, Japan was expanding its territory by invading the Pacific. From German U-boats and Panzers to Japanese Kamikaze and American atomic bombs destruction and death ruled. Estimates vary about the number of lives lost during the war, but the consensus is that roughly 62 million people died, including the estimated 12 million in the Holocaust. The historical narrative of World War II is distorted with every generation, but one thing remains constant—the stories of the people who survived it.

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Why I Read Poetry

Courtesy of John-Mark Smith

In Arabic, the word for poem شعر comes from the word “felt”. This simple fact encapsulates why I read poetry.

Back in time immemorial, the first poems were read aloud. Their regular patterns helped memorization of oral history, genealogy, and law. The performance aspect of poetry never disappeared; Robert Frost toured the country and earned a living mainly through poetry readings. In 2012, there were 7,427 poetry readings in April, National Poetry Month in the US. Some would even say poetry is meant to be read aloud only.

This poetic tradition can further be related to orators, who craft messages to be delivered aloud to an audience. Like the earliest poets, the best of political speeches live on in collective memories. It is of no coincidence that the speeches of JFK and Martin Luther King use common poetic techniques. Read More

Procrastination: Worse Than Writer’s Block

I’m supposed to be doing some freelance work today. The problem is that there’s no hard deadline (‘sometime in the coming week or so is fine’). So what do I do? Procrastinate, of course. I’m a deadline kinda girl. And while I was supposed to be working, so that I won’t have to work nights next week, I’m flicking through YouTube videos. A favourite is Ted Talks where I can convince myself that I’m actually doing something useful with my time because I’m learning something. Then I watched this one:

 

 

OMG! That’s me. That’s so me.

I realise that although I always make my deadlines and I do the work well, I’m unable to do non-deadline work. It’s the reason I still haven’t finished all those novels on my hard drive. It’s the reason I’ve hardly sent off any of the picture book stories I’ve written to publishers. It’s the reason I’m bummed on Mondays because I hardly managed to do any writing the previous week. It’s not performance anxiety. And it’s not writer’s block. It’s the absence of the panic monster.

It’s time I worked on this. Right after I’ve finished this blog post. And I’ve done the freelance work I’m supposed to do. And…

Vanessa

Review: Transit of Venus (Poetry Anthology)

Courtesy of Tyler Wanlass

In 2012, three poets from Germany flew to New Zealand to witness the transit of Venus across the Sun, recreating the 1769 journey of Captain James Cook, who had sailed to Tahiti not only to record the transit but to continue further on to find the fabled hidden land of the Pacific. It was this onwards journey that led to the European discovery of New Zealand, paving the way to the colonialization of the South Pacific.

What these German poets wrote on their travels came to form part of the poetry volume The Transit of Venus. I had come across and purchased the volume at Arty Bee’s bookstore in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, not only because of its relevance in a country coming to grips with the wrongs of colonialization but also because of the cover art. The front cover shows a black dot set adrift among the off-pink orb of the sun—and it is fitting for the poetry within, which drifts and crosses in front of the eyes as if it is on a trajectory to something far more important than to merely live on the pages of this collection. More importantly, however, this artwork reflects the nature of the country that has been my adopted home for over 20 years—a land itself in transit, attracting tourists in droves for its natural beauty, only for them to find a nation with far more to offer than just a breathtaking exterior. Read More

Paper vs. Digital

I was standing last week in front of my bookshelves, looking up at the dusty, colorful, but forgotten books I haven’t stared at in a long time. Searching for an empty spot where to place Irene Nemirovky’s Suite Francaise, I pondered the book’s heaviness. It’s quite a thick book, a precious book, and of course, I couldn’t find any place for it. I wandered around the house, then, and found myself seriously considering and struggling between my preference of reading in paper versus the physical impossibility of storing more books at home.

I actually read both digital (e-reader or tablet) and paper books, but I totally love the touch of the page and the old resin, foliage-sort smell of books. If I can choose, I choose to hold a printed book, caress it, breath its perfume. Then, have a close look at it, page by page, beginning from the end, slowly balancing the depths of the story before jumping into it. But there’s truth in my storage problem, and setting aside all romanticism, I think it’s fair to give a thought to the digital alternative to reading (and writing) as a storage solution. Read More

16th Edition Cecile’s Writers Magazine: Emotions

One of the joys of open submissions is receiving all sorts of stories, poems and essays.  The challenge, however, is to find a common theme across them.  The overall effect we feel of what we have published so far this quarter is the theme of ‘emotions’.  While most fiction can be said to be emotionally based — for what else is there to convey by and through characters? — it is the various moods in which these emotions are depicted that strike a chord in this collection.  From humour to psychosis, from gay partying to self-doubt, there is much to feel as we read the prose and poetry here.

Cecile, Samir, Sofia & Vanessa

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