Writing is therapeutic… Yeah, right!


“Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives”—James Joyce. A rather disquieting sentiment from the man many regard as the most influential writer of the 20th century. Or there is this from another modern: “If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works”—John Dos Passos.

And just to prove this dissatisfaction is not merely a modern malaise, the second century satirist, Juvenal, bemoans: “An incurable itch for scribbling takes possession of many, and grows inveterate in their insane breasts.”

Writers write and snack and procrastinate and…

The above quotes were taken from an article titled “10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing” by Bill Cotter. While not necessarily including himself in such august company as Joyce or Virginia Woolf or Kurt Vonnegut, Cotter captures their distaste for their craft when he writes, “I also hate writing when I have better things to do. Doze, eat cheese and crackers, solve easy Sudoku puzzles, shop for books on the Internet, doze some more.”

Why such bile? Writing is hard — that’s why. It is hard on so many levels. Writing reports or term papers on such fascinating topics as the “Our friend, the humble protozoa,” would strain even the literary muscles of Shakespeare. Taking the janitor’s job at school is preferable to knocking out a 3000 word essay on the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. Worse still: write a sonnet on something seen everyday — what? Or if you were a fruit, write about what fruit you’d be — what! As Dorothy Parker would say, “What fresh hell is this?”

Andre Gide and the daily grinders

Andre Gide was a French writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1947. He kept journals from 1889 to 1949. He died in 1951. One of his more famous quotes is: “What another would have done as well as you, do not do it. What another would have said as well as you, do not say it; what another would have written as well, do not write it. Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself — and thus make yourself indispensable.”

Virginia Woolf is another writer known as much for her journals as her fiction. In her novel “Orlando”, she writes, “For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system it weakens so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.” Nonetheless, Woolf churned out page after page of her diary. Sadly, she committed suicide by drowning herself in a stream near her home.

Joycean jumbles

Psychiatrists extol the therapeutic benefits of writing. In particular, stream of consciousness writing is an ideal method for releasing inner demons. This type of writing was made famous—or infamous—by James Joyce in his two major works, “Ulysses” and “Finnegans Wake”. In “Ulysses,” Joyce chronicles the events of two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, as they wind their way through the streets of Dublin over the course of a single day—June 16, 1904. Dedalus is the intellectual, contemplating such weighty topics as Aristotle’s “Poetics” and was “Hamlet” autobiographical. Bloom is an everyday man—a newspaper ad salesman. His ruminations are more mundane. He thinks of food and sex and his wife’s lover. Both characters’ thoughts spill out over 700 pages in long, meandering sentences that routinely confuse and anger the reader. As for “Finnegans Wake,” Joyce himself said it would keep scholars busy for years. A polyglot, Joyce combined his many languages and his vast literary and classical allusions into essentially a new language. But since it took Joyce seven years to write “Ulysses” and seventeen years to write “Finnegans Wake,” it’s a safe bet to assume he didn’t bang out either work in labyrinth streams of free-flowing thoughts.

Cathartic relief

Catharsis is a Greek word that means the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step-based programs place a lot of value on the healing power of writing. The theory goes that writing about something shameful robs it of its power. The AA credo is “We’re only as sick as our secrets.”

Writing does have value if it is honest. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare to be good. Just honest. And true, as Gide said. But what people fail to acknowledge is that that they lie most to themselves. Keeping a journal or chronicling AAs Fourth Step can only help if the author is completely candid with himself; otherwise, it’s just spilt ink.

Three different writing therapies are free writing, pen poetry and epistolary:

1. Free writing is just that. Write whatever comes to mind. The human brain is one massive quality control organ. It instinctively chastises us for performing subpar. Free writing is a way to break through that natural reticence to be ungrammatical.

2. Pen poetry utilizes imagery with words. Poetry is tough. Most of us want to write about flowers or meadows or fawns for some strange reason. Leave Bambi at home and use comforting images from your memory. Associate these with feelings and put these down in verse. It doesn’t have to rhyme.

3. Epistolary. Letter writing is a lost art. A good letter is sincere and conveys not only information but mood and emotion. Start by writing a letter to a relative

White River Academy is a residential boarding school for boys 12 to 17, located at the edge of the majestic Great Basin in Delta, Utah. We have crafted deliberate and holistic treatments and activities to truncate negative patterns of behavior — whether caused by mental health disorders, or debilitating addictions. To learn more about our treatment modalities and curriculum, please call 866-520-0905.

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