Monday, 31 January 2011

Writing As Therapy

When I was 16 years old, my parents separated and my Dad moved in with the woman who was to become his second wife. It was a difficult time for everyone involved and in those early days the separation was all that anyone could think of.

At the time, there were only a few weeks to go, before I sat my O level exams and it was important for me to sit down and get back into 'revision mode'. But I couldn't, because all I could think about was our current family circumstances.

However, the writer inside me urged me to pick up a pen, so I did. I decided to write a letter expressing all of my feelings. It was one of the best things ever did. (It was also one of the worst things I ever did, because as a naive 16-year-old I didn't think about what the consequences were of posting the letter!) The act of sitting down and writing the letter enabled me to clear my head. Once it was written, I was able to think about other things ... like revision.

It's something I still do today with my writing. Sometimes, I find I'm not able to get on with the project I want to, because I'm thinking of something else. At the time though, whatever it is that my mind is thinking about, isn't always clear. Other writers may think this as Writer's Block, but I don't believe in the dreaded block. This is because my solution to this difficulty is to sit down and write!

So, whenever I can't get started on the writing project that I want to, I pick up a pen and notebook and I start writing a letter. It's a letter to myself, and in it I simple start by saying, For some reason I can't get started on XXX project and it's annoying me. Perhaps it's because of .... and I let my mind wander freely.

Sometimes my letter produces an interesting response. Perhaps there is a family issue that needs dealing with. Or perhaps I have a couple of other ideas floating around in my head and I just need to spend time jotting down the ideas, so that they don't get forgotten and I can come back later to them.

But after about 20 minutes, my mind feels clearer once more, and I'm ready to get working on my writing project again.

I've learned my lesson - I don't post these letters - they stay in my notebook. But I know that writing a letter to myself can get me writing again. Writing is therapy and it can help us to recover our minds. It's one reason why personal diaries and journals can be so effective for a writer.

So next time you feel stuck and unable to settle down to write, pick up a pen and notebook and undertake a little therapy. Write a letter to yourself. Tell yourself what it is you are thinking. You might be surprised by what you reveal. It may also motivate you into cracking on with your other writing projects too.

Good luck.


  1. When I was 13 years old my parents separated and my Dad moved in with the woman who was to become his second wife. I too wrote a letter, putting down all my feelings. I didn't post mine. I hid it in my secret hiding place, under the carpet on the stairs leading to my attic bedroom. Turned out it wasn't a secret place after all and I guess the aftermath was much the same as yours.
    I totally agree about writing down your problems but these shouldn't be shared - unless you turn them into fiction later.

  2. Interesting post, Simon and a good trick to 'unstuck yourself'.

    On a different note: I wonder how many writes use their writing as a therapy?
    I started off by writing stories featuring people I didn't like for whatever reason and wanted to teach a lesson. I don't do it anymore, but if there is something that bothers me (e.g. an unresolved problem, a social issue, etc) I write a story and weave it in. In fiction I always know the answer ;)

  3. Yes, Lynne and Kate, that's the beauty of fiction. You can always do horrible things to people in fiction!

  4. Great post, Simon. I completely agree, writing can be great therapy. I used to sometimes write myself out of dark places by putting my feelings into dark poetry - only ever seen by me of course.

  5. I daren't write down my deepest, darkest thoughts, Simon! Even if I did hide them in a secret place!

    Julie xx

  6. Wonderful post Simon, I even post things back to myself! I know that sounds completely mad but it works for me. I always try to post positive things back to myself so when I open them it's almost a surprise! But the main thing is they have left my head and come back at a time when I want to deal with them.

  7. Brilliant post, Simon! My parents separated when I was four so a bit before my writing days but good advice!

  8. Simon
    Thanks for this interesting – and honest – post. Last year I set my writing group the task of writing ‘the letter I wish I’d written’. I assured them, that, due to their possibly personal nature, I wouldn’t be asking them to share their letters but one (brave) lady wanted to read hers to the group.
    She’d written a letter to her daughter, who’d struggled with depression. It was beautifully written and very moving – all the more so when my student revealed that her daughter had, eventually, committed suicide.
    My immediate thought was regret for that writing exercise. I thought I’d pushed things too far, in making my student re-visit those memories but, to my relief, she told the group that she was glad she’d written the letter and that it had, undoubtedly, helped her.
    Writing as therapy, indeed.

  9. The first piece I ever had published was something I had written as therapy. It was a story about my parents, who'd both died fairly recently at that time, and my grandparents who'd died some time before. I did find it a very helpful experience to write it, and having it published felt like a good tribute to them.

  10. Yes that is a very thought provoking point you make. I often write down what is bugging me too and I find it cathartic. I used to write letters, poems and stories from the moment I could put pen to paper to get things off my chest. These days I also find going for walks helps free up my thoughts and stimulate my writing too. :O)

  11. That's exactly what I did in my last blog post. In that case, of course, there were no feelings that I couldn't share - except for those I didn't write. I may well turn some of those into fiction. ~Miriam