Cathartic Writing – Be Careful What You Ask For

If you are seeking an emotional release and want to describe your feelings from pen to paper, you might be shocked at the rhythm of how quickly your emotions will flow. I’ve always been a

If you are seeking an emotional release and want to describe your feelings from pen to paper, you might be shocked at the rhythm of how quickly your emotions will flow. I’ve always been a memoir/non-fiction writer and am very fearless about letting the world know what’s up my alley. The more authentic I am, the better the read. Everyone’s personal story is very empowering; we all want to let each other know how to survive in the world. Looking through the lens of your words makes the reader know who you are. It is human nature to seek the purpose and meaning of one’s life, so share yours and see how it feels. It’s a big undertaking to ask of anyone – the writer and the reader – but the act of sharing is of immense importance.

 

Breathe deeply, then write those volcano life moments on paper. It takes time to cleanse your emotional slate and certainly takes moxie to expose yourself. I would not be a writer today if it weren’t for my toxic family experiences; that’s not to say your life has to be horrific in order to do impressive cathartic writing! I never realized that I could turn my dreadful childhood moments into laughter by turning those moments inside out. It took time to feel at ease and it took other writers pushing me to be more realistic on paper to not be afraid. I can actually laugh today at the train wreck of my life and write about it.  It’s okay and quite healthy to make fun of myself and become self-deprecating in a good way.  Not taking yourself too seriously is a fabulous lesson to learn. I learned a new way of seeing things and could turn shocking things into amusement. Yet, one must feel both safe and have trust to share cathartic writing to an audience. I cannot stress enough that you should evaluate your audience before sharing – but don’t lead them astray with share “feel-good” stories. Just make sure the vibe and the environment is worthy of your vulnerability. A printed audience is perhaps the safest, then likely a gathered writers’ group or classroom setting. The internet can be one of the least safe space, if you succumb to reading comments or publish where family members (or people in your stories) can easily scrutinize. Block them from your posts and never ever read the comments on an online forum. Have a trusted friend read them for you, and pull out only the delightful ones. If you want healthy, constructive criticism, ask individuals – readers and writers who you know – that will give you helpful feedback.

 

Think about your intent before sharing, too. My intent is always to make others know they are not alone in their difficult experiences. As you do cathartic writing, you will become interested in digging deeper for new challenges and without realizing it, push the envelope.

 

Whether you write about your present or past, it’s imperative that you be aware you can spiral. By that, I mean, you can unexpectedly come upon a trigger and lose yourself into a black hole. Avoid this by planning a mental life raft; way before you write to ground yourself and after you’ve written something very authentic and unpleasant. Normally, after I write a paragraph that is very painful, I will take a break and recognize I am not that person anymore. Before spiraling, my safety net may be sitting in the sun at the park and then detoxing from what I have written. In my head, I must remember that was then and this is now. It’s having a plan before doing cathartic writing, kind of like hugging a tree. Sometimes you don’t know what is going to come out and it feels like a bee sting when it does.

 

Let your words flow without resistance. During this healthy emotional release, your words are providing healing naturally. Don’t be afraid of what the reader will think, you will make a positive in some people’s lives that can relate to you. As your words flow, avoid feeling embarrassed or ashamed about your experiences. Writing about my family’s toxicity made me realize I am definitely a survivor. You don’t know that at first; it takes tremendous courage to be honest with yourself on paper.   A cathartic writing experience is a cleansing and a release of emotions that have been bogging you down with cement shoes. Tell your story and purge your words. It’s cheaper than a therapist plus you can look back in time and inhale a few sentences to recharge your battery for the future.

 

This kind of freewriting can be about things that scare you and make you realize you are not that person anymore. I had always trained myself to make others feel comfortable therefore making me feel imperfect. The beauty of cathartic writing is you begin to take ownership of your life and all its wrinkles and imperfections. You don’t have to run away or hide under a rock any longer. You have put it out there on paper for cleansing, while an audience of people is waiting to connect with your experiences. Don’t try to win over people who disagree with your writing. You are being an authentic human. You are courageous to write about what you are feeling. Own it. You are an important part of this world and your voice matters.

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Cindy Small
Cindy Small arrived in N. Alabama following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A native of New Orleans, she graduated from Tulane University with an undergraduate degree in Journalism and Masters in Historic Preservation Studies. She spends her spare time writing a weekly “Spotlight” column for The Decatur Daily as well as reading her non-fiction short stories on NPR. Published in various literary journals, her writings are always humorous added with a speck of arsenic.