Expressive Writing

Fill the paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth

My 6-year-old daughter, Miss O, brought home her journal from first grade because she’d filled the composition notebook. The teacher gives them a topic and they write a little bit every day.  Miss O sat me down to show me how in the beginning of the school year she wrote a couple of words and doodled. By her entries in March, she was writing a couple of paragraphs. She was incredibly proud of her work.

It reminded me of a recent reference I heard to the work of James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology (and formerly the chair of the department) at the University of Texas, Austin. In the late 90’s, he wrote a paper summarizing the findings of studies he’d done that showed that people who practiced expressive writing, writing about thoughts and feelings, tended to have positive health outcomes (less visits to the campus health center or evidenced by blood pressure and heart rate).

In a summary paper published in 2017, Dr. Pennebaker theorizes that expressive writing helps because keeping things secret causes stress. I’d say that many of us creative non-fiction bloggers, know the benefits of expressive writing anecdotally – in the community that we create and the support we get from others. Sharing our thoughts and feelings, even though unnecessary to reap the health benefits according to Dr. Pennebaker, makes them feel more normal.

It feels to me like words give our thoughts and feelings definite shape. It morphs them into things that can be actionable. There is a magic that comes from owning our stories.

This brings to mind the post I wrote about humorist Kevin Kling whose therapist was helping him through a bout of PTSD stemming from a motorcycle accident in which he lost his arm. He was angry and unable to sleep until his therapist had him tell his story about that day as if the accident didn’t happen and he reached his destination unharmed. It worked like a charm and Kevin’s takeaway was, “we need to rewrite our story sometimes just so we can get some sleep.”

Flipping through Miss O’s journal, I find this entry that I share with her permission:

“Wen I grow up I want to be caring. Because caring is nise [nice] and I’m areredey [already] nise. Caring is what you shod be!”

Miss O’s 1st Grade Journal

39 thoughts on “Expressive Writing

  1. Where do I sign up for the Miss O fan club?

    “There is a magic that comes from owning our stories.” So true. Writing our stories — and rewriting the narrative — is healing and empowering. Thank you for sharing, Wynne 💜

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I want to say that they weren’t doing that when I was in school either. Teaching our children- male and female- to recognize their emotions is a great life coping mechanism ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Loving this perspective! Encouraging writing is wonderful and can become a powerful tool to help anyone through life’s ups and downs! I’m a huge encourager for people to write – whether a blog or even a book, for I know how therapeutic and helpful it is for discovering wonderful insights! Miss O is a powerful example for us all!!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I love it when you say: “It feels to me like words give our thoughts and feelings definite shape. It morphs them into things that can be actionable. There is a magic that comes from owning our stories.” During the early years after arriving in the USA, I started a journal as a form of self-therapy. I never imagined that it would lead to a new career as a writer and blogger. This magic of storytelling has saved my sanity.
    Your daughter’s journal entry is a powerful testimony of a wonderful and caring mother ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such a lovely and generous comment, Rosaliene! I love that you too can vouch for the magic of storytelling and the sanity it provides!! And I love that journaling fed your career as an author!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, Mark, if you come to our house, I guess my daughter would enforce that you can’t!

      What cracks me up about that is that when asked about rules in my house, those are the ones she came up with. Clean up when you are done is definitely a good one. But where’s “don’t pull the cat’s tail” and “be respectful to others?” Just to name a couple that come to mind!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. She is a blogger in the making, Wynne! Your house rules sound very reasonable and pragmatic to me. And her grown up aspirations are wonderful.

    I definitely can see the therapeutic value of expressive writing and it’s wonderful that teachers such as your daughters are nurturing that at such a young age. I have my grade 3 teacher to thank for introducing me to writing and journaling. Such a wonderful outlet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A blogger in the making! Love it. The house rules crack me up. No mention of make your bed or don’t pull the cats tail.

      That is awesome that you were introduced to writing in 3rd grade. All these years of practice clearly have paid off!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing!!.. Miss O is following in her Mom’s footsteps and letting her fingers do the walking while her heart does the talking!!.. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May flowers always line your path
    and sunshine light your way,
    May songbirds serenade your
    every step along the way,
    May a rainbow run beside you
    in a sky that’s always blue,
    And may happiness fill your heart
    each day your whole life through.
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a fun comment, Dutch! Reminds of that add for phone books (let your fingers do the walking). Just think – there are generations of kids that never have even seen a phone book!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  6. Miss O is such a wise young soul!! And her writing for her age is superb!
    This: “It feels to me like words give our thoughts and feelings definite shape. It morphs them into things that can be actionable.” My gosh, yes. You put to words things that are true, but that I hadn’t thought of myself, and probably wouldn’t have.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. She’s all better! It last for about 24 hours – no fever, not Covid, the only symptoms were a sore throat and low appetite and then boom she was through it. Thanks for asking!

        Like

  7. It’s amazing how teaching methods have changed for the better throughout the years! I would suggest to use your daughter’s spelling to reform English spelling! It would be appreciated by us non-native speakers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree – it is amazing how teaching has evolved.

      And yes, best-guess spelling as they call it in school these days is a fabulous idea! I hadn’t thought of it for non-native speakers but wow, that totally makes sense. You are full of good ideas, Cristiana!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “It feels to me like words give our thoughts and feelings definite shape. It morphs them into things that can be actionable. There is a magic that comes from owning our stories.” Well said! I love that Miss O, wants to be kind when she grows up. Give yourself a pat on the back for job well done!

    Liked by 1 person

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