Why You Should Write Down Your Life

My parents, Audrey Bright and Alan Kilford who both worked for the GPO, kept small leatherette diaries. These record their first meeting in 1947.

Over the past few years I have cobbled together my thoughts on writing, and why each and every one of us has a duty to write down our lives, on paper, with a pen. With apologies to sources I have now forgotten, here they are…

Creativity is not out there, beyond us, in a special place, only reserved for artists. It’s here and now in every thing that we do.

We need to rediscover our creativity, give ourselves permission to sit and think, to look inside ourselves; listen to our whirling brain and follow its path, discovering where it leads. We need to nurture our inner being that stays silent and suppressed in our hectic, everyday lives. In times of recession we feel guilty about ‘wasting time’ – day-dreaming, imagining, playing with words, looking deep inside. As Dorothea Brande says in ‘Learning To Write’, ‘We need to learn to hold our minds as still as our bodies.’

Our every increasing ‘to do’ list takes priority and our life – and our family’s lives – fly past, the small wonderments never recorded. We iPhoto, we tweet, we Facebook, we Instagram and Snapchat – we live our lives publicly, editing as we go, presenting our ‘brand’ to the world. We need to strip away our protective clothing and be honest with ourselves and invite our sub-conscious out onto the page.

We need to write letters to our lovers, to our mothers, to ourselves. A hard copy record of our life, our children’s lives, our world. Our signatures, our handwriting is the visual expression of our individuality that we need to practise, treasure and preserve.

My workshops and retreats are not about technique, writing the novel inside you or about publication. They are not about academic ability or previous writing experience. They are about YOU and the written expression of your delight in this world. They are about achieving clarity and acknowledgement of your unique writing voice, unrestricted by fonts designed by someone else; about holding the pen in your hand, employing your whole hand, not just tapping letters with your fingertips on a keyboard. Everyone should write and everyone is the authority of their own writing, the writer will always write the right thing. It is impossible to get it wrong. Writers are the authority of themselves and their own experience, knowledge, thoughts, feelings, memories and dreams. And when we write in a group we gain by supportive, non-judgemental sharing. There is evidence to support the claim that increased intellectual activity and brain stimulation, i.e. recording one’s memories, can lower the individual risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. So that’s nice!

On using a notebook:

On waking, before speaking, before ANYTHING, write down your thoughts, your dreams. Yes, like The Artist’s Way. Carry this notebook with you at all times, on walks, at meal times, at work. Write shopping lists, telephone numbers, appointment times. You can choose to share or not to share what you have written. Collect receipts, feathers, business cards -stick them in. Print out photos, stick them in. Your journal is an extension of yourself; it is a container for all your thoughts, feelings and experiences. This makes it a space for you to enter and fill with whatever is important to you; use it to explore your deepest thoughts and feelings or to process particular aspects of your experience.

It provides a map of the journey towards growth, healing and change. Re-reading it gives you a record of how and when change happens, a reminder that things do change and that change can happen gradually and almost imperceptibly and perhaps change can only be seen in retrospect.

A journal validates your experience – writing it down makes it real and confers existence on the writer and makes the writer visible and will not judge what the writer says. And it can repair a fractured life by giving shape to experience. Writing it down forces you to stop and re-evaluate your experiences. It also requires you to identify and label your emotions and structure your thoughts in a particular way. This in turn can lead you to reach a different understanding about your situation. Keeping a journal can be a valuable part of the search for identity and discovery of the self.’ Kate Thompson, counsellor and author of many books on therapeutic writing and a member of the Center for Journal Therapy in Colorado.

People have used writing to explore and express their emotions for thousands of years but only relatively recently has research provided scientific evidence that when people transform their feelings and thoughts into language, their physical and mental health improves.’ Jenna Mayhew, Write-As-Rain

As author Tom Robbins says, ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood!’

 In 1975, psychologist Ira Progoff noted the positive affects that journal writing, or autobiographical writing could have. The findings of Progoff’s research showed that not only could an Intensive Journal Method enhance personal growth and learning, but also that it could “draw each person’s life towards wholeness at its own tempo”

Research into life writing has also found that it can facilitate the expression of feeling, a shift in personal thinking and the development of a feeling of self-control and confidence, especially in individuals with low self-esteem. It has also been claimed that autobiographical writing helps with these deep issues as it allows the problem to be dealt with in a new, different and unusual way.

Another benefit to life writing is the pleasure and positive experience in re-living old memories and events, while knowing that they are being recorded and therefore will be remembered in years to come by future generations. People want to be remembered and through family orientated activity such as life writing the process can be more rewarding.

Life writing also enables family information, as well as emotions and feeling about history to be remembered, for example life writing can gives opportunity to pass down family traditions, recipes and memorabilia.

Stephen King, in ‘On Writing’ explains, ‘Writing is not life but I think it is a way back to life.’

With thanks also to The School of Life and MA Professional Writing at University College Falmouth.






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