Writing for Discovery

Recently I have had the privilege of participating in a yearlong memoir writing class and it has reenergized my awareness of just how powerful writing can be in uncovering our past, illuminating our present, and shaping our future.

Many of my clients ask, “should I be keeping a journal?” Shoulds aside, writing can be an advantageous tool, but only if you can give that pesky self-editor the cold shoulder. Here’s a hint – If you’re hearing a lot of “shoulds” in your self-talk, then the editor is quite likely at work.

How to Use Writing as a Therapeutic Tool

Part I: Overcoming the Self-Editor

Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing down the bones: Freeing the writer within says, “Writing is the act of burning through the fog in your mind.” This is the value in writing. It helps us get to those underlying thoughts behind feelings and the feelings behind the thoughts. Through writing we can access the unconscious mind – the part of us that has difficulty being conscious. Writing can help us deepen our insight and discover new or lost parts of ourselves. It can also help us understand what the journey ahead of us may look like.

The self-editor keeps us from what Goldberg terms first thoughts. Typically, we have thoughts about thoughts which serve as a censor making sure we are polite, don’t overstep our bounds, or make others upset. Thoughts about thoughts are often in service of making sure we are socially accepted. Conversely, first thoughts are raw. First thoughts are about what we actually think and feel. 

How the self-editor works

The self-editor has good intentions. The editor’s motto is, “Don’t think or say something that might risk your safety or acceptance.” That’s nice. Except as William Shakespeare said, “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” Like well-meaning friends that create more of a hindrance than help, it’s time to thank your self-editor by saying no thank you. Goodbye old friend I no longer need your help.

How to overcome the self-editor

Visualize your self-editor sitting on your shoulder. After all, if this was a critical person in your life they would likely be peering over your shoulder as you write. Personify your little fella or gal by naming your editor, dressing him or her up. Do whatever you need in your mind’s eye to create a person.

Next visualize flicking your editor off your shoulder into oblivion. You could blow him or her up if you like. Or if you are feeling charitable, stick your self-editor in a crate to be rehomed. However you do it, the idea is to send the editor away.

Keep in mind the editor is persistent. It’s an old brain habit that thinks it is helping you out. Therefore, the steps above need to be repeated consistently. You won’t get rid of the self-editor in one fell swoop.

Stay tuned for the next installment where I’ll be covering writing exercises.

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