I remember as a kid the joy that I would get from writing in my diary. Every day I would comfortably confess my feelings and struggles in my diary because it was the one place that I could go without receiving judgment.
Many of you were just like me as a kid and would dive deep in your diary at night too. Doing so would bring you ease, and often times, things just seemed more clear.
If you’re like me, the days of using a diary daily slowly trickled away upon reaching adulthood. However, studies show that using a diary (or journal) still has the same therapeutic benefits of managing emotions and relieving stress.
Recently, we caught up with Author, Entrepreneur, and Mentor Allicia Washington-White about the benefits of writing and how to get started as a new writer.
When did you first discover writing as your passion and what did this discovery look like?
At the age of 12, and every year after that, I always received some form of diary or journal for Christmas and I filled it cover to cover. I loved writing and I loved doing it often. I like writing because it didn’t have to make sense to anyone but me. There were no teachers telling me to use “proper” English, so I had full control of my daily journal content. When I got to middle and high school, my English teachers always told me I wrote too much–I always killed my persuasive and narrative essays! Though I wrote too much for my assignments, they told me I had a gift and to cultivate that gift. When I got into my groove, so many ideas would pop into my head at once and I had to write them all down, I would feel anxious if I didn’t because I wanted to remember it! With writing, I get the chance to tell a story in my own words and that is the part I love about writing the most albeit I prefer leisure writing over academic writing.
How does writing release stress and remove anxiety?
For me, writing helped me to be able to process my emotions in a healthy way. If a particular significant event occurred, I wrote about it in great detail. I wrote about how I felt in the moment, I wrote about similar events, and I wrote about how I wanted to feel better.
When I gave birth to my son, he wasn’t breathing and had to be rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and remained there for 44 days. During this time, I found out that my child’s father was cheating on me, coupled with postpartum depression- I was in emotional overdrive. Every single day I was anxious, angry, and hurt because my life was a modern day Sylvia Plath poem-melancholy. When I wrote about what was happening, I felt like my journal was the only true friend I had. I was in a mental state of decline and I unrealistically believed nobody understood how I felt. I could write what I wanted without fear of judgment and could truly express myself.
Though writing did not immediately change my situation, it allowed me to fall apart and really experience emotions in all of it’s tortured beauty. Writers always go back and look over what they wrote, because writing can become a mindless activity as you are getting your thoughts down on paper and we can forget what we wrote! Seeing what my emotion looked like on paper did encourage me to seek professional help as another perfectly healthy outlet to cope with what I was dealing with.
How can someone get started with writing if they have never been a writer before?
All of us started out as never being writers before, that’s ok!
For some of us, we have a number of thoughts racing through our brains at any given moment but are unsure how to capture them all. The best stories come from our random thoughts, and then expanding upon those thoughts. Sometimes our best ideas pop into our brains at the most random of times like in the shower, during a nap, jogging. These are times when your brain is not focused on writing and can freely function as a brain!
Developing content can take months to complete, so you have to put yourself in the shoes of your potential reader, why would YOU want to read your book? What stories do you have to tell? Are your stories relatable? Can your ideas be elaborated enough–so much that you have a complete narrative?
If you’re still drawing a blank, stop by your local Barnes & Nobles and visit the journal section. They have a number of blank and prompted journals to help pull ideas out of you. If your concept is too specific, you may not have enough to flesh out many chapters. If your concept is too broad, you may end up writing too much, thus losing your reader by suffocating them with superfluous details.
Any tips for people who are looking to start writing or journaling to relieve stress but have writer’s block?
Have you ever been engaged in really good work flow, like REALLY, REALLY good?
The type of flow where you have your music going in your headphones. The type where your brain is focused and the time seems to whittle away; you have just struck your mental G spot! This can happen when you are working on something that you particularly enjoy doing and you hit a peak of inspiration that can last anywhere from thirty minutes, hours, or days.
The best ideas are flowing, tasks are being completed, and paragraphs are being written. Then there comes a point where the inspiration fizzles away and we can’t seem to focus anymore. All of the ideas suck, procrastination sets in, and we no longer have that “chi” that once had us feeling exhilarated-it all seemed to have gone abruptly. If this has happened to you, then you can step away from the journal and find something else to do. It is not worth stressing, you can’t force what is not there. If you refuse to walk away and are determined to conquer the writer’s block beast, then you can Google writing prompts, or stop into Barnes and Nobles to purchase a prompted journal.
Is there any benefit of writing in a physical journal versus on a digital platform?
There is definitely a difference in these platforms because the functionalities are different. There is no “holy grail” or other dogma that determine which medium is most beneficial; it depends on the person and which form they interact with the best.
Some people are more visual, some people hate writing, some people prefer speaking. As for me-I love the smell of journals and the sound the pages make when you turn them and press on the spine. Weird I know!
What misconceptions/myths exist on writing to reduce stress?
The only misconception I heard is that writing can trigger PTSD because you are opening the wounds of previous events.
Writing is comparable to speaking to a therapist, only thing is you’re writing. The ONLY concern that I do have about writing is if the journaling becomes suicidal, in which case I would say to anyone stop writing immediately and call the suicide hotline.
Allicia recently self-published her first book and is still working to encourage more people to use writing as form of self-care and stress management. Keep up with Allicia here on social media.