The fact is, many of us rely on creating to express our emotions. All of us on Writehacked are especially familiar with this process. Creating to express our emotions in any form has potential to be a healthy and life giving experience.
We can use art and writing as a means to turn our negative feelings into a reckoning for positivity. Here are some thoughts about negative experiences and how we can write them into a corner when they try to bully us.
The Dangers of Holding in Our Pain
Our culture glorifies the idea of holding in your emotions. Men are often called weak for being expressive, and women are called crazy for expressing their emotions in any way. Neither of these are fair, as emotions are simply a part of the human experience, and there’s nothing weak about admitting to what you feel.
Here’s the fact: suicide rates are on the rise. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the suicide rate in the United States increased 24 percent from 1999 to 2014. The amount of adolescents — and we are talking early adolescents — that contemplate ending their lives or do end their lives has increased as well. Where drugs used to help, they have gotten more dangerous and often make the problem worse.
We have to normalize emotions and offer people practical ways to handle their trials in life. Even social work professionals admit, we need to start thinking out of the box. I propose one of the best outlets for pain is through creative writing.
Write It Off
There is something so satisfying about forming the perfect sentence to describe what you’re going through. As long as you’re doing it for you and not to impress others, I think being able to work hard on this transfer from mind to paper is therapeutic. By writing about your negative experiences, you can process them, learn from them, and — if you’re comfortable with it — share and relate it to others.
Here are some suggestions to turn your negative experiences into lemonade, through the power of writing:
Poetry, lyric writing, and the like are the best places to employ your artistic license, due to the common “show don’t tell” mentality that’s so popularized in these communities. I personally find it useful to use poetry prompts in order to challenge yourself. The point of doing these exercises is to force you to write down your thoughts in a different way than just “I feel sad” or “I am angry.” You also are usually writing less — but it’s harder to get a good flow going. It’s a new form of expression for a lot of freelance writers and similar creatives, and can influence your other writings as well.
This is something I struggled with originally due to my past writing song lyrics with metaphors. I had to drop all of that — which I now consider to be mostly fluff — and switch to describing the actual scenes around me. Descriptive nonfiction lives in “show don’t tell,” more strictly than poetry does.
Retell your story. Use color, shape, and other physical descriptions. How red was your face from embarrassment or hurt? What were other people doing? Describe their movements, their facial expressions, and how their face changed and moved as well. And what words were they using? Of course, “show don’t tell” can also make for a traumatic retelling of a hard time, so gauge yourself and see if you can handle it first.
Letters to Yourself
Years ago, during one of my first breakups, I found myself writing letters late before bed. These letters were addressed to myself, oddly enough. I never called it journaling, or felt like I was writing a diary; I was very clearly writing a letter. Even though I was the recipient of these letters.
Physically writing my thoughts down on paper felt like I was transferring my emotions — like they were physically leaving my body. This was one of my initial experiences with the therapeutic effects of writing, and since then I’ve used writing to help myself through other breakups, loss of friends and family, and stressful life events.
It has been said that “bad writing is good for you,” and this may certainly be the case in your situation. Freewriting offers the comfort of no restrictions – just straight up word vomit until you need to eat again.
Some find this to be a positive and freeing experience. It offers them a way to put some elbow grease into releasing their emotions, but they don’t have to worry about anything else. This isn’t typically the writing you show people, but certainly you can if you would like.
Get a Little Abstract
Use weird prompts and exercises — and by “weird” I mean unusual to you — to stretch your writing and give you new ways to express yourself. The thing with writing prompts is that they work like writing games. You have to use them to finish a piece based on rules and restrictions you don’t typically adhere to. Some of the most satisfying pieces of writing I’ve done have been based on odd prompts, and it always feels like a new way to express my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
How To Encourage Others
As I mentioned earlier, we need to normalize negative emotions. Make them something to talk about, and make it usual to talk about them. Let’s innovate a bit and give struggling people healthy and positive ways to handle their pain.
We must live by example first, because telling people to talk about their issues doesn’t shut out the voices — external or internal — that make them feel uncomfortable doing so. Being transparent ourselves can do that.
Now how much more as a writer can we share our experiences tangibly, especially with other writers? We all struggle with life, so writing them down for others may actually give them something to lean on, and maybe vice versa.
Ultimately, transparency begets transparency. With that in mind, let’s strive for honesty and humility with each other, so we can destigmatize depression, formulate it into something positive, be it through writing or whatever other form of creation you choose, and gain something from it rather than lose everything to it.
How have you used writing or creativity to cope with bad experiences? Let me know in the comments below!
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.