Sunday, April 14, 2024

Writing—not just for writers!

by Rachel Kobin 

You don’t have to wake up at ungodly hours, hunch over your keyboard, tap out hundreds of words, and then go to your day job to reap the psychological benefits of writing. Even if you think you’re not good at it, writing can enhance your life. As a human, you have the right to express yourself and tell your story. Your voice is unique, and that voice can be used privately as part of your self-care practice or shared to the extent you find rewarding. 

You already have everything you need to start

Most people use writing to do things like write to-do lists, shopping lists, texts, and memos for work. This kind of writing does not help our mental health, but it is an entry point to keeping a journal. By looking at those lists or even your calendar on a regular basis and asking, “What stands out? What was upsetting or enjoyable about any of those things?” you will find something resonates with you. It may even generate a physical feeling like raising your pulse rate. Once you’ve locked into one of these items, start writing. Don’t worry about the quality of your sentences or your vocabulary, just move what’s in your head and body onto the page without worrying about the result. 

This kind of journal entry gives your future self a picture of your what your life was life, which you’ll be grateful to have later. It also helps you think through the emotional aspects of your life. As writer Joan Didion said: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Moving your thoughts and feelings from your head to the page helps you gain clarity on what tends to upset you, and perhaps learn how to prevent or manage events like this more effectively in the future. Identifying people or events that make you feel good help you welcome more of these experiences into your life. 

Be kind to the writer within

Above all, make every effort to avoid judging what you write. Many people have had teachers or peers that shamed them about their writing. In my first year of college, a group of students told me I didn’t know how to write an introductory paragraph. I called my mother, a published author, I needed a writing tutor. The professor returned my paper with this message: “A– Never listen to your peers.” So, when you sit down to write, thank your peers, those internal voices screaming mean things at you for trying to protect you from taking risks and ask them to go play outside. This is a risk worth taking. 

In fact, expressive writing—writing about your thoughts and feelings—has been scientifically shown to increase our ability to regulate our emotions, improve mood, memory, self-esteem, and decrease stress levels. With all of those benefits, why not try a journaling prompt right now? I invite you to try one of the most popular journaling exercises (from a professor at the University of Iowa) we do in The Philadelphia Writers’ Workshop: Use the alphabet (A-Z) to loosen topics from your mind. Simply start listing them. For instance, A is for Anaconda, B is for the blue ink stain on my floor, C is for Chocolate, D, the delights of spring, E-clipse… As soon as you find a topic you want to write about, start writing. On another occasion, start at the next letter. In my case, if I chose the eclipse, I would start the next time at the letter F. 

That F is for fun and flights of fancy, flying in the face of rules, and flinging those fresh words around to fabulously to face fears, facilitate fulfillment, and fire up your fabulous self. 

Rachel Kobin is the Founder and Director of Philadelphia Writers’ Workshop [Insert link to to:]. Rachel began writing in the third grade when she adapted the novel Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh into a play. She went on to write poetry, a screenplay, synopses, critiques of screenplays, copy for advertising, a novel, internal and marketing communications for corporations, market research reports, a TV pilot, and more. Since she began facilitating creative writing workshops and provided editing and coaching services in 2011, she has found that seeing other writers succeed—however they define success—even more thrilling than seeing her own name in print. She is proud to be part of Philadelphia’s robust writers’ community.