Writing as Therapy

“I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.” 

Ever since I read those lines by Prof. Dumbeldore in Harry Potter, I have wanted a similar Pensieve. Sadly, for want of a wand and quick magical powers I am forced to stick to paper, ink and some time alone.

As a writer just hearing the scratch of pen on paper itself is pure bliss and writing brings out many an emotions in me. The immediate relief of jotting down an idea even if it is a shopping list or my kid’s homework schedule; the sense of accomplishment of having completed a piece of writing, the frustrations of not getting the exact emotions on paper. But most profound in my attempts at writing have been the aimless wandering of my restless mind on paper. Sometimes in finding the right idea, sometimes to understand a problem and many a times just a silent companion as I plough through the emotional maelstrom to find myself a calm anchor.

Whether in ink or the inner monologue that we to listen to everyday, writing guides us toward our higher calling.

In the words of Graham Greene, Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”  

Writing is a meditative experience, a talk with your soul, psyche and a deeply enriching one at that. Writing therapy today is an important tool, a form of expressive therapy used widely in hospitals with patients dealing with their mental and physical illnesses, as well as in university settings aiding students in self-awareness and self-development. Clinically they are classified into therapeutic writing, free writing and reflective writing. Although people have written diaries and journals for centuries, the therapeutic potential of reflective writing didn’t come into public awareness until the 1960s, when Dr. Ira Progoff, a psychologist in New York City, began offering workshops and classes in the use of what he called the Intensive Journal method.

So what makes writing so powerful? A nice rant can work wonders too. Maybe even reading a good book.

The basic difference is in the kind of cure. An rant and submerging your emotions in a book is an attempt to bury your emotions, sweep them under the carpet. While writing does the torturous duty of confronting them.

It isn’t alchemy that makes the concept of merely venting out on paper a fundamentally life changing experience.  The mere act of penning down your thoughts, emotions and even fears can be incredibly cathartic. Writing is understanding our thoughts through a personal, inward looking lens that may not have existed till language was put to use. Words are a medium. They express, clarify, illuminate beyond the factual details to the deepest thoughts and emotions.

Cognitively, writing has been shown to increase working memory and performance in patients. Writing is more deliberate and personal. Hence there are better chances on being honest than having a heart to heart chat with your best friend. In this context, writing is like a truth serum. The greatest advantage being the paper is non-judgmental and hence will not ridicule, scoff, judge or carry tales.

Writing is both the teacher and the lesson that individualizes the course to suit your needs and will guide you to a more positively driven life. It is a multi-dimensional catalyst of change and learning that acts as a sieve separating your fears, insecurities, confusion and helps understand and confront them from the outside in.

As leading theorist in writing therapy James Pennebaker explains, “The development of a coherent narrative helps to reorganize and structure traumatic memories, resulting in more adaptive internal schemas.”

As a writer again I have found this to be my best therapy. Free writing of my thoughts that encourage no standards, compare no other work, disregard the odd grammatical error breathes new life into my writing. Perhaps the most important writing element that Writing Therapy enables is the discovery of your voice. Writing about your life is the best way to discover and develop your writing voice. Only you can tell your true story. You are the only person who has your perspective. Writing your life is a gift that only you can offer to the world.

So write freely, even if it is for just yourself. Many a great memoirs on the bestsellers stands today began with the same idea.

Some writing exercises

Random Writing – The Mind Dump

Write. Anything. Don’t know what to write? Begin with that line and write for a set period of time – 10 minutes or half an hour. It may read as nonsense, and that’s okay. That’s how our minds work. Write down all the random, apparently nonsensical words and sentences, anything that comes to mind. You might include brief descriptions or sketches of any images that come to mind. Don’t change or edit anything. Simply write.

Dumbeldore’s Pensieve.

Write about any emotion, thought or problem that’s overwhelming you right now. Vagueness and confusion can be overwhelming too. Write through the emotions till you come out the other end, clear and confident.

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Stay connected, Create history – The power of alumni network

Friendship, fun, continuous talk and always a shoulder to lean on – that’s the joy of school life.

When we spend six hours daily for years an institution, we imbibe its values and its identity and in essence carry them with us as learning or experience long after we leave the campus. And then suddenly, years later, a chance encounter with a friend, an article in the newspaper or similar incidents in the lives of our children brings those memories of our alma mater hurtling through our minds in a rush.

Of course Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn has made the link stronger and has given a new dimension to school friendship – the alumni network.

The alumni network is a school’s recognition and celebration of past student’s achievements and a storehouse of opportunity to its current students. It is in essence a network of Godfathers to each new recruit and an arm extended in help to every member.

Schools, colleges and Universities are radically changing the way they support the alumni, supplementing quarterly magazines and annual reunions with year round networking and communication.

Lifelong friendships, the collaborative community, and common connections with other alumni are among the most powerful benefits of an alumni network. The relationships built here gives us the power to move ahead in our job, change our career, and even relocate around the globe.

Some colleges call back the students with job offered, some benefit with fund raising and campus recruitment. Scholarships, campus access and referrals also form a major part of many alumni network. 

Alumni network is the backbone of recruitment. 94% of recruiters and human resources professionals surveyed by Jobvite (2013) credited LinkedIn as being the go-to source for recruiting. Facebook rose to second place, with 66 percent of hiring professionals using it as a source for recruiting, and Twitter placed third, at 52 percent.

The test of success of this long term fraternity association and bonding came during the recent recession when alumni network world over helped thousands of laid off employees get newer jobs.

Whether an alum is an entrepreneur striving to grow his or her company, a young professional seeking to accelerate his or her career path, or a venerable old grad mentoring others in appreciation for past guidance received, the alumni network is a vibrant and efficient platform for such “value exchange.” Childhood friendships indeed are the sweetest.

Movies – Healthy escapement or perverted pleasure?

It was one of those evenings last weekend when I was actually free and burning to enjoy a few hours watching a movie. I had even imagined the cheese popcorn and cola slush that I’d order. So there I was dragging my husband along to a multiplex for options. I had to choose between two movies I had no plan of watching. One was a social drama involving girl-trafficking and another was about a tornado.

We decided on the tornado and my popcorn. It was much later after the movie ended that I kept thinking about the choice I had made.

As humans we talk of being good, kind, and yet the movies we watch are horror with murder, rape, vampires and even dystopian sleaze both from this planet and the outer galaxy. More importantly, my nagging discontent on my choice of movie was, why I chose to watch one form of death to the other. What makes us watch horror, adventure and sci fi?

Maybe we feel sitting in that cozy seat we are safe from the happenings of the story. We seek the thrill like a roller coaster ride because we are confident that the seatbelt is safe and the ride will end shortly with the hero whom our subconscious mind has identified with, wins ultimately.

So I wonder, are movies a healthy escapement from stress? Is it our own perverted way of unleashing the badass in us? Seeking a thrill that in real life is frightening but in a theatre is safe?

And still my original question of why a killing by tornado was preferable to killing by man? Maybe because to me tornado is a fantasy, living in a place where it’s occurrence is unheard of. On the other hand the evils of human trafficking are real and the fear may lurk long after the movie ends.  In a movie where the tornado is the villain, the human race becomes the hero and we feel good about ourselves, but in a social drama the villains are part of our society and it becomes difficult to accept the hard truth of our species in graphic detail. So maybe it was escapement after all.

 

Collect them all this New Year!

Winter’s set in and even Google is knitting warm gloves….hot coffee, warm food and lovely movies releasing every week. As the year ends, don’t let the red and white make you forget the warm green and fiery orange of the past months.

Now may be the perfect time to reminiscence on all the achievements of this past year, month by lovely month. It can be a promotion, a new job; maybe you built a new house or travelled to a new place. Celebrated your 10th anniversary perhaps? Every enduring relationship, fruitful plan and success is an achievement.

While you are on the month by month mental journey, pause to count the blessings that came your way…. A baby in the family, new friends, even testing times that made you stronger. Of course don’t forget those everyday moments of joy that is really God’s blessing on our lives.

If the room around you has not become warm yet after those fond memories, pick up that phone or mail to say thank you to all those who touched your life this year in the best of ways. Got a not so warm relation with someone? What better time than the new year to wish  and make up?

I can already feel the temperature isn’t so cold anymore. For that I’d like to thank each and every one of you for making this year an amazing one where I learnt a lot, laughed like a child and lived in hope and happiness every day.

Thank you and Have a Very Happy New Year!

May 2014 be your best year yet! 

Creative Writing tool kit # 1. Sentence creation – Subject and Verb

Emphasize early and describe later

You may want to think of that sentence as a mantra while writing a story, a paragraph, and even each sentence.

English is written left to right. The reader forms opinion, interest and a decision whether to continue reading from left to right. Consider this:

‘The airplane crashed into the mountains, killing all its 440 passengers and crew early this morning’

The first phrase – the airplane crashed gives the information and sparkes the interest in the reader to continue reading.

Now consider this;

‘It was dawn. The airplane was carrying 440 passengers and crew when it crashed into the mountains’.

Tepid isn’t it? A writer needs to guide a reader by capturing the essence in the first 3-4 words of a sentence, and then allow the reader to immerse in the emotional onslaught with empathetic description.

On the other hand if the idea is to create suspense, build tension and make the reader wait then please save the subject and the verb until later. Fewer information and short passive writing. Long sentences create a relaxed mood, hence keep sentences short, use just phrases and show the panic.

Practice the pen

  1. Read through your favorite stories, novels, books, even the daily newspaper. Now look at how the sentences are created.
  2. With a pencil in hand repeat this to a piece of your writing.

Types of Children’s Fiction

 

1. Picture Books: ages 2 to 5. These contain little text and illustrations on every page. The stories have a clear single theme and a happy ending without much bad happening. Mostly the kids are curious at this stage and the stories that inform works well.

2. Picture Story: ages 6 to 9. More text, fewer pictures, much action in the story. These need to have a definite plot line, action that leads the main character to a goal. These are usually books read by an adult to a child. There needs to be a villain and the hero needs to be strong. Fights can be told but they should not harm the body of the hero.

3. Easy-to-Read, for ages 6 to 9 (grades 1-3), designed for children to read on their own. Book manuscripts will be 1500 to 10,000 words. Characterized by a definite plot line, a small number of characters, a strong hook in the first sentence, limited vocabulary, simple sentence structure. Here the success factor lies more in the story and how simple and short can it be told.

4. ‘Tween Age Books: ages 8 to 12. Many of these are books written for only girls or only for boys. Strong plot, clear characters. The story can have subplots, the description of the characters can deeper and the grey lines, between the good and bad can be written about.

5. The Teens: ages 10 to 15. Nearly any topic; boy-meets-girl stories are kind of done to death but many still sell. The scope for writing in this genre is immense. Fantasy can have any twist and turn, reality can be obscured, books can be in journal form (gaining popularity), laziness and not performing in school/college can be given a real interesting twist.