6 Tips to Healing Through Spontaneous Writing

Spontaneous writing, a discipline of writing about traumatic events that is done quickly, without forethought or self-censorship, can bring up traumatic events from the past and trigger a healing journey. This approach has proven helpful especially for children of alcoholics who carry a burden of shame and secrets from the past. Spontaneous writing can even benefit health. There is growing evidence that translating stressful events into written language can improve both brain and immune functions.

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

1. Sit down and write

Dorothy Parker once said, “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” In order to heal through writing you have to do the hardest thing first—sit down to write, without pre-thought or judgment or concern about spelling, punctuation or grammar. Tell yourself you can always re-write and use spellcheck later. No one is asking you to write something that would win a Pulitzer Prize. Remember, you are writing for yourself, not for publication, because writing has the ability to open internal doors and retrieve seemingly forgotten memories.

2. Overcome your need to be perfect

Children of alcoholics often are high achievers because they’re trying to be perfect. This can get in your way when you’re trying to loosen up and let your feelings flow. Don’t be too hard on yourself if nothing comes. If this happens don’t automatically conclude “I’m not a writer.”

3. Write about events you associate with stress or trauma

Write about something that troubles you (past or present). For example, in one story an author wrote about winning a prize in school and coming home to find her mother so drunk she couldn’t celebrate her achievement. She felt that was the day her childhood ended. In another she writes about her fear coming home from school every day, not knowing who she’d find—the kind, friendly mother, or the drunk, raving mother.

4. Write continuously for a short period of time

Ideally, write for 10 to 20 minutes every day. There’s something liberating about writing quickly and without a predetermined plan or an internal (and often critical) editor. Many of us find it hard to live in the moment, but spontaneous writing, with a clock ticking for 10 to 20 minutes, brings us to “right now.”

5. Use loaded words and phrases as writing prompts

Consider these words as opportunities to take out the plug and see what flows: Siblings; fear; hope; humor; abandonment; community/home; spirituality; surrender; resolution; unpredictability; neglect; badge of courage/membership; gifts.

6. Establish a ritual around writing

Somerset Maugham wore a special hat. You might want to establish a special place to write and a predictable time of day or night. You might want background music or complete silence. Read a passage from a book of meditations. Have a hot cup of coffee or tea, a special pen, a favorite notebook, a comfortable chair, a candle to create a contemplative atmosphere, or a timer to tell you when 10 minutes have passed. When you’ve finished, identify a safe place to put your words until you’re ready to share them with others.

When your writing becomes a daily practice it will become easier and over time you will judge yourself less. The most important thing is to NOT give up.

Liz Crocker, Polly Bennell and Holly Book are co-authors of Transforming Memories: Sharing Spontaneous Writing Using Loaded Words (Bull Publishing, April 1, 2017), an inspiring guide to spontaneous writing. Liz Crocker is the author of two children’s books and coauthored Privileged Presence: Personal Stories of Connections in Health Care. Polly Bennell has a life-coaching practice for writers. Holly Book ministers to the homeless and those struggling with addiction on the streets of Atlanta. Visit www.bullpub.com/catalog/Transforming-Memories.

Photo Credit: Green Chameleon/Unsplash

61 comments

Jim V
Jim Ven2 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S2 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 months ago

interesting

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Jessica K
Jessica K4 months ago

As a writer myself, I do believe point 1 is really critical, despite its obviousness. Thanks.

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx5 months ago

Thank you for this article. Finally I see that my comments came through. It is hopeful to see that after sending several times to Care2, finally someone woke up. I believe this may have been problems with their program, but not funny if you encounter this for several days in row, and on each and every comment to send. Hopefully this is solved now, and not only for a couple of days or so...

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx5 months ago

Care 2 : I will keep sending messages .... I have commented twice on this article and ???? where are they ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
It is not funny anymore !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx5 months ago

I can sincerely recommend it for each and everyone who does not feel so happy. The first time I wrote, I was severely depressed and my psychotherapist ordered me to write 1/2 page each day. My God, that was hard !! I could only write some loose sentences, but day by day it went better. I am 40 years later now, and it helped me through so many difficult periods in my live. And now, when I am in a "dip", I can not stop after 20 mins or so, sometimes I'm busy for a couple of hours on my laptop. From time to time I read some of my pages of 15/20 years ago, and see how I have developed since then. It really has helped me a lot. You should try it as well.

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Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx5 months ago

It is certainly recommendable to try it. No need to be gifted in writing, it is just a matter of "telling" your feelings to a piece of paper, or on your laptop. I started writing the first time I got a severe depression, and my psychotherapist ordered me to write 1/2 a page every day and afterwards we discussed what I had written down. I can assure you : IT WAS HARD !! In the beginning, it were just loose sentences, but day by day it went better. Now, when I have a "dip" period, I put myself behind my laptop, lighten a candle or incense rods, and I start. When there is a lot going on in my head and hart, I can not stop after 10 or 20 mins. Sometimes it takes me a couple of hours. And after a couple of days, I read my page/s over and over, and try to find out how I felt and specially WHY I felt so. I do t his now for over 30 years and I have a big collection. Sometimes it feels good to read some of years and years ago, and come to the conclusion that you have "healed" yourself, just by writing it down and thinking it over and over. It really helps an awful lot !!

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Aldana W
Aldana W5 months ago

Thanks, I will try this practice.

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Leo C
Leo Custer5 months ago

Thank you for posting!

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