How often have you thought about a question, come up with an answer in your head, and then written something else entirely?
There is something about the act of writing that triggers a different perspective on what you are considering. As one academic has put it: scribo ergo cogito – I write, therefore I think (Kaufman, 2013).
Writing shapes the way you see the world and yourself. And you can write for a variety of purposes.
- Therapeutic writing – for example, journalling and autobiographical writing.
- Writing for social change – you see this in journalism (well, the good kind), and even when people write letters of protest or advocacy.
- Emotional writing – such as writing a love letter, or a hate-filled rant.
- Aesthetic writing – great literature and poetry fall into this category.
- Business writing – far more prosaic, but an important part of many people’s lives. This can be a combination of writing to inform and to persuade.
- Note making – be it a to-do list, or a shopping list, or writing down information from a presentation, this isn’t emotive writing, but it’s still important.
All of these encourage reflection, they encourage you to think while you write.
A lot of people, though, have been put off writing by experiences at school, or by the fact that they find it easier to express themselves in different ways: through words, music, art, video, the possibilities are seemingly endless. There is a strong case, though, for including writing in your repertoire.
Here are the top 9 reasons why writing is a great practice:
- Writing improves your mood – this isn’t just the case with something like a gratitude journal, though that’s an excellent place to start. There is evidence that this can occur with journalling and blogging, too (Grant and Dutton, 2012, King, 2001)
- Writing promotes cognitive and intellectual growth – (Sullivan and Brown, 2015, Bean, 2011). While both papers are talking about students, this is also relevant to everyone. After all, if you want to stay mentally active all your life, continued mental stimulation is vital, and writing is a great way to go about this.
- Writing improves your memory – anyone who worries that their memory is not what it was can use writing as a way to practice their memory. For instance, writing a daily gratitude journal, as well as improving your mood, also asks you to remember what has happened over the last 24 hours. Or if you write something autobiographical (see the point on hard times – 5), that asks you to work your memory about far further in the past.
- Writing helps you communicate more clearly – writing helps you clarify your thoughts. This doesn’t just lead to better writing, but also helps you to speak your thoughts, too (Miles et al., 2016). Interestingly, learning to write is also associated with doing better at maths – communicating mathematical ideas and concepts, and being able to think creatively and rationally.
- Writing assists in hard times – you definitely don’t just have to write about the ‘good’ stuff. Numerous studies have shown that writing about traumatic experiences, although difficult, leads to improvement in mood after as little as two weeks. Admittedly, you may feel worse for those two weeks, though (Tausczik and Pennebaker, 2010, Pennebaker, 1999, Pennebaker, 1997).
- Writing clears your mind – it’s a bit like having too many tabs open in your browser. Having too many ideas running around your head drains your productivity. So, getting those ideas down on paper frees you up to actually think creatively about them and act on them.
- Writing improves learning – most people are aware that there are different learning styles (see the infographic above). However, while you may use one more than the others, all of them will influence you. There is evidence that people who are literate learn more easily than those who aren’t. It may simply be that they have an extra way of learning, and an extra symbolic system on which to hang any new understanding they have. Whatever the case, if you can write something down in your own words, you have a far better chance of learning and truly understanding it.
- Writing improves your relationships – Pennebaker did some more research (Slatcher and Pennebaker, 2006) around writing about your relationship. He found that people who took the time to reflect in this way were more likely to express positive emotions to their partner, and more likely to still be with them three months down the line.
- Writing lets you move other people – there are only so many people that you can reach in person. These days, there are many other ways to extend your influence. However, writing is definitely still an important one. Consider journalism, blogging, books. If you want to make a difference to a large number of people, being able to write your thoughts is a great place to start. Whether it’s a business blog or a piece of poetry, the written word is far reaching.
As a coach, I often encourage my clients to make writing a part of their life, to help boost their mood, their creativity, and their ability to communicate with others. Here are some writing games you could try to get yourself fired up:
- The six-minute write: write whatever is in your head, without censorship, don’t stop for six minutes, don’t worry about grammar or quality, just write anything. Remember, in this game, whatever you write is right. And you don’t need to re-read it unless you want to 😀
- Journal about gratitude: make it real, specific, and emotional. For example, rather than saying “I am grateful for sunshine,” you might write something like: “I am grateful for my eyes, which allow me to enjoy the spring sunshine dappling through trees with their bright green, new leaves on my morning walk. I feel alive when I see the amazing quality of the light, and think of the new growth and potential there is right now.”
- Use visual cues to spark your creativity. Google a particular word and look for images. Find one that speaks to you, and then write about it. It could be a poem or a story, the main point is to allow your creativity to flow.
- Write a haiku. This simple form of poetry is a lovely practice to try out. You could open a book and find the first word that catches your attention, then write a haiku based on it. At its simplest, a haiku is made up of three lines with a 5/7/5 syllable structure. For example: sensuality/ brings joy and inspiration/ in moderation.
If none of these rock your boat, do a google search for writing exercises, or ask friends what they do. You’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy, and there are so many ways it can benefit you. So, just write!
BEAN, J. C. 2011. Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. , San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
GRANT, A. & DUTTON, J. 2012. Beneficiary or benefactor: are people more prosocial when they reflect on receiving or giving? Psychol Sci, 23, 1033-9.
KAUFMAN, P. 2013. Scribo Ergo Cogito. Teaching Sociology, 41, 70-81.
KING, L. A. 2001. The Health Benefits of Writing About Life Goals. PSPB, 27, 798-807.
MILES, K. P., EHRI, L. C. & LAUTERBACH, M. D. 2016. Mnemonic Value of Orthography for Vocabulary Learning in Monolinguals and Language Minority English-Speaking College Students. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 46, 99-112.
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PENNEBAKER, J. W. 1999. Forming a Story: The Health Benefits of Narrative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55, 1243-1254.
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