When life takes an unexpected turn, writing can be a beneficial, form of release from stress due to either emotional or physical factors. Many published authors have used writing as a catalyst for their survival during difficult times. Some of them include: Anais Nin, Joan Didion, Reeve Lindbergh, Tobias Wolff, D.H. Lawrence, Isabel Allende, Vivian Gornick, Kathryn Harrison, Sue William Silverman, and May Sarton. For these writers and many others, writing has given a purpose and meaning to their lives. It has given them a reason to wake up in the morning and continue on with their day.

D.H. Lawrence, for example, sat at his mother’s bedside and while she was dying and wrote poems about her. He also began writing an early draft of Sons and Lovers, his novel which explored their complicated, loving, painful and close relationship. Marcel Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past while sick in bed with asthma. Flannery O’Connor wrote some of her best stories while dying from lupus. I wrote my first book, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to High-Risk Pregnancies back in 1983 while on bed rest with my eldest daughter. The book began as a journal typed on my Smith Corona mounted upon a specially-designed bed table my husband built for me. After my daughter was born, I condensed the journal into a prologue and added research to create a self-help reference book for women having similar experiences. Now, more than twenty years later, the book is still in print and has helped many women cope with problem pregnancies.

May Sarton and Anais Nin also used journaling to pull them through difficult times. In her book, Recovering, May Sarton chronicles her battles with depression and cancer. Anais Nin used her journals to write to her deranged father who left the family when she was young.

In Nin’s case, her journal entries became a springboard for a four-volume collection of her journals. The memoirist, Mimi Schwartz is another writer who used her journals as a springboard. I’ve heard Mimi speak at a number of writing conferences and she shares her story of having written an essay for Lear’s Magazine about her experience with breast cancer. “Journal writing,” she says, “and the process of turning it into a public account—made all the difference for me in recovering quickly, emotionally and physically. It gave me a double set of survival goals: health and telling the story.” As a matter of fact, her journal notes inspired her to go from being an English professor to being a narrative writer.

Writing provides an opportunity to vent both small and large issues, from problems with your boss to the death of a parent. It takes a great deal of energy to be angry at someone; it’s much healthier to drop it, as one would a suitcase full of trash. Holding grudges is unhealthy and certainly quite heavy! Once we are able to let go, it’s easier to gravitate to the joys in life.

Journaling is a cathartic way to spill your feelings out on the page rather than on the person. My attitude is: “Direct the rage to the page.” I have a writing colleague who says, “If it hurts, write harder,” and for years those words were posted above my computer, until they simply became a part of me.

At an Associated Writing Conference a few years ago, Dr. James Pennebaker, the author of Writing to Heal said, “Writing dissolves some of the barriers between you and others. If you write, it’s easier to communicate with others.” He does have one rule that he calls, “the flip out rule,” which proclaims that if you get too upset when writing, then simply stop. Pennebaker believes that there’s a certain type of writing which erupts when we’re faced with loss, death, abuse, depression and trauma.

Learning to open up about issues from your past and present lives doesn’t happen over night, but it’s all a part of the healing process. Author Louise DeSalvo, who is an advocate of writing for healing, began writing her own memoir, Vertigo and Breathless as a result of coming to grips with her own pain.

Whether you’re affected by change, loss or pain, finding the time to write is critical to your healing process. Some people prefer to journal about their experience, while others may lean towards the fictional or poetic modalities to help them escape their own realities. Whatever your choice, once you try it, you’ll see that writing, in any form, can be healthy and empowering.

Some reasons to journal:

To discover about self
To vent frustrations and joys
To record and remember events
To fine one’s purpose
To plan for the future
To tap into your intuition
To become empowered
To build self-confidence
To allow self-expression
To uncover secrets, sometimes unknown to us
To improve communication skills
To improve mental health

Some journaling tips:

Date entries
Don’t worry about grammar
Be honestly and deeply
Write quickly
Don’t erase
Write for yourself

Some journaling prompts:

Make a list of things which make you happy.
Make a list of all your accomplishments.
Make a list of what makes you angry.
Write about your morning. Waking up, breakfast, the newspaper, the thoughts. Visualize a place you love and write about it. Give details.
What is your first memory?
Who are the people you loved?
Describe a grandparent.
Books which have changed your life and why.
Describe your childhood room.

Author's Bio: 

Diana Raab, PhD, MFA, is an award-winning writer, speaker, and educator. She is the author of nine books including, "Lust," "Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal," and "Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey," and holds writing workshops around the country. Her latest book is WRITING FOR BLISS: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life (September 2017).

In her 40-year career, she’s been as an advocate of personal writing. She believes in the importance of writing to achieve wholeness and interconnectedness, which encourages the ability to unleash the true voice of your inner self. 

Raab blogs for numerous blogs, including: Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Thrive Global, and PsychAlive. Her website www.dianaraab.com.