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Writing for Happiness

04 Dec 2017 | Sue T

Woman Writing

"At any one time a million people are in the process of writing a book. Less than one percent of them will ever get published" ~ Tony Cook

I love writing. But as the quote above shows, when it comes to the major goal of getting published, 99% of us will end up disappointed.

So we'll end up being losers in the race of... hang on, who said writing was a race? I love writing - doing it brings me joy. As this article demonstrates, writing has the potential to connect us with all of the Ten Keys to Happier Living. Perhaps this is why I love it so much!

Great Dream New Poster Wide Small


GIVING: Do things for others

Writing is a powerful way to share the gift of language for mutual good. We can give our readers stories, poems and essays that offer solutions to problems.

We can remind them of the beauty of this world, we can spark their curiosity, make them laugh, help them explore the unfamiliar, disempower their demons and introduce them to characters who can become their friends and teachers.


RELATING: Connect with people

Writing is often seen as a solitary activity, but it's all about connection.

It's a bridge between our own experience and the minds of other people. We share our inventions and discoveries by putting them on the page for others to read. And we can write with others, share our work with others, and talk about writing with others.

There are local and online writing groups: if you can't find one, start one. I particularly like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) - an annual challenge to write 50 000 words in November. 

We can connect directly with others via writing letters (or their email equivalent). We can write to a prisoner, a housebound person, a friend or relation. We can blog.


Writing Together


EXERCISING: Take care of your body

Our best inspiration for writing often comes when we're re spending time outside - ideally in sunshine and natural surroundings - perhaps walking, running or gardening.

Although we usually write sitting down - and sometimes forget the body completely while writing - we can take care of ourselves by taking regular screen breaks, using a "kneeler" chair, standing or treadmill desk. We can also remember to stretch, to stop when tired and to keep good eating and sleeping habits.


AWARENESS: Live life mindfully

Writing is all about paying attention. What we perceive is what we get to write about. Where we send our attention, there we will go. As Carol Severance says, "The most important thing a writer can do is write from the heart".

We can be kind to other writers by taking their writing seriously, by giving attention to their work, and by offering honest and constructive feedback on request. And we can be kind to ourselves as writers. We can take our own work seriously, offering our ideas to other people.

We can show up at the page. We can be kind to ourselves when we're dumbstruck, or tired, or angry, or sad, or too busy or ill or distracted to sit down and write. We can offer ourselves the same support we would give to another writer.


TRYING OUT: Keep learning new things

Every story is a learning experience. As our characters learn things, we do too.

We write to find out what's going on, because we're curious, because we want to understand. There is always something new to try.

Most first drafts aren't perfect. That's fine. Miles Davis said "Do not fear mistakes. There are none".

Everything we try that doesn't work is an experiment we can learn from, a prompt to try something else, do something different


DIRECTION: Have goals to look forward to

The "outcome goal" of professional publication is often seen as a writer's only valid goal. However, focusing only on publication can lead us to see writing as a competitive activity, success as available only to a few, and money as the only valid reward for talent, persistence, and luck.

Writing's process goals - the joys of actually writing - are available to everyone who writes: the joy of a new idea or image, the joy of saying something clearly, the music of a well-turned phrase.

Looking at the process of writing, the first goal, hardest for many, is STARTING. We have to just do it, just commit, just go, jump off into the empty page.

The next goal is CONTINUING. Writing is like a river; it bubbles mysteriously out of the mind's deep places, then takes off downhill, suddenly changing direction, speeding up, slowing down, sometimes disappearing completely. We have to go with the flow.

The final goal is STOPPING. We may stop before we get to where we thought we were going, or continue way past that point. Endings are hard; real life has no "closure" - time keeps passing and events keep happening. We may need to practice letting go.


RESILIENCE: Find ways to bounce back

Writing is a great way to build resilience.

Many stories ask, "What if..?" We can run thought experiments on paper, writing our characters out of trouble. These thought patterns can become good habits that help to preserve our wellbeing in times of stress and depletion, and in the face of setbacks.

We can learn to care for ourselves when our writing goals are thwarted: this can happen with either outcome goals ("My story has been rejected"), or process goals ("I am stuck").

Resilience doesn't mean pretending that everything is OK; it means accepting that there are times when everything's not OK - and working out how to go on from there.

And we can write about the negative stuff - anger, fear, pain, death - with honesty and clarity, in a way that helps others with these universal challenges.


Smile Pic


EMOTIONS: Look for what's good

Looking for the positive supports our wellbeing. This means being open to noticing good things even in the presence of bad things.

Negative thoughts tend to DEMAND our attention; we see them as threats - which are particularly difficult to deal with when they are not there. As darkness is an absence of light, and cold is an absence of heat, so misery is an absence of joy, and to get more joy, we need to be looking at the joy, paying attention to it, welcoming it, giving it room in our minds.

For writers, then, it's all about the notebook. We can make a note of small beauties, kind actions, things we are grateful for, and remember to incorporate these in our writing.


ACCEPTANCE: Be comfortable with who you are

Most of us are tougher on ourselves than we are on others. Acceptance means "to consent to take (something offered)": we can offer ourselves the same kind of support that we would offer a fellow writer.

Empathy is an important skill for writers: increasing our understanding of character, personality and motivation will benefit our writing. Accepting other people as they are also helps us avoid judgemental comparisons.

HOWEVER, there is a voice to ignore - the voice of the inner critic, the demon on your shoulder who says "You're no good. You're a failure. You are boring, and you can't spell." Put this one in an old jam-jar and screw down the lid; turn the volume all the way down.

One way to silence the demon, advocated by several writing teachers, is "thought dumping" - writing AS FAST AS YOU CAN without bothering about spelling, grammar, complete sentences, or niceties of that kind.

This crashes through all the barriers erected by the Department of Internal Criticism and Censorship, because you're writing so bloody fast that you can't stop to think what you're saying. Dumping thoughts on the page without attaching to them is a great way to watch them come and go.


MEANING: Be part of something bigger

We are happier when we feel our lives have meaning. Writing is all about meaning; it's a way to give our experience, real and imagined, pattern and shape.

We can write about what we value, and share that with others. We can find out what we really mean by writing it down. We can control the worlds we build through words. We can write to benefit ourselves and others.


Book Illustration


And finally...

"Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion" ~ Barry Lopez

When you speak with someone or write about events that have taken place in your life, you are creating a narrative that helps you understand how you became you. We don't always realise that we're the authors of our stories and can change the way we're telling them.


Here are some other good books to support you on your journey as a writer:

tags

Book: Ten Keys to Happier Living

Ten Keys Book Packshot

Order your copy of our inspiring, science-based book and discover how to live a happier life and help create a happier world.

POSTER #1: GIVING

Do things for others

Giving 200

TEN KEYS BUNTING

Download our Ten Keys to Happier Living bunting designs:

10 Keys Bunting Row

POSTER #2: RELATING

Connect with people

Relating 200

POSTER #3: EXERCISING

Take care of your body

Exercising 200

POSTER #4: AWARENESS

Live life mindfully

Awareness 200

POSTER #5: TRYING OUT

Keep learning new things

Trying Out 200

POSTERS FOR CHILDREN

Download our Keys to Happier Living posters for children

Giving Extra Small Relating Extra Small

Exercising Extra Small Awareness Extra Small

POSTER: GREAT DREAM

Ten Keys to Happier Living

Great Dream 200

See the full set of posters

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