When I was in high school I had a humanities teacher, Mrs. Bonds, who was rather eccentric. Often she would walk into the classroom with some ethnic dress on from either an African or European or Native American culture.
At first glance one might think she belonged in an institution. But her enthusiasm for teaching her students the wonders of culture soon overshadowed any doubts of her sanity.
As a typical teenager I didn’t buy into her methods, or really even care about her class at all, until one day.
We had been in the class for about a month and she gave us a photo project. It was due a month later (which was difficult for me at the time because I couldn’t just sit down and crank it out). We were required to pick a subject and take between 20 and 25 photos of this subject with each photo bringing a new perspective—a new purpose.
I chose staircases.
I had always been fascinated with intricate staircases (I think this stemmed from the first time I saw the grand staircase in Titanic…) and how they served such a clear purpose but were also such a clear part of the design and beauty of any structure.
Along with the photos we had to write a poetic caption bringing out the nature of the photo.
This was my first real experience with writing for a purpose.
Sure, I’d written portfolios and what not, but I never cared about the purpose behind those. These photo captions had to capture the essence behind the photo. I understand it deeper now than I did then, but I still grasped the concept. And it was intriguing.
I took most of my photos in downtown Louisville, Kentucky while I was on a Beta Club trip. They were all taken with a disposable Kodak camera (black and white version for effect) that you had to real after each snap of the plastic button. Next I had the photos developed at a 1-hour photo booth at Walgreens (classic, I know!).
As much as I enjoyed taking the photos, I enjoyed the captions much more. I learned a lot about what it meant to provide insight into an image. And I learned a lot more about the photos after they were developed.
It was the first time I enjoyed writing.
Once the photo project was complete I didn’t think much about it until years later, but there was an exercise we did that I have always kept in the back of my mind.
The exercise I wish I’d have taken to heart much sooner.
We came into class on one of the last days of the school year and Mrs. Bonds had the lights turned off and a few candles lit. (I think I even remember incense burning but that could a self-edited detail.) I noticed a record player at the front of the classroom that hadn’t been there before. We all sat down and the room was oddly quiet compared to usual. Mrs. Bods was no where to be seen.
A couple of minutes pass and she walked into the room dressed as a Cherokee Tribal Leader. Feathers sticking every which way from her head. She didn’t say much, but her instructions were clear.
“I’m going to put on a record. It’s tribal music and we will listen to it one time through. About twenty minutes. I want you to take out five pieces of paper and a pencil. When the music begins I want you to start writing. Don’t think, just write. I don’t care what it’s about, I don’t care if you write the same sentence over and over again, but you will write for the entire song. Any questions?”
For the first time all year nobody said a word.
It was clear.
Photo credit – Sarah Reid
So we did. I did, at least.
When the music started I closed my eyes and I couldn’t help but see this Cherokee warrior standing next to a fire. And I started writing his story. Or at least, what I thought his story might be.
I have no idea what the end result was as she didn’t give us time to read what we wrote. But I will never forget what she wrote on my paper under the numeral “100”.
You are a natural storyteller. And don’t ever forget it.
I’m not sure if I’ve never forgotten it because she told me not to, or because it’s true. I’d like to think it’s true. But she could be pretty convincing.
Whether I’m a natural storyteller or not, I do know what I got out of that exercise, and especially what I’ve gotten out of writing for the past year—
Writing is therapeutic
There are many reasons why this is true, but I’ve narrowed it down to five for you:
1. It forces you to slow down and focus on one thing.
If you sit down to write and you don’t slow down, get rid of the menial distractions such as email, facebook, texting, snapchat, or whatever, then you won’t put more than a couple sentences together. You learn really quick that writing is not a multitasking activity.
Focusing on one thing can do wonders for your psyche. It will help declutter your thoughts, allowing them to flow more clearly and thereby affording them to make more sense. More ideas and thoughts that make sense equals more ideas, equals better ideas. The best way to have great ideas is to have A LOT of ideas…
2. It allows you to flush out any negativity.
Write anything you’re thinking down on the page and get it off your chest. Hate filled rant? Paragraph full of slander? Get it out and then delete it. This option is much better than doing so face to face with someone you care about, or could impact your life.
Vent on paper, not on Facebook!
Maybe one reason girls mature faster than boys is because they are more likely to keep a diary…just a thought.
If you’ve ever done this and allowed the negativity to just flow onto the page and then discard as you should, then you know number 1 becomes true shortly after.
3. Writing doesn’t have to make sense if it’s a form of therapy.
There are 163 posts on this website, an average of about 750 word each, that’s roughly 122,000 words I’ve published. For each word published I’ve written two that I didn’t publish. This could be for many reasons, but mostly in relation to number one or number two. When you sit down to write because it makes you feel better then you don’t care about what comes out. It’s very similar to talking to yourself on a walk (which is also great) but you have less chance of looking like a crazy person if you write it down.
Sitting down to write without the pressure of having to worry about someone reading it frees you, it’s liberating, because you know that you can write whatever you want. Get it out, however you need to word it, and move on. Then you can take a deep breath, print out what you wrote, fold it up, and burn it. (This symbolizes moving forward and forgetting about your worries…)
4. Writing can transform into a hobby, a craft, an art form, and even a way of life.
It’s hard for me to rationalize that going to a therapist will become my hobby, my craft, an art form, or a way of life (not discounting that it might need to be a part of my life—I do see the benefit of talk therapy from time to time). Though, writing can become all of those things, which will only enrich it’s therapeutic value for you.
Writing is something that can transform your outlook on life. It can change the way you look at how you are living your life.
I’ve been reading Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life; it’s a memoir about how he learned to live a better story. He learned this lesson, in part, because he was asked to help adapt his previous book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, into a screenplay. He learned how to apply the pieces of a good story to his personal life and not just in his writing. His writing led him to live a better story. How awesome is that?
5. It’s something you can do for the rest of your life.
There will come a time when you can’t play pick-up football. There will come a time when it’s poor judgement to try and free-climb a rock face, or bungee jump, but unless you lose your hands in a tragic accident (at which point you can still dictate your writing—probably to some robot by then—to someone or something), you can write until the day your soul leaves this your body.
Maybe you will never write a bestseller. In fact, 99% of people won’t. But that doesn’t take away the value and impact writing can have on your personal life.
Even if it’s just a one paragraph journal entry per day, I can promise you that you will gain something from developing a daily writing habit. It’s impossible not to get some sort of value out of an intentional writing habit, no matter what stage of life you are in.
So, what are you waiting for? Go write!
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