Expressive Writing - Tips and Exercises

By Caroline L Macrory | Submitted On June 14, 2013

note: You may also want to see our journaling/writing prompt ideas:

Writers' Digest Writers Prompts

365 Creative Prompts

180 Journal Prompts


Who is it for?

Anyone can benefit from Expressive Writing. Many people keep a journal in their teens, which isn't surprising given that this is a time of huge change and adjustment. However returning to (or picking up) Expressive Writing as an adult can be equally beneficial.

If you love talking, you might discover that writing provides you with a more objective and balanced perspective. If you find it hard to talk-in general or about something particularly sensitive, you might find that you are more comfortable exploring this through writing. In a nutshell, it's easier to write something than to say it.

Why should I do it?

Did you know you can hugely improve your health from writing? Writing can lead to a reduction in stress, better sleep, a stronger immune system, improved relationships, better academic results, improved performance at work and even a better memory! Research also shows that writing can also improve overall psychological well-being, and assists in the management of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

So where do I start?

So, you probably want to write in a way that helps you get all of the benefits we've just talked about. Below are our 'Top Tips' to make sure you get the most out of your writing experience. Follow these guidelines and begin writing your way towards a healthier, happier you.

Our Top Tips for Expressive Writing

Do:

Find a time and a place where you are comfortable and won't be disturbed.
Write about something personal and important to you.
Include your feelings and emotions.
Re-read your writing if you can (sometimes this can feel uncomfortable, in which case you may like to leave it for a while).
Reflect! Ask yourself: Did anything surprising or unexpected come up in my writing? What new insights have I gained?
Do whatever you like with your writing afterwards - carry it around with you, store it somewhere safe, or throw it out. Each action will make an impact on how you mentally 'tag' the piece of writing. Is it to be cherished? Is it important? Do you want it out of your life?
If you're worried about someone finding your writing-don't be afraid to destroy it afterwards. Simply knowing that you'll be doing this can allow a whole new level of freedom and authenticity with your writing.

Don't:

Worry about spelling, grammar or style of writing - this isn't the important part.
Write for someone else - this is just for you.
Censor what you're writing.
Include only factual information.
Critique your writing or try to rationalise it - sometimes it's OK to just get it out, even if it makes no sense.
Write about a difficult or emotionally charged topic before you're ready. If it's too much, leave it for another day.

So, now you know how to get the most of out your writing, but where do you start?
If you know what you'd like to write about, just jump straight in! However if you feel you need a bit of inspiration to get going, check out our top exercises below.

Our Top Writing Exercises

The Novice Writer
You'd like to get started, but are feeling tentative about expressing yourself through writing and are a little unsure where to begin. Start with something short, easy and concrete - you'll be on your way in no time.

Option 1: Spend two minutes writing about your favourite hot drink. What is it? Why do you like it? How often do you drink it?

Option 2: Spend two minutes writing about the weather. How is it today? What does the sky look like? Are there clouds?

You might be surprised with where these initial exercises lead you. If you want to write for longer, keep going! They could bring up particular memories or feelings. Let your writing go wherever it takes you.

The Established Writer
You're comfortable with the basics, but want to try something new and take things a step further. Try one of the following interesting exercises:

Option 1: Write continuously for 8 minutes about whatever comes into your head. Don't put your pen down until the time is up. If nothing comes to mind just repeat the sentence before.

Option 2: Employ a simple mindfulness exercise. Turn inwards for a moment and focus on your feelings right at this instant. Write about how you feel physically (notice tensions in your body), what your emotions are and what your thoughts are. Write it all down.

You might be surprised at what the above exercises reveal. Option 1 is special in that it allows your subconscious to take the stage-there's no time for the picky parts of the conscious mind to censor what you write. Option 2 may make you aware of parts of yourself that don't always get much attention.

The Experienced Writer
You're a regular writer, but are looking to challenge yourself even further. Try one of these suggestions:

Option 1: Write about a difficult relationship in your life. This could be a relationship that still exists or one that has ended. Write about it for 5 minutes. Now do this again, but from the other persons perspective. Finish by re-reading both pieces of writing and noting down any new insights. How do you feel about it now?

Option 2: Write a letter to someone who you have struggled to communicate with - either at the present time or in the past. Write down everything you want to say to them. Be open and honest, and do not hold back. You can throw this letter out if you like.

One of the benefits of writing is that it allows us to shift our perspectives and maintain this for a period of time-something that is harder to do when thinking or talking; however it can lead to incredible changes in how we see and understand a situation.

Whether you are a novice, established or experienced writer, there is a writing exercise for you. After you've mastered these, there are endless more to explore. All you need to do now is take the plunge and begin writing!

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