There is a pleasure and a power in the art of practicing writing, rather than simply producing it. And as more and more people discover this, personal writing is becoming its own distinct form of artistic expression. It’s no longer just the writing you do before you can get published.
If you want to put pen to paper and see what unfolds, it’s time to awaken to your identity as a writer. By rediscovering, or perhaps discovering for the first time, that the simple act of writing is a transformational process, you can alleviate the pressures that stifle creativity and open up to what you are truly meant to say. You might find that the greatest rewards of writing do not exist in the future with publication and public validation, but evolve during the process of bringing your ideas to the page. Consequently, you will begin to enjoy the freedom of your own creative voice, have a new, more compassionate understanding of yourself and reap rewards that are within your reach right now, just as you are.
Unearth your voice
Each of us is born with a unique way of looking at the world and an unlimited potential for creative thought. But as we grow up, we’re forced to stifle much of our creativity in order to “fit in.” Through personal writing, you can uncover your creative voice again.
Whether you write in a journal or on a computer, you can create a safe, nurturing space where your voice feels free to emerge. Simply by acknowledging your unique thoughts, even though you don’t share them with anyone, you can rediscover your natural creativity and paint a picture of your psychological and spiritual landscape.
As you reveal more of yourself on the page, you might notice patterns in the way you think, behave or react to situations or people in your life. This kind of self-awareness can help you make better decisions, understand difficult situations and sort through your feelings. It is a powerful way to find answers to some of your most difficult questions. And at other times, it can remind you that there are no easy answers, which is the root of wisdom.
Discover your writing style
As you discover your voice, you will also tap into your personal writing style. Writers often ask about “style,” a term used by teachers and literary critics in sentences like “She writes in a style reminiscent of Hemingway.” It is something that great writers have, yet even the best teachers cannot tell you exactly how to develop it.
Writing style is an expression of your unique voice and emerges through the act of writing itself. Your style can surface most easily when you write without concern for how you might be perceived by others. This does more than just encourage your writing style to reveal itself. It can also help you understand how important it is to not repress your “uniqueness” just because it does not sound like your favorite writer or does not match your conception of what a “good” writer would write.
Personal writing gives you a safe place to let your style emerge, and a valuable tool to help you embrace this style as an honest reflection of yourself and what you have to say to the world.
As you begin to welcome your personal voice and style onto the page, you will notice your writing becoming more vivid. At the same time, you may find that your life away from the page becomes richer and your observations and senses become sharper.
For example, “I went to the zoo today” might become “The polar bear looked sad and the smell of monkey pee was overwhelming.” You will naturally begin to absorb your environment in a new way so that everyday details become interesting, and everywhere you look, you find inspiring material for your writing.
Look East for answers
It seems miraculous that so much creativity, self-understanding and wisdom can come from an act as simple as personal writing. Then again, writing is not always simple. It is a challenge to find the time and conditions necessary to get into “writer’s mind,” that place where words flow freely and you can be yourself. In this, the practice of writing presents the same challenges as Eastern meditation, which is especially difficult for Western minds. The first time you sit in a meditation class, you are told to shut your eyes and just listen. You might squirm, worry about what everyone else in the class is doing or think about what to make for dinner.
Then, after a few classes, it will become easier. You will begin to hear the quiet breathing of your classmates, their squirming on their cushions, a cough, a sniffle. And you will hear the noise of your own racing mind. When you learn to slow down, to notice, it tunes you into the moment, with all of its life, noises and peculiarities, including all of your bare emotions and thoughts. This is the same “tuning in” you can achieve by letting yourself write freely on the pages of your journal. And it is wrought with the same challenge you face with meditation—you have to take the time to slow down from the activities of your life to practice it. But fortunately, you don’t have to get stiff-legged on a beanbag cushion for 20 minutes to experience this “tuning in.” You can write anywhere, anytime. As Alice Walker once said about writing, “You can even do it in bed.”
Personal writing, like children and meditation and traffic jams, slows you down and makes you aware of the only thing that is certain in life—this very moment. This is not an easy thing to do. There is little encouragement to pay attention to this moment. Instead, you are taught to focus on achieving and moving ahead. By writing down what your life is in this moment, you are facing the aspect of what you expect your life to be like.
Sometimes it is frightening to accept that this is where you are right now. Other times it can be exhilarating as you realize that you are doing something you have always wanted to do, or that you have carved out a satisfying life that you never could have imagined. As you get accustomed to seeing your own life in words, you can gain an even greater appreciation and understanding of how your life is unfolding.
I’ve talked to published writers who are nostalgic about the days when all of their writing was just for them, before editors, agents and readers were influencing their craft. A friend who has published several short story collections told me he spent three years writing just for himself before considering publication and that he wishes he had spent 10. He said the time before the pressures of the market bear down on your creative spirit are often the best times of your writing career. You might think it is easy for published writers to lament their exit from the bliss of “pre-publication.” But this hindsight is an indication that, published or not, you already have access to the most rewarding gifts that writing has to offer.
Whether or not you dream of publication, you can use personal writing as a way to accept where you are right now on your writing path. Because in writing, as in life, enjoying the journey is the ultimate destination.