Writing for recovery: tips to get started

Writing for recovery: tips to get started

Writing is an invaluable healing tool, but people are often intimidated by putting their thoughts on paper. A blank page sitting in front of you can be very daunting. Angela Buttimer, LPC, a facilitator at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, shares the following tips and exercises to help overcome the anxiety you may feel when embracing this therapeutic exercise.

Stream of consciousness. To get the juices flowing, start with a timed two- to three-minute session writing anything and everything that comes to mind. Keep the pen moving until the timer goes off. It is okay to ramble! 

Sentence stem. Use sentence starters to help foster thoughts and emotions. Some examples include:

  • I feel...

  • I believe...

  • I am ready to release...

  • One thing I would like to change...

  • I am grateful for...

  • I am stressed about...

Letter writing. Think about what has gone unsaid or what needs to be said to loved ones, future generations, other cancer patients, God and even to yourself. Positive and/or negative thoughts, lessons learned, hopes, dreams — express what is on your heart that is difficult to say to someone face-to-face.

List writing. Writing does not always have to take the form of neat, organized sentences. If you do not want to write in complete sentences, there is no writing police that will call you out on it. Draw pictures, write lists or doodle. Any pen to paper activity can be a healthy form of expression and healing.

Mind mapping. Mind mapping is another technique for writing information in a diagram format. The diagram usually mimics a family-tree concept, with a single starting point in the middle that branches out, and divides again and again. The tree is made up of words or short sentences connected by lines. A mind map is a visual thinking tool that helps you to better understand, analyze, recall and generate ideas.

Seven-minute poem. Set a timer for seven minutes. Write down words that come to mind. Pick one of these words to build upon. Now think of supporting words and phrases that help complete the thought, story, dream or wish. Write these statements in short phrases. You will be amazed at your progress as you repeat this exercise.

“When people write about stressful things, it helps release stress. When people write about gratitude, it helps increase feelings of happiness,” says Buttimer. “I often challenge patients to commit to writing down something they are grateful for each day for a whole year, and it has to be something different every time. This is a powerful exercise that can have an amazing healing impact for someone who is undergoing a stressful illness or significant life change.”

Create a ritual for writing

Buttimer also recommends creating a ritual that will help you get in the mood for writing. This ritual has to be based on personal preference and habits that will help the creative juices flow for you. Some ideas include:

  • Go to your favorite room in the house or in the warm summer months, find a spot outdoors where you can be inspired by nature.

  • Find a sofa or chair you like to sit in. Go to that same place every time you sit down to write.

  • Make a cup of tea, coffee or hot cocoa.

  • Play some soft instrumental music in the background.

  • Turn off all electronic devices, including your phone.

  • Make sure there are no other distractions around.

  • You may choose to write for five minutes or an hour – it’s all beneficial.

Most importantly, Buttimer accentuates the need to be radically honest when writing.

“It is only through complete honesty with yourself that you can experience true healing.”

Get inspired with more creative ways to express yourself.


Suggested Articles