Many people think that writing is only for those born with a metaphorical pen in hand.
That if you aren’t writing sonnets in middle school or best-selling novels in your twenties, you aren’t a “writer.” But this claim is far from the truth.
As both a person in recovery and an instructor of creative writing for a women’s recovery center, I’ve experienced firsthand the positive role a writing practice can play in a person’s recovery. No matter where you are in terms of recovery, whether in-patient or out-patient, beginning a writing practice can prove beneficial for the longevity and success of your sobriety.
Just because you’ve committed to recovery does not guarantee that you are ready to share the nitty gritty details of your life with other people. But that doesn’t mean you should bury your thoughts.
Writing can become an essential tool in approaching emotional pain.
My students often ask, “what are we allowed to write about?” to which I excitedly tell them that they can write about anything they want, in any style that they want, using any language that they want. This, at first, bewilders them. School trains us to write in a limited style: the argumentative, formulaic, five-paragraph essay.
While there is nothing wrong with the classic essay, students often walk away understanding writing as a uniform and limited thing rather than as a tool for self-discovery.
Writing forces you to be present.
When you press a pen to paper, you begin to externalize the internal. You become aware of your own thoughts. One of the best exercises to engage in the present is by writing through the senses. Take notice of your surroundings. Notice the shapes. Zoom in closer to the fibers of the carpet. What does the carpet feel like on your fingertips? What are the sounds outside of the room? As you become more present to what you can sense tangibly, you can then shift to your emotions.
Much like meditation or yoga, writing grounds you in the present moment, allowing you to detach from anxiety and/or stress that perhaps has become a habit. In other words, you distance yourself from the past and the future, so you more clearly see where you stand.
Writing allows you to initiate a discussion with your “self.”
Let’s face it, we live in a world of chaos. In an effort to stay sober, establishing a tangible outlet is essential. Writing provides a container for the chaos. When you write, you open internal doorways. Your heart and hand work in tandem.
You might decide to write a story about the future or attempt to chronicle your childhood or just jot down silly things you hear throughout the day—whatever you do, writing lends itself to healing. It allows thoughts to become symbols on a page. Now externalized, you might understand something in a different light. Thus, you gain a fresh perspective.
Writing allows you to distinguish between the different voices in your head.
One of the largest obstacles in beginning a writing practice is battling the voice inside that tells you that you have nothing important to say. This an absolute lie. Done with a heartfelt hand, stories about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be moving.
Approach the blank page like you approach the beginning of an exercise. Loosen up. The beginning is just the warm up, just getting the blood flowing. You wouldn’t just dive right into a full sprint—unless someone was chasing you. So, don’t approach the page with unrealistic expectations of setting the precise pace, tone, content, etc. Trust that you will arrive at what you need to say.
Writing is a bridge to the unconscious.
As both a writer and teacher, I understand writing to be more successful when used as an act of self-discovery. When you write what you know, you gain nothing. When you write to discover, you gain insight.
In other words, get out of your own way and let your mind unravel. Let the words flow wildly onto the page. As Flannery O’ Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I write.” Embrace the “not knowing” when you face the page.
Writing teaches you discipline.
Whether you choose to write twenty minutes a day or twenty pages a day, make a goal and stick to it. Some days you might find that your writing flows with ease; other days you might feel like setting fire to the page. The idea is to write anyway. Writing is a practice. If you wish to write well, you must allow yourself to write junk.
Set a timer. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling or what thoughts disrupt the flow. In fact, even on bad writing days, a “free write” will almost always lead to a new idea or topic. Pay attention to themes or a line that sticks out.
Writing can help you learn to trust yourself again.
Writing is a practice. And as you practice, your voice will become familiar. You will begin to trust in your own voice. As your trust develops, you will then feel more confident in writing requests or proposals, or filling out the details of a resume. In other words, your ability to communicate will improve.
And finally, writing can form community. Start a writing group with a friend or two, or look for a local writing group. Your local library or university might be able to help you find a writing group near you. This site has several ideas for how to find, join, or form a writing group.