When I was in my first year of college, I had a difficulty stopping. I had to always be doing something. I went to classes, I was involved in theatrical productions and a street percussion group. I did my homework, I had a job and I was social. Yet I found that there was still more time in the day.
Life was abundant and it felt like I was wasting any time that I had “free.”
So I started to write. The problem is, I’m not a great writer of fiction or poetry. I found that I could write about myself, so I tried to write insightful essays, emulating David Sedaris. This was as fool’s errand. I’m nowhere near as witty as he is, and my writing was ostentatious.
Feeling down, I checked my mail one day and found that I was sent a nice handwritten letter from a friend from high school. I realized then how great it feels to receive something handwritten in the mail. The only handwritten thing I’d ever gotten in the mail before this were holiday cards from my extended family. As I wrote her back, I realized that, although I can’t write cohesive personal essays, I can definitely write letters. They don’t have to have a natural flow or structure!
I wanted to start letter-writing correspondences with people, but nobody I knew was interested in taking the time to go get stamps, handwrite letters and then wait for responses. So I went to the internet!
I searched pen-pals and found a website called Interpals. It connects people from around the world with potential pen-pals. I created a profile and started reaching out to people with similar interests. I started getting letters from all over the world every day. I actually became friendly with the dorm post office staff because they dealt with such a large volume of mail for me.
This period of letter writing was special. I got to hear stories from people all over the world that I would never have been privy to otherwise.
I got a ton of letters from students in China and quickly realized that they used this as an opportunity to practice their English writing. (Which, by the way is MUCH better than mine.) There was the Swedish girl who introduced me to some awesome Swedish music that I still listen to today that I’d never have heard of otherwise. There was the Australian headmaster of a boy’s boarding school, who once had to deal with a wildfire that almost burnt his school down.
I saved every letter in binders. I was spending at least an hour a day, writing until my hands got sore. It was extremely rewarding to sit down and handwrite these letters. I found that writing my experiences, by hand, every day, gave me a better sense of myself. I found a number of benefits from this process. It helped me to:
- Process and Formulate My Thoughts And Feelings
- I tend to operate based on feeling. If something feels right, I pursue it. Writing out my feelings and experiences each day helped me to process why I felt the way I did about my experiences and choices.
- At this time in my life, I hadn’t made self-reflection a priority, so I didn’t engage in mindful practices. Sitting down and writing your experiences in a letter or a journal forces you to self-reflect and take some time to work on yourself.
- Gain Perspective
- Writing my experiences out helped me to see the bigger picture: why was I feeling the way I did about different situations? How might my actions have affected those around me? How do my choices fit into the bigger picture of my life and goals?
- Relieve Stress
- The act of handwriting is relaxing. Set aside an hour and just write. Don’t let yourself take your pen off the paper. Just write. You’ll find that after those first few tedious minutes getting into the groove, you won’t want to stop and an hour will go by before you know it.
I was seeing these benefits inherent in slowing down and writing by hand but eventually, one by one, almost every pen-pal stopped writing me back. I had this void. Where I used to spend an hour per day writing, I no longer had anyone to write to. So I started to journal. I found that this filled that need to write. I treated my journals as a loooooong letter to my children, or their children, or just whoever ends up reading them someday. I had tried writing journals in the past but simply writing to write didn’t keep my attention. Journaling as letter-writing allowed me to continue this passion and it felt like there was a point to what I was doing since someone would (theoretically) read it someday.
Journaling daily and writing by hand allows me to get all the benefits I described and more. Now I can look back and read about the things I experienced years ago and glean wisdom from thoughts long-forgotten. I can also look at my writings and see how far I’ve come in my life’s journey.
If you don’t engage in a practice of daily writing, start today!
Get out a piece of paper and a pen and write. Whether you write a letter or a journal or something else entirely, you’ll quickly see the benefits of writing. If you let it, writing will heal you.
Do you write? If so, let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the benefits of writing.