I was at the later stages of my career — about five years out from retirement, actually. And I was thrown into an intolerable situation. At first, I genuinely believed that I could transform a horrible environment and emerge victorious. But that wasn’t the case. After six months, I was a total insomniac, losing weight, and, on occasion, having panic attacks. I had to get out. And I did so, with no plan in place at all. I felt relief.
I have always loved to write, and have always been an avid reader. I remember all of the book reports I wrote through high school and college, when I would think to myself that I could probably write as well as most of those authors. And now, my mind was churning. Did I have it in me to take this time off and write a book? Could I pen a novel with my recent experience as a backdrop? Could it be a cathartic, healing experience?
I had read some of the research about the benefits of writing to heal from traumas and other emotional issues. It was time to give it a try.
Long story short (pardon the pun), I wrote a murder mystery set in the traumatic environment I had left. It took eight months. I wish I could say that I am now a best-selling author, but that did not happen. It was picked up by a small, unknown publisher and languishes on Amazon to this day.
This is not, of course, a source of irritation for me. That book writing proved what the research says. I emerged healthy, serene, got back to my normal body weight, and started sleeping well at night again — all of which is far more important than book sales.
Confirming the research
Catharsis is usually defined as a process of eliminating, or at last reducing, strong or repressed emotions. Many go through the process with professional therapists. And sometimes, that therapy includes writing activities. Here are the intended benefits of cathartic writing:
1. Handling Difficult Events. Many people go through rough periods, as I did. Writing about them can get them “out” and allow forward movement. One study involving subjects who had lost their jobs found that those who engaged in expressive writing found work faster than those who did not.
2. Decreases Mental Fragmentation. Sometimes, traumatic events are recalled in bits and pieces, rather than in a coherent, sequential order. Writing about them can allow the “victim” to regain clearer focus, put events in order, and deal with them better.
3. Return to Positive Thinking. A study in how people effectively pursue happiness cites that those individuals who focus on what they can be grateful for, and who write about those things on a regular basis, are more positive and motivated regarding their current circumstances. Along with cathartic writing, taking some time to write down things to be grateful for provides a good balance.
If you like to write; if you have imagined yourself crafting a book, fiction or non-fiction; if you think that it might not be in you, think again. We have all had significant events in our life. Mine happened to be traumatic. Yours may not be, but that does not make them any less significant. Draw upon your experiences and those major events in your life, and see how you can weave them into a great story. And then, just begin. Every book begins with the first sentence and gradually unfolds if the author is consistent and gives time to the effort each day.
Never think it is too late to begin. How many authors contributed to our huge body of literature into their 90s? Even if you are not a great writer, in terms of grammar and composition, that’s a detail. If your story is worthy, and you can tell it well, then there are a huge number of editors ready to go to work on your completed work.
Now that I have addressed all of those internal objections, know that it’s time. Don’t pass up the opportunity.
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