Writing can take on many forms and do many things for people. It can be a fascinating or soothing hobby, a career, a passion, a job. But writing can have a more important role. Writing can be a coping strategy that can assist in stress relief, can increase feelings of positivity, can help manage anxiety, and can help to process trauma. Writing can be a form of therapy. Writing may do this in the following ways:

  1. It can help you honor yourself and your life story.

Vocalizing your story can be hard. Putting words to your pain can be excruciating. Putting your inner words and dialogue onto paper can be an effective alternative to speaking your story out loud. Moreover, it can provide emotional release and can validate your experience.

  1. It provides a way to share your story with others.

Some stories are traumatic. Some stories are hopeful. Some stories are either, or and both.  Sharing your story for others to read can provide normalization to others – that is, it can let others know that other people share similar pain. This, in turn, can provide positive benefits for the writer. Writing can provide a loud voice in order to share experiences.

  1. Writing can let unconscious material become conscious.

Writing out a traumatic event can help process trauma with the help of a professional therapist. Often we cope with stressful or traumatic things by compartmentalizing. It is as if our brain contains different compartments in which we can put different memories and emotions in an attempt to store them away for later.  Some memories and emotions can end up in our unconscious. Writing whatever flows out of your mind, called free association, is a way to tap into what may be stored within the unconscious mind.

  1. Writing has a calming effect on the brain.

Writing, particularly by hand, stimulates the same areas of the brain that meditation does. It engages the brain’s motor areas and memory pathways, and forces the mind to slow down while the hand catches up. This has the potential to allow more space for learning and memory integration.

Moreover, writing in cursive has further benefits. Handwriting is rhythmic and provides sensory soothing to the brain, which can decrease a negative emotional experience. It integrates sensation, movement control, cognition, and causes a calming slow-down effect.

  1. Writing can inspire hope.

Writing your future story can instill hope, create soothing imagery within your mind, and produce calm. It can also help you to set goals and perhaps start to plan a way to work towards the goals.

  1. It can help heal pain from relationships.

Writing apology and forgiveness letters can help right wrongs. Further, penning undelivered letters to those who have hurt us can assist with healing the hurt without ever having to make contact with that person.

There are many ways that you can write. Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Get a notebook and start a journal.
  • Create a blog and type out your story.
  • Write letters to your future or past self.

Remember, you are the author of your life-book. Every day can be a blank page on which to record, explore, hope, uplift, remember, and design. Writing regularly can restore, rebuild, and heal.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

Let’s face it – we’ve all been in a dark place called The Writing Slump. Writer’s Block is a phenomenon that happens to every writer at some point. When words start to escape you and ideas get stale, you need a reliable emergency kit for working through blockages and staying productive.

I plummet into the writing abyss of Writer’s Block when my mind is bogged down with a million different things, when I accidentally lose all hope in the piece I’m drafting or when the caffeine from my latte starts to wear off. To be honest, there are a million triggers that can send me straight to the writing slump but as a professional writer with constant deadlines looming, not writing is not an option!

How can you write yourself out of linguistic stagnation when taking a day or even a couple of hours off might not be an option?

Take a few deep breaths. If you find yourself torturing your pen or smashing your keyboard, close your eyes, let annoyance and frustration dissipate, and take a few deep breaths. Accept the situation with a serene mind and focus on getting back on the writing track. There’s nothing worse than savouring the emotions you might be feeling in times of a writing paralysis; rather, choose to tackle the blockage with concrete .

Fight the temptation to quit, because you won’t always have the luxury of taking long breaks or waiting for inspiration to kick in. The reality of writing – especially if you get paid to do it – is that you don’t have all the time in the world to polish off every sentence. Learning to combat writer’s block is key to becoming a successful professional writer.

Seek inspiration in the work of others. Is there a writer you find exceptionally talented or eloquent? Or a magazine you like skimming? Turn your attention to the content and style of fellow writers for fresh ideas, new phrases, and a spark.

Get caught up in technicalities. When your creative juices ebb, shift your focus to formatting, laying out your pages, assembling appendices. Writing is a multi-step endeavour that involves editing, fact-checking, revisions, approvals, research, and much more. Just because your word count isn’t growing, you can still be moving forward with your writing project.

Freewrite for two minutes. Zoom out your computer screen or open a new page in your notebook and write. Jot down everything that comes to mind on your topic. Even if you’re repeating yourself or words don’t go well together, refrain from judgement until the time is up. This well-known writing exercise can help ideas and sentences coalesce into a unique creation.

Tell a friend what you want to write – but currently can’t. Alternating between different modes of expression can help reset your brain. If your friend really listens, maybe they’ll even offer feedback. If no friend is available in the moment of a writing crisis, give your imaginary audience an elevator pitch about your topic.

Go back to the basics. Why are your drafting this piece? What’s the message you’re attempting to convey? Oftentimes, we get bogged down in perfect grammar, elegant style, active verbs, and paragraph transitions that we forget what we’re trying to say. In desperate times of a writing slump, be ready to sacrifice your eloquence (and polish it off when you ).

No matter how dissatisfying or dark your writing abyss looks like, it’s just another setback you need to power through. There is, probably, no single magic recipe for breaking out of a writing slump – so make your own soup.


Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

Some of you might have heard of analytical writing in academia. If your major was anywhere near the humanities or social sciences, chances are that writing analytically was instilled in you through countless edits and thorough comments from your instructors. Maybe you even took a writing class. However, when the memories of your alma mater start to fade, so do the analytical skills you thought were instilled in you.

If there is one valuable writing tip I picked up in school, it’s that your mind has the unique capacity to interpret facts, merge ideas, and uncover patterns that can make your voice– channeled through writing – authentic. Whether you dabble in fiction writing, work in communications, or wordsmith for pleasure, an analytical text will help you and your reader get more meaning out of words, nurturing a better understanding of the reality around us.

Writing analytically involves peering at the world and asking questions. It’s about connecting the dots, capturing diversity, and challenging biases. The highly-coveted skill of making sense of information and facts will always rank above other communication skills. As we’re getting bombarded with terabytes of data, our brains need to interpret it before sending calls to action. An analytical piece takes you on a journey towards deeper understanding of a topic that goes beyond mere facts.

Analytical writing is a symphony. Let your writing be a platform where ideas collide and coalesce. Collect data, voices, and opinions to fill in the gaps and capture a full picture. Don’t slip into judgement as your learn about new traditions, people, and cultures.

Analytical writing is revealing. Look for the intricate, minute details, compare facts, dates, and numbers to uncover implicit connections. Oftentimes, single numbers and dates don’t say much to the reader. But they might speak volumes when compared or contrasted with a larger corpus of data.

An analytical text asks questions. Why is the topic you’re developing important? How does it fit into the bigger picture? How does it impact our lives? Why should the reader care?

Analytical writing is critical. Challenge your thought to shy away from biases and assumptions. Keep your heart, mind, and writing open.

Analytical writing is a muscle that you can flex and stretch. Follow these tips before your tackle a new writing project:

  • Think of the sources you’re interviewing or researching – do they offer diversity? Are they reliable? How far from your set of beliefs are they placed?
  • Wrap your factual information in a context. Bare facts alone might not always make the most sense to the reader. Gather context, compare and contrast your numbers and dates to offer possible interpretations.
  • Tame your judgement as much as you can for as long as you can. Walk the reader through your thought process before making any conclusions. Remaining completely subjective might not be realistic; equally covering diverse opinions and approaches before stating your opinion is.

Your unique way of making sense of facts, information, ideas – topped off with a firm grasp of the English language – makes your writing stand out. And this will never go out of style because a riveting story and quality writing will always be in demand, no matter what audience you’re serving.


Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

Since launching five years ago in August 2013 as a simple website with a tutorial video and step by step instructions for one man’s personal to-do list system, the Bullet Journal gained a cult following and has grown into something resembling a full-on lifestyle brand. Blogs and tutorials about the Bullet Journal proliferate and a Bullet Journal book entitled The Bullet Journal Method, “about much more than organizing your notes and to-do lists. It’s about… “intentional living”’, is currently available for pre-order.

The Bullet Journal technique, in its original form, essentially amps up the power of the old-fashioned to-do list while doing away with the pre-made structure and unnecessary features of regular day planners. Starter instructions are widely available, but essentially the Bullet Journal uses different logs to track events, deadlines and tasks over periods of time and different symbols to indicate the type of note (task, event, note) and its status (completed, scheduled, migrated to another log.)

The intention of the Bullet Journal technique is that it is flexible and customizable. Users can develop their own modules and logs for different projects and aspects of their lives, or even eschew the simple list format in favour of increasingly elaborate, stylized and even decorated layouts. Despite its minimalist origins, the Bullet Journal has spawned countless blogs and social media accounts dedicated to showing off elaborate, colour-coded, washi-taped spread and #bujoinspiration.

Five years after its launch, the “BuJo” remains popular, but how does it hold up as a basic organizational tool for busy people with multiple projects and tasks on the go? I used a Bullet Journal for eight months, filling two notebooks, before receiving a traditional 2018 day planner as a gift that I couldn’t bear to let go to waste. Having now used that standard day planner for about six months, I can see pros and cons to the Bullet Journal method.

bullet journal

Pros

Minimalism and flexibility – The system’s basis in simple to-do lists organized by symbol minimizes clutter on the page and does away with unnecessary features. That same minimalism lets you build in layouts, modules and logs as and where you need them. If, like me, you have a very specific Moleskin planner that you buy every year because other planners’ layouts are just wrong, then the ability to design and customize your own daily, weekly and monthly layouts is the big appeal of the Bullet Journal.

Efficiency – The Bullet Journal grows and shrinks with your current projects. If you have a very busy day or week, there’s room for that. If you have a quiet month, you won’t be left with blank pages. If you need an entire module dedicated to a specific project, you can build one in and then stop adding it when the project finishes.

Everything in One Place – My favourite thing about the Bullet Journal, aside from the flexible layouts, was that I could design recurring modules for different aspects of my life. Every month I would make a monthly log for events and tasks and a workout log for tracking health and fitness, followed by my weekly logs and interspersed with daily logs and even old-fashioned freeform journaling as a needed. This let me keep track of different aspects of my life in a compartmentalized way, but alongside each other, rather than jumping from notebook to day planner to an app.

Cons

Time Consuming – Bullet Journaling is supposed to be quick, easy and simple, but the appeal of customization and the impulse to track and log everything can take over at the expense of productivity and the time management you were intending to achieve by starting a Bullet Journal to start with! Of course, if you consider Bullet Journaling to be a hobby, craft or ritual, then this time-consuming quality is just part of its pleasure.

Lifestyle Brand – The cult-following, lifestyle guru feel that the original Bullet Journal website (now brand) and the media surrounding it have taken on might be off putting for people who just want some organization tips, not an entire “practice”.

A Planner for Organized People – My experience with the Bullet Journal system is that it is good people who enjoy the process of organization and time management and are probably good at it to start with. Using the Bullet Journal as a planner to track deadlines and future events takes a degree of organization and commitment that a regular, pre-structured planner simply doesn’t. That said, the creator of the Bullet Journal, Ryder Caroll, says that the Bullet Journal grew out of techniques that he developed to cope with a learning disability that made focusing difficult. He needed a way to capture ideas and information very quickly during short bursts of focus. I am a big planner and organizer, so I built a lot of structure into my Bullet Journal. A less structured approach, based more on Ryder’s “Rapid Logging” technique, for example, might serve other ways of thinking much better.

I very much enjoyed using a Bullet Journal. Setting up my weekly lay out on Sunday night became a ritual that helped me feel grounded and in control. As my life gets busier I can see that my traditional planner is more efficient is seems to work quite well, but I continue to keep a dotted-grid notebook with me alongside that planner to notes, project planning and long-term to-do lists. In 2019 I will probably return to the Bullet Journal, but perhaps in a simplified form.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Curatorial Assistant at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Writing is the running of creative practices. It can be done anywhere, with minimal supplies or special equipment. To run you just need a path and a pair of shoes. To write, all you need is a place to sit and something to write with, whether computer or pen and paper.  Or that’s the minimalist ideal, anyway. Personally, I’m not sure that I would get much done if I was simply plunked down in a white cube with a pen and paper.

I like to write in public, usually at a coffee shop, but sometimes a quieter pub or bar. This works partly because if I’ve packed up my computer and books, dressed to leave the house, and taken the bus somewhere, I will do what I set out to do. I can’t just turn on Netflix in the middle of the coffee shop! Mainly, though, I find that the noise and stimulus of a public place helps me focus.

Some might find my routine to be counter-intuitive, preferring to do focused work in libraries and home offices that are by-design distraction-free. (How I envy those home office-workers for the money that they save on coffee and muffins, and the time they save on transit!) Other writers place more significance on having the right tools, such as a favourite type of pen or paper, a comfortable chair, or a mug of tea. So yes, you can write anywhere, with very basic equipment, but most writers have a routine or set of tools that support their practice. You can simply grab a pair of running shoes and get going, but stretching, planning a route, and maybe putting on a podcast will give you better, and more enjoyable, results.

Why do environment and routine matter? Some aspects of a writer’s routine may have clear practical benefits to productivity, but I think it is mostly a matter of ritual. A ritual is a deliberate and habitual set of actions which are imbued by the doer with deeper significance than their immediate, external impact. A ritual can be a religious ceremony or be as mundane as putting on makeup in the morning before work because it makes you feel “put together.”

Rituals of all varieties function to induce a changed state of mind, such as receptivity, calm, or focus – all of which are important states for different stages of the writing process.

Going to a particular place or using a particular pen, notebook, or chair signals to the brain that it is time to work. The preparatory process gently shifts your mental gears into the right state of mind for the task at hand.

So, how do you put together a writing routine or ritual that will finally kick your motivation into gear? I’m not sure that you can just build and institute the right routine and have it work immediately. My routine seems to have naturally developed from habits begun in university. Writing papers at coffee shops and the UVic Grad Lounge started as self-bribery, giving myself a treat to offset the struggle to be productive. Over time, the coffee shop, with its low-key noise and distraction, simply became my best work environment through habituation.

What you can do is think about how you work best, based on experience. In quiet, distraction-free environments, or surrounded by stimulus? In cozy comfort or with a certain degree of physical rigor? What items do you have around you that really help you complete and enjoy your task, versus the ones that are distracting luxury? Say, a cup of coffee rather than full plate of sandwiches.

Build on these observations. Experiment and be mindful of how you respond to different approaches, but don’t get overly involved in crafting the perfect writing ritual at the expense of writing. The key is to do the thing and evolve the support system – environment, routine, even superstition – as you practice. You can put together the best stretching routine, buy the best gear, and find the most idyllic 10 km running trail, but you won’t get very far if you haven’t also been going out and doing the training.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Curatorial Assistant at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

What does radical self-love look like?

Sometimes it looks like moving your family across the world so you can finally write a memoir.

For people living with mental illnesses, the emphasis on self-love and some of its assumed performances can be alienating. For people who have C-PTSD or have grown up in dysfunctional homes of continuously traumatizing incidents, the term self-love can ring hollow. As one friend recently said, it simply doesn’t penetrate.

And that’s ok.

In the times when we are stuck in our own programming, even when we have the dual awareness to recognize we are stuck but we can’t do much about it, it is important to realize that putting one foot in front of the other, or even just longing to, is self-love.

It is not actively destructing.

It is still you in there.

For me, a big part of practicing self-love has been doing things for myself, even when I don’t feel the love: booking therapy appointments in advance (even when my brain is telling me it’s hopeless so why bother), booking home support like cleaning services (even when my brain is telling me I am worthless because I need help to do basic things), or any other steps (small and large) I might take towards helping myself continue to survive.

It is a common thing among folks living with mental illness that we can only feel in memory, never in the present moment. Our nervous systems have been trained expertly to shut down in the here and now as a protective mechanism.

And that’s ok.

That is your body loving yourself.

A big part of healing is in rolling one’s consciousness forward to now. In building one’s own safe spaces and then allowing one’s self to feel in those spaces. Even if little by little.

Radical self-love looks like such commitments to survival, even when your brain tells you that you do not want to survive. Radical self-love even looks like simply yearning to take these steps, even when your brain tells you that you cannot go on.

This is an act of radical self-love.

I am set to begin a sabbatical or leave of absence from my advocacy work with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC) on August 1st.   The community work I have set in motion will graciously be continued by my committee of dedicated directors and volunteers. This leave will entail me and my family moving to Morocco for six months to visit family and make space for the research and writing of a creative non-fiction memoir

About the project:

Why do you want to enter? Simon Levy asked me outside the entrance of the Casablanca Jewish Museum he founded and directed as of 1997. An armed Moroccan military officer stood close by, listening to our conversation. When I replied that I wanted to see the Moroccan Jewish artifacts inside, he seemed surprised, and gestured to the hijab covering my head. He said, it is not often that we have your people visiting the museum, before waving for me to follow him inside.

Five years later, I was sitting in Levy’s old office with the new museum director, Zhor Rehihil, who took over primary curatorship after Levy’s death. We were talking about my research project and dropping names of historians doing work on the departure of Jews from Morocco between 1948 and 1968. I was explaining my interest in the silences of its memory, particularly the anxieties brought on by the Holocaust and a host of other issues largely absent from both Jewish and Muslim memories.

The Holocaust had nothing to do with Morocco, she protested. I let her finish without agreeing or disagreeing, wrapping up our conversation with a promise to keep in touch and update her when my work was completed. As she was walking me out, she looked at my hijab and said, you know, that headscarf will make your research very difficult. Trust, in this field, is a complicated thing.

It was only in wading through the multivocal, emotionally-charged and often painful memories of the departure that I would come to recognize the truth of her observation and how my own work might come to be perceived because of my identities. I also came to notice patterns of belonging and rootlessness in my own story as a convert to Islam, living in a foreign country, descendant from immigrants and married to a man who also gave up his place of origin as a Mediterranean migrant.

The pursuit of homelands, both literally and figuratively, shape my experiences – both a physical and an internal migration echoed in the movement of the people I have studied and how the memory of their journeys is expressed.

What does it mean to search for home as a Muslim convert, wading through established communities? What does it mean to exist as a racialized Muslim woman in Canada, in an era of rising Islamophobia? What does it mean to immigrate to another land in pursuit of the familiar? For myself, my ancestors, my spouse?

Deeper than this, what does it mean to look for home as a wandering soul? I can hear the revolutionary chants of the Arab Spring protesters on the television my first time in Morocco: Jannah, jannah, jannah, Jannah al-wataniya. Paradise, paradise, paraside, Paradise the homeland. 

The project that I am working on is a creative non-fiction memoir, a true novel of sorts, that will braid together these stories of migration and homeland, combining my academic research with stories from my life and those close to me. I am unsure yet if the writing I am making space for will become a graphic novel script that I will commission an illustrator for, or it will remain a work of prose.

I am asking for support while I take some time off from my advocacy work to travel back to Morocco for visual research and to conduct additional interviews for the writing of this work. As I said, my sabbatical begins August 1st and will continue for 6 months. I hope to return to Canada with a complete first draft and have set up a mentorship relationship with a Professor of literature and writing to ensure I achieve this goal.

All I have to offer is my participation. All I am able to do is take each voice in the turbulence of remembering and listen to them equally. I cannot do this without your support.

To learn more about this act of radical self-love and this project, to support it and to access exclusive benefits that I am providing for my supporters, please visit my Patreon account: https://www.patreon.com/homeland/


16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada.