Writing is my form of therapy. It’s not a chore, nor a requirement. In most cases I write with no audience or desired recipient of a message in mind. I suppose I could keep it all to myself (and I often do) but knowing that a reflection, muse or rant may be read by an equal measure of respected colleagues and strangers alike, forces me to contest the congruence of my thoughts. Sharing accelerates and deepens my own reflections and learning – it is, quite frankly, the most selfish thing to do.
I hope you can understand how I therefore grapple with the rise of the ghost writer, especially when so much of my thoughts, personality and context are crucial to my writing experience. It seems that even literary greats are franchising their characters and genres to a bevy of these writers. Granted, it is a generous model. It puts work on the fingertips of those who need it and extends the longevity of many an established author. It also permits anyone who struggles to write or believes they have limited ability to create engaging prose, to ask a professional to translate their original thoughts, experiences and story into work worth sharing.
However, here’s the single biggest risk I see – the ghost writer may inadvertently deny an author the chance to use their writing process as a means to reflect, articulate, review and, most importantly, engage with their thoughts and emotions. I believe those are solid benefits of writing and so, in some cases, ghost writing is akin to sending a stranger to therapy on your behalf.
Clearly, writing has many diverse intentions and outcomes too. It is not only about communicating a message or transporting readers to vivid imaginings and alternate realities. Sometimes, writing has nothing to do with the reader at all. It can be purely therapeutic and restorative and is a powerful means by which we can eject our inner turmoil, so that it no longer feels totally consumed within us. Writing can be just the place to say what we can never actually say, to think what we had no idea was a thought and to imagine what we thought impossible into the plausible.
2020 has offered us all a chance to step away from our lives for a while. It has been a once-in-a-generation collective pause that has provided most of us with the chance to disconnect from our habitual thoughts and actions. A new set of choices, however, cannot be forced and so whilst the opportunity to reassess life and make change has been presented, I see most of us slowly edging back into the deep-furrow routine. Thus, in much of my work in the past 3 months, I have been encouraging journalling and written, guided reflection. I see this simple act as a second chance to sip on the percolated insight and courage required to resist the automatic re-entry into the new, but still normal, way of living.
Writing changed my life 5 years ago, and I believe it could significantly alter yours. Yes, reading is powerful too, but I am beginning to see writing as an even greater feeder of your mind and soul.
Not only do I write regularly but I have published a book (and have 3 more in the works). The first book was meant to be only for myself. It was penned to heal the wounds of a broken relationship with my father and an ill-fated voyage across the globe in an attempt to heal it. In the end it became a full-length novel and, in 350 pages, it brought me closure, healing and perspective that the intervening 15 years between the trip and day of publishing had come nowhere close to providing. It was more powerful in its effect than I could ever have imagined. It influenced every part of my growth and development in ways multiple degrees, years of therapy, tonics of wisdom, advice, pain and struggle could not.
I reluctantly published it but it continues to find readers who have battled with similar fractious dynamics.
What has helped me through much of the turmoil of 2020 has been the chance to write down my thoughts and curate an opinion, perspective and reframe of my own world (and along the way others have read what I needed to say to myself). So, why not give it a go. You have so much to say, process and review and you will appreciate the healing when you are done.
I have discovered that most people are afraid to write and have listened to their inner critic too closely. So here are my most useful tips to begin building a library of words that may eventually change your perspective and possibly grow into a thought leader piece, a poem, script or novel (for your eyes only or possibly others):
1. Put aside 30 minutes every two days (that’s half of your favourite TV show you may need to sacrifice).
2. Write 750 words without stopping to read or review what you have written (do not even spell check it). I wrote 1 000 words per seating – 3 000 words per week and had more than 80 000 words to edit in half a year.
3. When you are ready to edit, just read everything out aloud. It is the most effective editor you never knew about.
4. Newsflash: Writing creates the inspiration to write. Waiting for inspiration to write never actually happens. So, force yourself to sit in front of the computer and begin tapping away.
5. Write like you speak to call on your most authentic voice.
6. A question, either newly defined or repeated daily, is a powerful trigger to your thoughts and a useful lead into any writing.
7. And finally, find a writing coach and spend some time learning more of these little tricks.
So, if you feel wary of the extent to which 2020 has bludgeoned you and would like to leave the worst of the year behind and the best of it with you – then begin writing. It may produce a scribbled record worth destroying or a 200-page novel by mid-2021. It is possible, probable and completely transformational.