Beat Burnout with Expressive Writing

I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

― Flannery O’Connor

Writing as Burnout’s Antidote

Earlier this year, I wrote about the creative benefits of taking breaks. I stand by it: sometimes, the best thing you can do for your writing is to take a BREAK from writing. Here’s the funny thing, though. Too much writing can cause burnout, but [Tweet “Writing is one of the best antidotes to burnout.”]

Expressive Writing

There’s something magical and powerful about words on the page. They tame racing thoughts into order; they reveal misconceptions, assumptions, and contradictions–you know, the ones masquerading as logic in our heads.

The Science of Expressive Writing

In case you doubt the power of writing, check out some of the amazing research:

  • Several studies showed that “expressive writing”  can help improve patients’ thoughts about cancer.
  • Creative writing provided patients with advanced cancer with “a way to discover what they thought, felt, remembered…”
  • In another study, expressive writing provided a valuable tool for helping Asian American breast cancer survivors cope with the aftermath of cancer. It improved both physical and psychological symptoms in participating women.
Writing Gives Form to Difficult Concepts

The power of writing may be most evident when it’s used to articulate ideas that are difficult–or even seem impossible–to express. In an article about the healing power of poetry, poetry therapist Robert Carroll writes, “Some catastrophes are so large, they seem to overwhelm ordinary language.” He points out the flood of poetry written in the aftermath of 9/11. With its language of rhythm, metaphor, and symbols, poetry gives us a way to express the inexpressible.

Expressive writing is gaining acceptance in the medical community as a way to help people cope with disease, combat addictions, deal with survivorship issues, and more–but it’s not just for helping those with problems.

Writing isn’t simply a treatment; it’s a tool that carves meaning from chaos.
Metaphor breathes life into ideas. It expresses emotion, reveals the
deep-seated need for which ordinary words won’t suffice.

I challenge you today to harness the power of the written word in some small way. You might use expressive writing–journaling your thoughts, feelings, and insights–about some obstacle you face on your writing path. Alternatively, take a more intuitive approach and use one of the “cards” in the Symbols for Writers series to inspire a freewrite.

I plan to freewrite about a recurring issue in my writing life–namely, the tendency to put “my” writing projects last. What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences with expressive writing. Please share in the comments!

Photo courtesy of mrsdkrebs on Flickr Creative Commons

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