It’s nice to hear that now there’s validation from the health professionals for an exercise we’ve used since we first started Dark Angels; an exercise that’s also used by teachers of creative writing the world over.
Faye Sharpe, who came on the recent Dark Angels course, sent us a link to a blog by Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi Worldwide, who had picked up on an article in the Sydney Morning Herald – such is the way that information whizzes round the globe these days – which, in turn, reported on 20 years’ research into the therapeutic power of writing regularly about what we think and feel
‘Expressive writing’ the psychologists call it and 15 minutes a day, they say, is enough to make you feel better about yourself. Not only that, it can also be good for blood pressure, the immune system and memory. Over a more prolonged period it can even tackle physical ailments, for example, helping to control cancer-related pain, reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis and increase lung function amongst the asthmatic.
The trick is to write down whatever is in your head, and keep writing without stopping for a set amount of time. A recipe for gibberish one might think. But no. You may not believe you know the story you want to tell yourself, but at some sub-conscious level you usually do, and the results tend to make more sense than you might think they would.
We don’t use the exercise for therapeutic purposes with Dark Angels, more to stimulate creative expression. It encourages people to write more freely, unfettered by the remembrance of rules or the anticipation of readers. But the researchers suggest that the therapeutic value lies in the fact that writing this way allows us to externalise our preoccupations, so that we can see and examine them, almost as if they belonged to someone else.
An American, Julia Cameron, wrote a famous book called The Artist’s Way about leading the creative life. In its slightly less famous companion, The Right to Write, she advocates what she calls ‘daily pages’. This is precisely the kind of expressive writing described by the research: half an hour a day of letting it all out onto paper, best done first thing in the morning, before the working day kicks in properly.
In half an hour you can write three sides of A4 in longhand, if you do as much physical writing and as little stopping and thinking as possible. I know. I did it for six months, a few years ago, and the results were really quite dramatic. I couldn’t speak for the health benefits because I wasn’t alert to that possibility then, but I know it enabled me to resolve a number of preoccupations that had been rumbling away, unaddressed, for a good long time.
Over time, the daily rhythm took hold and put me in contact with a deeper part of myself, helping change the way I saw a variety of things that were going on in my life. It also occasionally rewarded me with a moment of penetrating insight, as on the occasion when I found myself seeing and describing a spring of pure, clear water, bubbling up in a pool of light at the bottom of a deep, dark cave. This I took to be my own creative source, my life force.
Writing this now makes me think I should start doing it again. In fact, we all should. Who needs pills when we’ve got pencils and paper?