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.

So often I see writing advice along the lines of “try to write for fifteen minutes each day.” Fifteen minutes?! I can barely write a haiku in fifteen minutes. Leaving alone the fact that any commitment as flippant as “fifteen minutes each day” is bound to get bumped in favour of other priorities, it is not, in my experience, possible to have satisfactorily brilliant writing without accompanying torturous obsession.

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We live in a non-linear world full of countless interconnections and complexities. There is overlap. There are gray areas. There are exceptions. There are deeply rooted issues and finely made distinctions. And we, as writers, ask ourselves to look at this convoluted mess and produce provocative, astute work. How do we create a flowing, sensical, accessible, funny, interesting narrative exploring such chaos? Creative, original writing cannot and should not be so undervalued as for it to become a reasonable expectation that it be produced in the minutes between the end of dinner and the start of a favourite television show. It can and does only come out of many, many hours of dedicated, involved labour.

I am passionate on this issue not because I think it is a bad idea to try to write for fifteen minutes each day, but because I believe there is a link between impractical, unrealistic writing advice and the perpetual belittling of writing in our culture. Writing is often seen not as a practiced, useful, difficult skill but as something that anyone could do if they just put aside the time to do it. There is nothing further from the truth.

There is a reason why so many great artists, novelists, academics, and poets ended up struggling with mental illness, had difficulty with relationships, and lived in perpetual poverty. Passionate creation does not fit nicely within a balanced lifestyle. It is not something that you can expect to sit down, complete, and then leave when your shift is done. It is a demanding experience that can bring such extreme highs and lows that it can sometimes feel as if you are living on a different plane of existence. It can keep you up all night and then evade you for the entirety of your scheduled work day. Thoughts may arrive so urgently they drive away such staples of regular human existence as showering, eating, and catching the bus on time.

It is imperative that we, as a culture, recognize the difficulty intrinsic in producing good writing. Without a collective understanding of writing as a turbulent experience, it is only reasonable to expect writers everywhere to feel there is something wrong with them if they do not function within their scheduled 35-hour work week. We also risk ignorance of one of the experience’s greatest benefits: that nothing will challenge you so much as your own writing. We, as writers, must remember that to experience difficulty in our craft is not to be failing but rather the opposite. We only succeed by struggling.

In Theravadan Buddhism, there’s a form of meditation wherein practitioners allow thoughts to enter their minds and dwell there free of judgement. The thought – no matter how potentially upsetting or disturbing – may be calmly turned over, investigated, and conversed with. It may go, or it may stay – either way, the thought is not understood as threatening. It is a part of the learning process.

It is amazing how effective this style of meditation is for untangling webs of anxiety and processing complex emotional issues. Removing the cloud of judgement, and all the fear that accompanies it, allows for the freedom necessary to properly work through difficult issues.

Maybe it should be unsurprising, then, that writing often has the same effect.

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I have found myself, countless times, writing about feelings I didn’t know I had. Thoughts I didn’t know I thought. I have watched, in semi-disembodied disbelief, as my hands seemed to work on their own accord, giving shape to my unconscious.

It is an unsettling experience to sit down intending to write about a specific thing and instead find yourself scribbling unstoppably about things you’ve never thought about. There’s a strange conflict, where your conscious brain struggles to take back control but your bodily unconscious – perhaps because of the writing muscle’s refusal to leave a sentence unfinished, perhaps because your conscious brain is so mesmerized by the novelty of what it is reading – remains in control.

It is a special thing. We so often try to ignore our unconscious. But in the face of a pen that doesn’t judge and a blank sheet of paper, we can engage with ourselves. Our truths can come spilling out and we can read them back.

There is more to the human experience than reason and restraint. Writing has always allowed people to create new worlds; discovering them is not always just for the reader.


rachaelRachael Heffernan recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

We are constantly engaged with technology, and, sometimes, it can be difficult to justify buying or bringing a notebook when we know that we can just type our work on our laptop, phone, or tablet. Technology affords us many great luxuries, but especially in the initial, frenzied, creative stages of writing, it can be best to go back to basics and pull out a pen and paper. The artistic freedom that a blank page affords can be liberating. While I may find myself frozen and frustrated before a computer screen, there is a special joy that accompanies writing with pen and paper. Below, I have compiled a list of my favourite reasons for going back to basics when I write.

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Automatic illustrations. Drawing, doodling, scribbling: whatever you call it, being able to add artwork instantly to whatever piece of writing you are working on can help to keep your creative juices flowing. Doodling can help you come up with new ideas, see things in different ways, and can even alleviate anxiety. For readers, illustrations (no matter how crude) can catch the eye, add to the tone, increase dimensionality, and make the piece feel more personal. Difficult to accomplish on the computer, but so automatic with a pen in hand, doodling has some major upsides for creative minds of all varieties.

Change the shape of words. Sometimes words need to be big, or zigzagged, or adorned with curlicues. They may need to be in seven different colours, or dripping with slime, or be spread out all over the page. Maybe you want to insert a word that requires a different alphabet, like Arabic or Ukrainian, right in the middle of your English poem. Something that can be difficult and frustrating to accomplish on the computer can become a fun and invigorating project on paper. Easily being able to make your words look how you want helps to maintain the flow of creativity and can lead to greater satisfaction at the end of your work period.

Spell however you want! Trying to write a short story from the perspective of a child? Are you looking to stretch out or compress words in the song you’re writing? Have you coined a new term? Are you perpetually distracted by your spelling mistakes when all you want is to quickly get an idea down? It can be infuriating to have to go back again and again to change what autocorrect has “fixed” for you, or try to continue on bravely writing amongst the many red underlined words in your document. Writing on paper will never pose this problem.

Format the words on the page easily and quickly. Whether you want words in all four corners of the page but nowhere in between, or spaced out like bricks, or placed in the shape of a dress, writing on paper will always allow you this luxury with the least amount of fuss.

Piece together pieces of different drafts. Have you ever found yourself writing draft after draft of the same idea, sentence, or poem? Well, there’s no easy backspace or delete function when you’re working with paper, and, if you’re like me, even if something was crossed out in a crazed bout of frustration, I can usually still read it. After I have written all my drafts, I can take all the pieces of my brainstorming, take the best from each, and weave them together. On a computer, my ideas are so easily deleted; on paper, they remain traceable.


rachaelRachael Heffernan has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

Welcome to the first installment of Writing Wednesdays – a biweekly column with writer and researcher for The Drawing Board, Rachael Heffernan.

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At the outset of writing my thesis, I sat down with my advisor with a pile of questions. Unfortunately, though I had over a hundred pages of reading notes, I had not yet written anything myself.

My advisor was not impressed. “You must write.” He said. “Writing is a kind of learning, you know.”

I did not know. I had always thought of writing as something that you did once you had figured out what you wanted to say. Sure, you may fill in little holes here and there as you go, but writing was, I thought, the step you took after you had learned about the things you wanted to write about.

That understanding came out of my (well-founded) anxiety of disorganization. If I wrote without a plan, or without sufficient material stockpiled, I couldn’t write for very long before I had to stop writing. I would pull out books and articles to help me, and pretty soon I was surrounded by various journals, loose leaf paper, and Word documents, all full of bits of research, ideas, brainstorming, outlines, and even the occasional well-formed and articulated thought. Inevitably, my rumbling tummy or a nearing appointment would draw me away from my wild research tornado. Upon returning to that project, maybe hours, maybe days later, I would find sheets of paper crumpled or lost, forget which journal I had written what in, search endlessly for the obscure Word document I had titled in my academic frenzy, and ultimately feel lost and discombobulated amongst the disconnected threads of consciousness strewn around my workspace.

Under the pressure of meeting deadlines, I did not understand the chaos that was my writing process as contributing to my learning; I saw it as a hindrance to my academic success.

It was not. As much as I may have many lessons to learn vis a vis organization, I now understand (thanks to the guidance of my advisor) how important the craziness of that initial writing phase is. It is active. It is inspired. It is energetic. And no matter how many sheets of loose leaf paper I may have lost, at least I was excited. Being lit up in that way can never be recreated by reading, or by debating, or by presenting. Those have their own types of elation. But fighting to find the exact right words for the idea you have had just now, or having new ideas even as you are writing your other new ideas down, or finding that you cannot write fast enough to keep up with all you want to say – these are the rewards that await us when we put words to page.

We are not stenographers, nor copyists – we will never be able to sit down and write all that is in our heads with no edits or second thought. Writing is messy, and tumultuous, and raucous, and unsystematic – but if we can allow ourselves to take joy in the pandemonium and appreciate it for its contribution to our learning, it can shift from a stressor to an adventure.


rachaelRachael Heffernan has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

We are pleased to announce that The Drawing Board blog has officially surpassed 10,000 readers for the year 2016. As it is only August, we anticipate further growth right until the end of the year as we build our international writing audience.

Thank you for being part of our writing, social justice, feminist and activist communities. Without readers like you, these would just be unread words in cyber space. Instead, your feedback and support have nourished our skills and the home where they are honed.

We hope to find you reading and sharing your thoughts more and more as the year goes on.

In solidarity,

Nakita Valerio

Owner, Editor in Chief

The Drawing Board