Blog Post, Practices

The Vulnerability and Power of Writing

The way we write about our lives and use the written word as a tool to delve into our inner worlds has always intrigued me. So much so that my first ‘major work’ when studying was an analysis of women’s journal-writing as a place for wrestling with questions about identity, called ‘Composing the Self’, which comparatively investigated the diaries of Syliva Plath and Kathleen Folbigg: respectively, the American-English poet who committed suicide and an Australian women who is in prison charged with the murder of her four children. Both women used the vehicle of language to seek to harness their thoughts and feelings to confront and explore the complexities of their lives.

“My ideas change from minute to minute, just like the clouds in the sky that make beautiful scenes. After all, if the skys were always clear blue, it wouldn’t be so lovely.”

Carolina Maria de Jesus. Kept a journal on empty pages of notebooks she salvaged from the trash in the slums of Brazil

For centuries, women in particular have used diaries and journals as a place where they can find and express their own voice in the midst of a world that often denied them one.

Within journals – and now often within blog spaces – we get a unique, raw, and sometimes unedited insight into the unfolding, messy, ordinary, confusing, triumphant, challenging, wonderful aspects of our worlds. Of course the shaping of this experience is constructed, but it is still a quest for meaning-making. Philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault talk about this idea of ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ being constructed and remaining in a constant process of being-and-becoming. There are post-structuralists who argue that language can be both a barrier to expressing thoughts, views, and experiences because it is fluid and dynamic, yet it is the primary vehicle for enabling such things to be expressed.

Roland Barthes has a theory about the death of the author, proposing that once a text is in the public domain – as blog posts are – they are subject to a variety of different interpretations and are no longer the property of the composer. Taking this idea, YOU as the reader, are generating the meaning of this text as you are reading it. It is not necessary to think about what I as the author believed or assumed or intended to communicate – but you are making your own relationship with these words on this page (or mobile device!)

This is one of the reasons why the act of writing in public forums is one that requires vulnerability. You are baring your words on the page for another to scan, pull apart, interpret, craft, and judge. It is a baring of the self through words.

In my study of how women throughout history have used diaries and journals, I found that diarist’s feelings ricochet from repression to liberation, externally celebrating internal successes. The act of writing can also be one used for emotional sustenance and ego support to derive self-validation. There is also often a theme of yearning for emancipation as a subtext, where the act of writing can provoke a number if inner transformations to occur – whether they be consciously or subconsciously.

“Which is the real me? … I am a coward above all else. I want an existence shaped and framed by my own needs. God- I feel so selfish crying out for me, my, mine.”

Robin Garber-Kabalkin. Mother of 4 young children.

The act of writing can feel like a form of both escapism and introspection. Escapism in that it can be a retreat from reality. But it also encourages introspection as a constructed space where thoughts, feelings and experiences are captured, recorded and explored. It is often through the act of writing that we are able to come to a point of clarity or make meaning of an event or stream of consciousness.

In fact, writing has been proven to be one of the simplest, cheapest, and most accessible forms of therapy. James Pennebaker’s research found that those who write about their experiences of trauma heal significantly faster than those who do not. His research has shown that spending 15-20minutes writing about a traumatic event, 4-5times, is correlated with significantly better physical and mental health outcomes after experiences of trauma.

There is a significant amount of research that shows the act of writing re-wires the brain. So rather than necessarily writing to reveal meaning, writing can create it.

Writing opens up parts of ourselves that we cannot consciously ‘think’ about or call forward. It is the act and process of writing that helps these things come forth.

When you engage in stream-of-consciousness writing, you give your feeling-self permission to delve into these areas that your thinking-self has shut off.

Writing becomes powerful and touching to others when our feeling-selves navigate these unchartered terrains of our inner worlds, and this journey is travelled through the written word.

I challenge anyone who is reading this post to:

  • Open the notes section of their phone, pull out a piece of paper and a pen, or open a computer.
  • Set a timer for 5 minutes
  • Start writing whatever comes into your consciousness.
  • Do not think about what to write, do not plan it. Just start writing, and see what comes forth. 

In this type of writing, we can find, uncover, recognize, and/or ignite our power. There is an authenticity in this act of putting parts of our-selves on a page, but of course such an act is also one of vulnerability. But I think back to all of the work from Brene Brown whenever I feel vulnerable.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness” and, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”

Brene Brown

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