While I write professionally for various clients and publications, my personal writing is a way of discovering myself and making sense of the world. It anchors me when I feel adrift and helps me process challenging life experiences. Mostly, it provides me with a deep sense of self and well-being.
My daily writing practice anchors me when I feel adrift and helps me process challenging life experiences.
Certainly, it isn’t always easy or fun in the moment. I stumble a lot; some days, ideas don’t reveal themselves quickly, or I can’t make sense of my thoughts in a way that feels cohesive. But it’s the process of sitting down and showing up to write every single day that continues to energize me and fuel my creativity.
The concept of ritualizing a writing practice is an essential part of The Writing Ritual, a four-week creative writing program I run to help adults—whether they consider themselves writers or not—tap into their creativity through the written word. Unlike with my client work, there are no word counts or briefs; participants are simply encouraged to explore their ideas and imaginations in a safe space through prompts and dialogue. And it works: I have shared The Writing Ritual with hundreds of people around the world and have heard from many that writing has been transformational to their well-being and ability to reflect and articulate their thoughts and emotions.
The benefits of embracing a daily writing routine
When I talk about my 15-minute writing ritual, a lot of people instantly tense up at the idea; most are only accustomed to writing emails, texts, or DMs, and any other writing feels, at best, foreign and at worst, entirely daunting. I get it—confronting a blank page isn’t easy (even for me, a professional writer). Our inner voice tells us we have nothing to write about or that our grammar isn’t quite right, and those fears alone can stop us from writing altogether. But writing for no other reason than just to write can open the door for introspection.
“As a society, we don’t really [focus on] connecting to our inner lives, where our hopes and dreams come from,” says therapist Dan MacCombie, LAC. “Writing connects us to what’s inside of us in a really powerful way...helping us process our feelings of vulnerability.”
A vast body of scientific research has also revealed several reasons to befriend the blank page. The more obvious benefits of writing include a boost in memory and cognition, but scientific studies have also found that expressive writing can strengthen the immune system in people with life-threatening illnesses, and writing down your worries or even writing a to-do list before bed can lead to better sleep.
Writing also serves as a powerful outlet for emotional processing and can be used as a complement to talk therapy or coaching. Indeed, research suggests that while bottling up thoughts and emotions can lead to physiological distress, confronting previous traumas through writing can improve your physical health and the functioning of your nervous system. That’s likely because writing helps organize an event in our mind, freeing up space from the constant buzz of thoughts and granting us the ability to see our own experiences from a healthy distance.
“For people who struggle to connect with their emotions, writing can help them focus on what they feel, moving from the nebulous to the specific.” —Dan MacCombie, LAC, therapist
“For people who struggle to connect with their emotions, writing can help them focus on what they feel—toward whom and what—moving from the nebulous to the specific,” says MacCombie. “Sometimes, I’ll suggest to my clients that they fill a page with what they’re happy about, sad about, angry about. The act of letting stuff come up from the subconscious can be helpful to facilitate emotional processing that might be hard to see otherwise.”
Beyond these benefits, a daily writing practice can help reveal who we are, and remind us of our lived experiences and growth. MacCombie also encourages people to write as a way of meaningfully preserving their memories: “We live in a world that’s filled with images, but words have an ability to evoke senses, emotions, and feelings,” he says. “Writing something down allows us to remember it better and have a record [to reference later].”
3 different types of writing for processing emotions and boosting creativity
1. Expressive writing
Expressive writing involves writing freely about a challenge, trauma, or stressful life experience and focusing on your feelings instead of the details of particular events. It’s a common form of writing used in therapeutic settings and has been shown to improve people's coping strategies and help them develop solutions to problems.
“Expressive writing helps give people more agency over their bodies and stories,” says MacCombie. “Putting a negative experience down on the page helps them see it in a new light.”
2. Morning pages
While "morning pages" is not a type of writing, per se, it refers to writing first thing in the morning (hence the name) before other thoughts or responsibilities can bubble up in your head. It comes from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and typically involves three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing immediately upon waking up. You can write whatever comes out of you—whether it's a list, an affirmation, or a dream you had the night before.
3. Creative writing
Creative writing is not bound by any specific form—poems, short stories, non-fiction, and fiction can all fall into this bucket. Writing creatively allows us to tap into the reservoirs of our imagination and transcribe our observations or thoughts in a free-flowing way.
As a simple way to practice creative writing, find an old photo, and look at it intently. Write about what you see, what you remember happening when it was taken or when you took it, and what you can remember or imagine exists just beyond the frame.
How to get started with a daily writing routine
The author Joyce Carol Oates says that “everybody has a story.” I like to lean into this mantra in The Writing Ritual and beyond because it’s a perfect reminder that the mind is a surprising place. Once you sit down to write, you could very well be surprised by the different thoughts and feelings that bubble to the surface.
When you’re first getting started with a daily writing routine, begin small. A few sentences or a single paragraph will do, as long as you commit to showing up for yourself every day. Below are a few other tips that can help support your new ritual.
1. Use prompts
If you’re not sure what to write about, use creative prompts to jog your memory or help you tap into your imagination. This can be as simple as choosing a single word to write about, such as “pleasure,” “happiness,” “grief,” “summer,” or “vacation.” What memories or emotions does the word bring up for you?
2. Write by hand
With so many interactions in our daily life occurring on a technological device, there’s something nostalgic and deeply worthwhile about making the choice to write by hand. Different from writing an Instagram caption or email, for which we can endlessly mull over the perfect phrase, writing by hand is all about letting your thoughts flow authentically without the interference of a backspace button. The study cited above on writing's power to boost memory also found this specific benefit to be unique to hand-writing.
Even so, writing somewhere is always better than abandoning the practice entirely—so, if you prefer to write on your phone or computer, you can still do so; just try to resist the urge to self-edit.
3. Write for 10 to 15 minutes per day
Establish a particular time for your new writing practice (set aside 10 or 15 minutes a day), just like you would for any other well-being practice, like taking a daily afternoon walk or doing a nightly meditation. Creating a routine habit out of writing is a simple way to generate forward momentum and stay motivated to continue writing.
During the time you choose for writing, set a timer and silence any social-media or work notifications so you can be fully present with the page, with as few distractions as possible. Even if, on certain days, you don’t feel like writing when the time for your practice rolls around, you still might be surprised by the thoughts and emotions that wind up on the page if you just get started.
Regardless of what gets put to paper, chances are, you'll leave the practice feeling more in tune with yourself and more empowered for whatever comes next in your day. “The simple act of prioritizing creative expression can really give people a sense of hope and self-efficacy,” says MacCombie.
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