The Value of Writing

Assigning words to our feelings is the beginning of understanding them. The vast majority of them may not add up to anything of significance, but as you consider what you’ve written something of great significance may begin to take shape. As it develops before your eyes, you will sense that there is something there.  Maybe tomorrow you’ll want to begin with the emerging image. Ask the Lord to show you the way.

Anne Lamott writes:

“Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t—and, in fact, you’re not supposed to—know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.” (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird-Some Instructions on Writing and Life. New York: Anchor Books Doubleday, 1995, 41) 

Writing in my journal is often this way.  I don’t know what it all adds up to, but I will, if I just keep writing, exploring, discovering.  Somehow out of the mess, insight emerges. 


Peter Elbow writes:

“Freewriting is a useful outlet. We have lots in our heads that makes it hard to think straight and write clearly: we are mad at someone, sad about something, depressed about everything. Perhaps even inconveniently happy. “How can I think about this report when I’m so in love?” Freewriting is a quick outlet for these feelings so they don’t get so much in your way when you are trying to write about something else. Sometime your mind is marvelously clear after ten minutes of telling someone on paper everything you need to tell him. (In fact, if your feelings often keep you from functioning well in other areas of your life frequent freewriting can help: not only by providing a good arena for those feelings, but also by helping you understand them better and see them in perspective by seeing them on paper.)”  (Writing with Power—Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, New York: Oxford University Press, 1981, p. 15)

Sondra Perl writes:

"Constructing simultaneously affords discovery. Writers know more fully what they mean only after having written it." (Perl 1979, p. 331)

In Genesis 1:1, the Creator spoke the earth into existence. At first it was a shapeless, chaotic mass (Living Bible). Then God separated, ordered, and created until finally He declared it “good.”  Once we take the shapeless, chaotic mass of feelings, perceptions, images, prejudices and define them with words--then we can go back and separate and order it and see what it adds up to.  While the chaos swirls without words or logic inside our heads, the confusion remains.

Use Writing to Discover Meaning

Don’t focus on your writing – focus on your meaning. And as you seek to discover meaning, be honest with yourself. Don’t settle for trite, clichéd, evangelical lingo, or mindless phrases without meaning.

A few years ago, Chuck Swindoll told an audience of 600 pastors that if he heard one more prayer asking God to “lead, guide, and direct” us, he thought he’d vomit. "Can’t God just lead us? Why do we always pray, 'lead, guide and direct?'" We all get caught at times using religious sounding nonsense. Avoid it in your journal. Figure out the right word for what you really mean, get specific, get real.

We have lots in our heads that makes it hard to think straight and write clearly
— Peter Elbow