Six Writing Tips to Improve Your Life

Featured Article, Health, Home & Family
on January 31, 2012
Dan Henry

If you want to be healthy both emotionally and physically, writing down your thoughts might be a good place to start.

“People who set aside a small amount of time to write about their experiences can significantly improve their life,” says James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal. "They go to the doctor less and are psychologically healthier. There have been well over 200 studies showing the benefits of writing.”

A psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Pennebaker, 61, has spent the last 20 years studying how writing about emotional upheaval can improve mental and physical health.

"We studied college students and looked at how often they went to Student Health Services for illness," he says. "In the months after writing, they went at about half the rate as those who didn't write. We also looked at immune functions. So we would draw blood, and found that when they wrote about upsetting experiences their immune functions worked better."

Pennebaker recommends trying it out, and offers these tips on writing to heal:

Find a time and place where you won't be disturbed. It’s important to concentrate and avoid distraction while writing, so set the right tone to focus on yourself, whether that’s at your desk in the morning, at the park in the afternoon, or in your bedroom in the evening.

Write continuously for 20 minutes a day for a few days. “This is what the research has shown us works,” says Pennebaker, who suggests writing for four days in a row, 20 minutes each day. “If you run out of things to write about, just repeat what you have already written.”

Don't worry about spelling and grammar. “This writing is for you and you alone,” Pennebaker says.

Write only for yourself. “This should not be a letter to somebody. It's not something that you're planning to show to other people,” he says. “This is for you to be honest with yourself. Plan to destroy it when you're finished writing it, or put it in a place others won't find it.”

Write about something that's extremely personal and important to you. Pennebaker says it's important to work through an experience by writing about it. “This is about trying to understand what happened and why you're feeling the way you are,” he says.

Deal only with events and situations you can handle. “I call this the flip-out rule,” Pennebaker says. “If you start writing about something and feel as though you're going to go crazy or flip out in some way, stop writing. Write about something else. In other words, you're responsible for your own mental health here.”