Have you hit a wall with your writing? Do you struggle to put words on the page, only to delete them the next moment?
If you’re experiencing a case of “writer’s block,” you might find that a few expressive writing exercises are just the cure you need. Expressive or therapeutic writing is a unique form of written expression that is to produce physical and emotional health improvements and to stimulate creativity for writers.
Also known as therapeutic writing, writing therapy, journal therapy and reflective writing, expressive writing involves the intentional use of writing for growth, healing and development.
As a life-long journaler and more recently as a psychologist and therapist, I’ve found that expressive writing can be an empowering, enlightening and therapeutic experience, as well as a valuable tool to reflect on past experiences and make decisions for the future. Here’s how to try it out for yourself — and likely help get your work back on track.
An introduction to expressive writing
Initially, write about something simple and concrete, such as the weather or your favourite drink. Write for a short period of time and to give yourself some momentum.
- Spend two minutes writing about your favourite hot drink. What is it? Why do you like it? How often do you drink it?
- Spend two minutes writing about the weather. How is it today? What does the sky look like? Are there clouds?
You will find that the more you practise, the easier it becomes to express yourself in writing. When you are comfortable with the more basic exercises, try writing about a childhood holiday or your favourite subject at school. These topics will open the door for exploring deeper feelings, emotions and experiences.
When you feel ready to tackle even more challenging topics in your writing, try one of the options below:
- Write about a difficult relationship in your life. This could be a relationship that still exists or one that has ended. Write about it for 5 minutes. Now repeat the exercise again, but this time write from the other person’s perspective. Finish by re-reading both pieces of writing and noting down any new insights. How do you feel about it now?
- Write a letter to someone with whom you have struggled to communicate, either at the present time or in the past. Write down everything you want to say to that person. Be open and honest, and do not hold back.
A note on mindfulness
If you’re distracted and struggling to focus on writing, try a simple mindful writing exercise like this one:
- Turn inwards for a moment and focus on your feelings right at this instant
- Consider how you feel physically, and note any tension in your body
- Notice your thoughts and emotions
- Write it all down
Mindful writing will help to still your mind and allow you to be present in the moment. It might help to spend a few minutes doing a mindful exercise like this one at the start of each writing session.
A few tips for getting the most benefit from expressive writing
- Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or style of writing. Don’t censor, critique or edit your writing — just write.
- Write for yourself, not for anyone else. When it comes to writing about personal events, the belief that others may read our writing is likely to influence how we express ourselves.
- Always reflect on your writing. When reviewing your writing, ask yourself if anything surprising or unexpected came up and whether you gained any new insights.
- Do whatever feels right with your writing once you have finished. Carry it around with you, store it somewhere safe or throw it out.
- Never attempt to write about a difficult or emotionally charged topic before you’re ready. If it feels like it’s too much or brings up feelings of anxiety or stress, leave it for another day.
[bctt tweet=”Write for yourself, not for anyone else.”]
Writing as a form of self-expression, exploring your feelings and memories, can help release tension and diffuse stress. Take a few minutes to stretch your writing muscles in this new direction and you may just find yourself re-energized — and ready to get back to work.
Have you tried expressive writing as a tool to help you destress or generate new ideas?