If we look back to writers like Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sylvia Plath, they all left their souls on the page. They didn’t write because they needed money or because they wanted notoriety. They wrote because they had to.
When asked why they write, very few writers say anything more than “I do it because I need to tell a story.” This is especially true with nonfiction writers. Cheryl Strayed wrote Wild because it was another way for her to cope with the death of her mother. David Small wrote Stitches because he needed to understand his family and himself.
Writing isn’t just about entertaining or informing, it can also serve as therapy.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with severe anxiety and depression. There were times as a child when I couldn’t sleep over at a friend’s house, ride the school bus, or leave the house without my parents holding my hand. As I grew up, the anxiety manifested in different ways, but it was always there, holding me back.
In high school, I started writing in my spare time. I didn’t necessarily write about my anxiety, but instead I wrote about fantasy lands and girls like me who could do anything they put their minds to. Writing was my way of doing what I couldn’t do in real life.
As I entered college and chose creative writing as my major, I started writing directly about my anxiety and how it had impacted my life. When I put all of my past and future fears on the page, I started to understand my mental illness.
And I got better.
My creative nonfiction professor, Laurie Uttich, told us that nonfiction is foremost for the writer, so that he or she can understand an experience and why it matters. If someone else likes the story, then that’s great, but we shouldn’t write for other people.
My nonfiction class was a safe place for every writer who walked through the door. That’s how it should be. We all knew the most intimate details about one another, but we didn’t judge. Our purpose was the craft. It made our class all the closer.
Let me clarify – I’m not saying everyone should take a nonfiction class so they can learn more about themselves (though classes do help). What I am saying is that writing can do a lot to improve your emotional, physical, and even professional well-being.
According to Psychology Today, A person greatly increases their self-understanding when they write out a specific experience or emotion. By making the commitment to write, he or she is enacting a change in their life that could bring other positive changes.
When it comes to expressive writing over the long term, sitting down for 15-20 minutes every day to write has been proven to improve the immune system and mood, reduce blood pressure, and lead to greater feelings of psychological well being.
Your professional life can also benefit from writing. Keeping a work diary, blog, or personal journal has led to increased performance at work or school, better memory, reduced stress, and a more positive attitude towards work.
If that doesn’t convince you that writing is good, then I don’t know what will.
There are so many different ways to begin writing. My suggestion would be to start small. Start journaling or set up a blog. Journaling can be as easy as opening a word document or buying a notebook, and you can easily set up a blog on these platforms.
If you are looking to go big, think about participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). NaNoWriMo participants are encouraged to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. The website where it is hosted provides inspiration, encouragement, and forums where writers post questions or excerpts for review. It is a hefty task, but if you are willing to go for it, NaNoWriMo is incredibly rewarding.
Craft Your Content also has a group on Facebook, Writers on Writing, with other folks who are trying to get into a writing routine, and share the highs and lows of that journey. While there’s lots of talk about process and tools, there’s also a lot of sharing about the mindset and personal discovery of writing.
Or you can simply start with a pen and paper. It’s that easy.
Here’s my challenge for you.
I want you to write 500 words by the end of the week.
Write anything! Write about horses, or your parents, or the beauty of Chris Evans in Captain America 2 when he’s coming out of the bathroom and… sorry, sidetracked.
Nobody else has to read it. It doesn’t have to be good. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be legible. Just WRITE. I promise, you’ll feel different once you do.
Not only that, but you’ll be able to tell everyone that you’re a writer in your spare time.
How sophisticated is that?
Erika Rasso graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in English and marketing and is currently working on her MFA in Screenwriting at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has worked as a writing consultant, an editor for a literary journal, and an editor for an academic journal. In her free time, Erika enjoys writing short stories and screenplays (though mostly she just watches WAY too many shows on Netflix). She is the Director of Production for Craft Your Content.