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9 Possible Ways That Writing Changes Things

How does writing make things possible?

It’s a question that unfolds in lots of different ways.

Some of it is around the way we write to open things up for others.

But I’m also interested in the way that writing can shift things for us, inside: opening up a sense of creativity, playfulness, the freedom to dream dreams and explore what’s possible.

I don’t have definitive answers on this, just some ideas, observations and hunches.  Your feedback, input and expertise on this question is most welcome to help me (and others) understand the connection between writing and possibility.

1. Writing is a declaration of intent

Putting pen to paper makes a dream, a target, an imagined possibility start to seem more real.

The language you use makes it more tangible.  Sharing it with others - on Twitter, or a blog post - means blasting through the comfort zones and setting out where you really want to get to.

By writing it down, you declare yourself in the game.  Putting it on paper alerts the part of your brain known as the reticular activating system to join you in the play. ~ Henriette Anne Klauser, Write it Down, Make it Happen

2. Writing helps you notice the sticking points

You might notice your own points of resistance or limiting beliefs as you write.  You might notice them because you’re feeling awkward or uncomfortable in writing about them, or spot them later when you’re editing.  Perhaps it’s negative language you’ve used, or metaphors that subconsciously make a project look threatening and daunting.

When this happens you could try rewriting with language that is softer, more possible, more full of “coulds” and “maybes” and see if new a sense of possibilities opens up (more on the language and verbs of possibility next week.)

Any time words alone stop you doing what is important to you - change the words ~ Moshe Feldenkreis

3. Repetition makes a difference

I guess this is how affirmations work (though they rarely work for me, because they’re too general and not convincing enough.)  The more you write about something postive, interesting, quirky, creative… the more you will start to feel that way.  (I think this only works if it’s genuine, not if you’re just doing it for the sake of it or to try and convince yourself.)

I explored this a while back in relation to writing with gratitude.  It’s one of the best examples I know of how language, words and writing can change your state.

Writing that sense of gratitude helps you to notice it, capture it, name it, share it.

Gratitude changes the way you write. Writing with gratitude changes you.

4. Your mind starts looking for evidence: to back up what you’re working on or thinking about, or to supply you with more words.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy writing to a theme: my mind starts looking for material I can collect and use.  The theme serves as a focus or filter.  So long as I pick something positive (interesting, quirky, creative) I can look forward to finding all sorts of interesting things courtesy of my inner search engine.

5. Writing opens things up

Pick a theme, a topic, an idea that you want to write about and your mind will look for ways to explore it and expand it.  Pick a number for a list, and your brain will hunt for the answers to your question.  (One of the reasons I love list posts.)  It’s a way of opening your mind… including opening it up to new, previously undreamt of possibilities too

6. Writing helps you notice the details

Writing that’s full of generalities is dull and unconvincing.  Writing becomes vivid and compelling when you work in the details, the messy, fascinating, terrible, wonderful stuff of life.  Paying attention to the details makes the journey through life more interesting and enjoyable, awakening the explorer mind set.

7. Writing makes you creative and playful

Writing gets you playing with language, regardless of whether or not you’re engaged in something labelled ‘creative writing’.  Some words in themselves can make you feel more creative and playful (and let me assure you, possibility is one of them :-) )

Creative, playful people are more likely to find solutions and look for possibilities.

8. Writing changes your brain chemistry

I just wish I knew more about how.

9. Writing together helps us find answers

I have a lot of hunches and intuitive feelings about this topic.  I’ve done some reading about it, but not enough to make this post really well referenced.

I’d love to hear more from you - about examples, evidence, books you’ve read, or your own experience of how writing changes things… inside, to start to make them possible.

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  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Joanna, A remarkable list you’ve put together. For me, writing is the way I clarify my thoughts and feelings. If I were not able to write, I think my life would be a troubling haze.
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..Perspective =-.

  2. Wendy Kovitz says:

    As far as brain chemistry and writing, I wanted to see if you’ve seen What the Bleep Do We Know.
    I saw it a long time ago and didn’t understand a lot of it, but… I think it may take a stab at the creative force of thought (written or otherwise).
    Thanks for the post!
    .-= Wendy Kovitz´s last blog ..Outer Alliance Pride Day =-.

  3. Matt Blair says:

    Excellent points!

    It seems like the struggle to cast thought into words is a kind mental exercise that strengthens thinking over time.

    Also, writing externalizes my thinking in a way that helps me dispassionately critique it. Seeing the words on the page or screen makes it easier to ask: “Does that make sense? Is that true? Do I really believe that? Why?” It’s an essential internal feedback process for me.
    .-= Matt Blair´s last blog ..Textural and Temporal =-.

  4. Emma Newman
    Twitter: emapocalyptic

    This is a great list - the majority of them crystallised things that I have felt but never consciously considered. Lovely jubbly!

    Writing releases something in me that I’m sure would fester and become poisonous if left too long. Who am I kidding - I *know* it does. It’s a safety valve - and outlet for all of the… stuff inside. Not eloquently expressed, I know, but that’s exactly how it feels.

    Without writing, my thoughts and feelings and unconscious bubbling-ups get all crammed in, like sweaty commuters on a tube train in August. Writing is arriving at the station, the doors opening and ahhhh, they all spill out to go off into the world, leaving fresh air to rush in.
    .-= Emma Newman´s last blog ..The terrifying commitment of a short story club =-.

  5. Ulla Hennig
    Twitter: ullahe

    I like your #9 - Writing together helps us find answers. In one way I experienced that participating and reading the comments on a post over at Joyful Jubilant Learning. Writing comments seems to be such a form of a collective writing process. It is like writing a new blog post together!
    .-= Ulla Hennig´s last blog ..5 Steps for Writing and Publishing a Squidoo Lens =-.

  6. Carla says:

    For me, writing and more specifically, creating mind maps, helps get ideas out of my head and on something where I can organize them. If they are stuck in my head, that’s where they will remain and nothing gets down that way.
    .-= Carla´s last blog ..Brave, Stupid or Both? =-.

  7. Marianna says:

    Excellent, succinct points, Joanna!

    Here’s my joyous discovery: Writing improves dramatically when there is less stress thanks to the strength of the heart!
    .-= Marianna´s last blog ..Welcome Home =-.

  8. Robyn McMaster says:

    Hmmm… this is a great question about the ways writing impacts our brain. Makes me curious, and I’ll have to explore it. :-)
    .-= Robyn McMaster´s last blog ..Zappos’ Brain Friendly Work Culture =-.

  9. Rosa Say says:

    Writing helps me do just about everything. I write to think better, before, during, and after all manner of livingness. So mahalo for this Joanna; I love the thought that there are 9 solid reasons why my pure-and-simple intuition with using writing happens to be pretty smart too!
    .-= Rosa Say´s last blog ..Ho‘ohana Community Focus Delivers Harmony =-.

  10. Jan Scott says:

    I know, I really KNOW that writing changes things for me, that I feel my best when I am in the flow of writing, that when I am not writing I literally feel a blockage around my diaphram. I am SO blocked at the moment and woke today (at 2.30a.m., not great!) determined to start making it a daily routine (discipline). For all the reasons you list above. This is a great list and I shall now do as many others have done and tweet it!
    .-= Jan Scott´s last blog ..moment in time =-.

  11. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora t?tou!

    Tony Karrer showed me a YouTube video featuring Seth Godin. In it he tells of how writing has changed things for him. Tom Peters adds his bit on the same theme.

    Writing is so powerful. It can change your life.

    Catchya later
    .-= Ken Allan´s last blog ..The Mind is Winged by Words =-.

  12. Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach says:

    Putting things down in writing is one of the best ways to turn “INTENT” into “ACTION” - at least that’s what the folks who keep journals at the Income Fitness community write!

    I’m finding it to be true as well. I’ll tack on sticky notes that read, FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION, whenever I’m in major work mode - the positive reinforcement works wonders.
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..101 Cool Back To School Knowledge Tools Embraced by Teachers for Kids =-.

  13. Barbara Ling's Journal - Page 6 says:

    [...] New Blog Readers For Your Blog | Technogati My Info Product Has Gone Really Far | The Melvin Blog 9 Possible Ways That Writing Changes Things | Confident Writing 5 Steps for Writing and Publishing a Squidoo Lens Ulla Hennig’s Weblog Is a Tattoo of Your [...]

  14. Paul says:

    Hi Joanna,

    It kind of echoes what has already been said here but writing for me provides a record of particular moments in time.

    The stuff I write down helps me see some things differently over time. It has also made me a lot less hard on myself when I make mistakes. After all, no one has a crystal ball that works all of the time ;)

    Thanks again for hosting such a great conversation!

    All my best for now,


  15. Jeff Posey says:

    I write to find out how weird I really am. You know when you write something and you think, “Where did THAT come from?” It came from you, buddy. The stuff that comes out of your pen? That’s you. Uncapping the pen is sometimes like uncorking your soul or taking truth serum. It can scare the hell out of you. It can make you learn how many of you there really are. It can make you thank God for the delete key.
    .-= Jeff Posey´s last blog ..The Fat Man’s Chance =-.

  16. Tweets that mention 9 Possible Ways That Writing Changes Things | Confident Writing -- says:

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  17. Wilson Pon says:

    Joanna, I totally agreed with your thoughts, especially the “Writing with gratitude” point. In my opinion, a writing without gratitude is more like the dark sky without moonlight!

  18. One Night Stanzas » Blog Archive » Procrastination Station #52 says:

    [...] How writing changes you. [...]

  19. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Brad I think that’s probably the main omission from this list - how writing helps us to think, and to make sense of things. It’s a theme that’s emerged in a number of the responses.

    Wendy thanks for the link - looks like interesting stuff. I love the idea of the “creative force of thought…”

    Matt thanks for chipping in - there’s lots in there, the thinking, the distancing and the feedback loop. Writing helps us to realise what we know… I’ve read that somewhere recently (probably in one of these comments from you wise people!)

  20. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Emma that tube train analogy is just perfect. You do have such a wonderful way of conjuring up images that work. Ta :-)

    Ulla I agree, very much so, you know I am a big fan of comments and the way we we can develop our thinking and writing through that collaborative process is wonderful to see.

    Carla that’s interesting - I’m the same, though prose writing and mind maps have a slightly different mental effect. Sometimes I can’t rest at all without the mind maps to see what I need to do. Going to try and do some before this weekend so I can jump into Monday effortlessly next week ;-)

    Marianna thanks for that contribution - the power of writing from the heart! Wonderful :-)

  21. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Robyn thanks for picking that up, it was making me deeply curious too

    Rosa it was interesting to try and unpick something that flows naturally - especially with a hook of 9 to explore it with :-)

    Jan here’s to daily writing practice. I believe it makes the difference too.

    Ken what a great video, thanks for sharing it. I love the point Godin makes about the humility that comes from blogging. Going to have to think harder about that one.

  22. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Paul those are two powerful reasons for writing. I know you’ve mentioned before how your blog allows you to track the development of your thinking and ideas over time. Being less hard on yourself is also a very good spin off benefit, I heartily approve :-)

    Jeff hello and welcome. I really like this bit of what you write - “uncapping the pen is sometimes like uncorking your soul”. I think that can only be good for us, to learn more about who we really are

    Wilson what a wonderful image, writing without gratitude is like the dark sky without moonlight. Gratitude adds spirit to our words.

  23. Ralph says:

    Hi, Joanna,
    to my mind, writing is communication, first of all. It can build or change relationships, and it expresses your own will, it can hurt or comfort. A letter of complaint may chance a relationship to an authority, and I even have experienced that a policeman I complained about wanted to sue me in court. Poetry is a way of writing about something without being too straightforward and giving room for interpretation. It all is about language and its use. A few written words can bring people together and may make people curious for more. So I just contacted a friend from days long gone - just with a short e-mail. It may be the start of a revived relation.

    So, writing realy does change things.
    .-= Ralph´s last blog ..Who needs a clean Diesel car? =-.

  24. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Ralph I’m very sorry, I seem to have overlooked your response - very sorry. I love the possibility of writing opening up relationships and friendships, which, of course they do. Even though letter writing might be a dying art we are learning to communicate with warmth and humanity through things like e-mail, blogging and Twitter. Thanks for chipping in.

  25. jan geronimo says:

    You supplied the words yourself, Joanna. I love the way you put it: internal search engine.

    Writing is a very important tool of thinking and nailing our feelings, or inner truths as others call it. It’s a process. It’s us communing with and coming to terms with ourselves. Writing revs up this mighty search engine deep inside us.

    It serves us emotional links from our childhood memories up to the present in seemingly random patterns and surprising configurations. But as it is a process we make sense of them - we connect the dots, we synthesize our experience if we are lucky, but mainly if we are honest with ourselves.
    .-= jan geronimo´s last blog ..Thanks, You Lovely People =-.

  26. dailyencounters says:

    I have always used writing as my therapy…. I have many works from when I was a teenager, and stereotypically depressed with life in general, however I find it difficult to get motivated now that my life is so positive! I have been on this journey for the past year, trying to get back into writing, attending workshops, and keeping a very private, handwritten journal. I am looking foward to following this blog, gaining inspiration, and starting the work of mine that will lead me to being a published author!
    .-= dailyencounters´s last blog ..The Plan of a 16 Year Old =-.

  27. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Jan I love that:

    “Writing revs up this mighty search engine deep inside us.” - might just have to quote you on that some day :-)

    @ dailyencounters - hello and welcome, sorry I can’t (yet) greet you by name… I think that journalling makes a huge difference to the way we feel, and blogging is such a great way to do that, moderated and edited for public consumption, with feedback loops from people all over the world… It’s wonderful stuff. I hope you get the inspiration you’re looking for from the blogosphere too :-)

  28. Omar says:

    Writing is freeing. When I compose its as if I’m in my own world. Time sits still. I hear myself speaking the words as I type.
    .-= Omar´s last blog ..Mediocre People =-.

  29. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Omar hello, and thanks for that contribution. It sounds like the feeling of getting into ‘the flow’… and that’s a good place to be :-)

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