Friday, August 11, 2006

TO WRITE: What if I don't know what to say?

You're writing along, trying to keep that pen moving or those fingers typing, pouring out thoughts and feelings, and suddenly, that dreaded question arises: What do I say next? (And sometimes lots of other uncomfortable questions come with it... Can I really do this? What do other people write about? What's wrong with me?)

The good news is that there are techniques to try and guidelines to help you when freewriting about depression or any other topic. In the Stanford class, we have honed a set of "rules" adapted from books of one of my favorite writers, Natalie Goldberg. In her Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind (both of which I highly recommend!), Natalie stresses first and foremost the importance of keeping your hand moving even when you don't know what to write. Figure out what you want to say in the actual act of writing. I tell students that it's fine to fill a whole page with, "I don't know what to write. I don't know what to write." Eventually your brain will get bored and it will think of something to write!

Another suggestion comes from James Pennebaker, Ph.D., a leader in the research on how writing about trauma can alter everything from depressive symptoms to blood pressure to immune function. He encourages writers to simply repeat what they've already said if they get stuck. My feeling is that either technique can be very helpful.

Among the other guidelines in class:

  • - Don't cross out.
  • - Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
  • - Lose control of that "editor voice" in your head -- just write!
  • - Don't think. Don't get logical.
  • - You are free to write the worst junk in America. (Thanks to several foreign students, we've changed this to "... worst junk in the world"!)
Play with this...
Write for 10 minutes on: How do you feel at this moment in time? Try to keep to this moment -- What are your emotions? Your thoughts? Your body sensations? How are you reacting to your surroundings? Are you ruminating on anything? If you come to a place where you don't know what to say, use one of the above techniques, or just start a new sentence with "I'm feeling..."

Let me know what you discover.

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