What to do when the writing gets tough
We’re on a mission to raise awareness of all the wonderful positive impacts writing for wellbeing can have. As a self-care tool, we know that writing can help us work through difficult emotions, reduce stress and embrace new perspectives and more positive outlooks. Research shows that even writing for as little as 15 minutes per day yields wide-reaching benefits; ranging from lifting our moods and lowering stress levels to improving memory and even boosting our immune systems. And the best part is that writing is portable, affordable and accessible; you only need something to write with and on and a little free time.
At the same time, while writing offers a powerful tool for boosting your wellbeing in the long term, this doesn’t mean it will always be a pleasant or comfortable experience in the moment. Sometimes, our writing can lead us to places we weren’t expecting or necessarily wanting to go — a difficult memory, an uncomfortable emotion. Other times, we might just feel uninspired or underwhelmed by a task or our creative juices will refuse to flow on a given day. Whatever the reason, the results of our daily efforts might not always feel as enlightening or life-changing as we’d hoped. In other words, while #writingcan be a truly wonderful experience, it’s good be aware that sometimes, #writingcan also feel the opposite of that.
As someone hoping to reap the myriad benefits that writing for wellbeing can offer, these challenging or less than inspiring days can feel extremely frustrating and even disheartening. To that end, it can be tremendously helpful to have some strategies up our sleeves for when the writing gets tough. Here are some of our top tips:
Trust the process
It can be easy to feel you’ve taken a wrong turn with your writing when negative emotions start cropping up. But one of the best things about writing for wellbeing is there’s no such thing as getting it wrong. Writing provides the space for our creative minds to work through and process our experiences — and there’s no right or wrong way to do this. Every day might not be as positive or uplifting as the next, but that doesn’t mean the writing isn’t benefiting you. In fact, research shows that the more uncomfortable experiences in writing are often the most insightful and transformative in the long term — while they might cause us distress temporarily, they lead to lasting improvements in mood and wellbeing overall. So when the writing isn’t producing the impact you’d desired, try to trust in the process and let go of the need for a particular outcome that day. Know that the real benefit is in the doing.
Write from the heart
Writing for wellbeing is most powerful when you come at it from a place of truth. If your inspiration is flagging or you’re struggling with an exercise, it might just not be resonating with you at that moment and that’s okay. For instance, if you’re feeling in a sombre and reflective mood, a light-hearted exercise that’s just for fun might not satisfy and vice versa. Try switching to something that feels more inspiring to you and aligned with what you’re feeling in the moment and your words will shine as a result.
Let go of your inner critic
The writing you do here is for your benefit, so leave your inner critic at the door. Spelling, punctuation, grammar and handwriting do not matter. The important thing is to get your words down on the page, without expectation or judgement. You’ve heard the expression dance like no one’s watching: what we’re asking you to do here is write like no one’s watching. And if you find that the writing feels especially awkward, uninspired, uncomfortable, etc. — just remember to be extra kind and compassionate to yourself. What you’re doing is difficult and takes courage. Pat yourself on the back and keep going.
Sometimes writing can stir up feelings or memories we were not expecting or are not yet ready to face. If you begin to struggle, or it feels too difficult, it’s okay to stop and take a breath before trying again – or even come back to your writing another day. Know that you can also seek out support — one of the best things about the WriteWell platform is that it’s a community. We have trained Mental Health First Aiders within our community and our moderators and guides are there to help you through any difficulties you might be facing. By discussing your responses to activities and course sessions in the forums, you can also connect with others within the WriteWell community who will have had similar experiences. You may be surprised at how much better you feel knowing that others are going through the same thing!
If you find your creativity getting stifled by perfectionism, approaching your writing from a place of playfulness and fun can be the perfect solution. After all, one of the main benefits of writing is the sense of joy and creativity it can bring. Writing just for fun (i.e. without expectations or fear of failure) can also unlock that unique state of effortless focus and absorption known as ‘flow‘ — associated with reduced anxiety levels, improvements in mood, and increased productivity and feelings of motivation. Whether you whisk yourself off to imaginary worlds, time-travel, or dream up riveting characters, having fun with and finding joy in the process is perhaps the best way to make writing a habit that sticks.
Remember the flip-out
The psychologist and expressive writing specialist Dr James Pennebaker recommends using ‘the flip out rule’. If you feel yourself steering into uncomfortable waters, simply stop writing, and turn your attention to something else for the moment. You can always come back to that piece of writing another day.
Finish on a positive
If you’ve written something that was particularly challenging or distressing, then give yourself a lift by finishing on a positive. You might like to write about something that makes you feel good — you could try our activity or something just for fun like writing an . Or, when you have finished your writing session, allow yourself a moment to enjoy a self-care activity – such as some mindful breathing, going out for some fresh air or chatting with a loved one.
We hope these tools and self-care tips will help you feel more confident in bringing writing into your wellbeing toolkit. By coming to your writing practice with realistic expectations and being prepared for those days when your motivation flags or the experience is challenging, you’ll be far more likely to work through the difficulties and stay committed to your vision of flourishing mental health. Finally, remember that if you ever have any concerns or need some support while writing with WriteWell, then our team is always here to help.