A lot of people first come to creative writing because they want to express themselves. Emotions are running high, ideas are flying, and opinions are in full supply. What better way to get it all off your chest than writing it down?
Self-expression is the act of giving form to our thoughts, ideas, experiences, and emotions, and it’s the heart and soul of all forms of art.
Creative writing is one of the most flexible and accessible mediums for self-expression. We can put our feelings into abstract poetry or share our real-life experiences in personal essays. We can explore the human condition by writing fiction. And of course, we can delve into our own inner workings by keeping a journal.
The Benefits of Self-Expression
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” ―
There are numerous benefits to self-expression, and the benefits are different for everyone. Some people use morning pages (three pages of handwritten stream-of-consciousness every morning) to purge the clutter from their minds, which can enhance concentration and focus, while others use storytelling to understand sociological and humanitarian issues. Here’s a look at a few common benefits of self-expression:
- Therapeutic: Through writing, we can better understand our problems, focus on fixing them, and find the solutions we need.
- Self-Development: Journaling is encouraged in many fields of self-development, from fitness to career growth. Writing allows us to articulate our goals and track our progress toward achieving them.
- Liberating: It’s liberating to give yourself a personal writing space that isn’t influenced by the possibility of someone else reading what you’ve written. There’s freedom in writing without inhibition.
- Discovery: The act of writing forces you to articulate your thoughts, which often leads to new discoveries. You might discover forgiveness through writing, or you might unearth viewpoints that you didn’t realize you held.
- Catharsis: Creativity, in general, is cathartic. There’s something thrilling about creating something. But there’s also catharsis in expressing bottled-up feelings and suppressed thoughts, and freeing the mind of its clutter.
- Relationship-building: We cannot forge a relationship of any kind without communication that includes self-expression. Each of us needs to feel understood and heard. By sharing our self-expressive writings with others, we build connections, but it’s just as important to have a healthy relationship with oneself.
- Sharing: Our self-expressions can include knowledge or experiences that we share to benefit others. Our writing could make someone else feel less alone or offer valuable information or wisdom that helps people.
- Validating: Even if we don’t publish or share our written self-expressions, putting our thoughts and feelings down in words can help us acknowledge them and feel validated. Although we might share our writing with others and get a sense of validation from their reception, we don’t need external validation; it’s more powerful if it comes from within.
- Relief: Holding in difficult thoughts and emotions is not healthy. We certainly don’t want to obsess over them and write incessantly about negativity — but it’s healthy to explore these feelings and then find a way to heal and move on. The act of writing about our challenges can be a relief, especially when dealing with private matters that we might not want to share with others.
Best Practices for Self-Expression with Creative Writing
Self-expression can be an exercise in exploring our beliefs, sharing our values, or offering our experiences. You might also want to turn your self-expressions into poems, stories, or essays that people will read. Or maybe you just want to keep a journal that nobody except you ever sees. As you pursue self-expression through creative writing, here are some best practices that you can apply:
Identify a purpose. If you’ve decided to use creative writing for self-expression, take some time to consider your purpose. Are you working through feelings? Sorting out your thoughts? Creating stories and poems that contain your beliefs or values? Are you journaling for self-development or for therapeutic reasons? It always helps to know why you’re doing something and what you hope the results will be.
Be creative. Journals are by far the most common creative writing tool for self-expression. But most types of creative writing contain self-expression, so consider writing essays and poems and stories.
Establish boundaries. Are you writing for yourself? If you don’t want to share your writing with others, or if you just want to keep it private, take steps to ensure that others don’t have access to your writings. Create a password-protected digital journal or create a burn journal (a notebook you burn when you’re done with it).
Be reflective: If you’re writing about your lived experiences, include your thoughts and feelings about those experiences.
Honesty is the best policy: The best writing is full of truth. Even fiction and poetry, however abstract or fantastical, contain a kind of honesty that comes from the writer being forthright. That means we must embrace who we are. We have to be ourselves. Don’t write what you think people want to hear and don’t hold back your personal truths.
Don’t hold back: When writing material that is self-expressive, let your truth flow. If your writing is so personal that you’d never want anyone to read it, you can always burn it afterward. If you want to share it, you can always revise it to clean it up for publication. But feeling open and free to express yourself during the initial writing often results in a more cathartic experience.
Acknowledge and appreciate the experience: With self-expression, the act of writing is its own experience. It feels good to let it all out! This is why honesty is the best policy and you shouldn’t hold back. Sometimes it’s painful, other times it’s thrilling, but it’s always a ride. So be present for the experience and take it all in.
How Do You Express Yourself in Writing?
Do you practice self-expression in creative writing? What do you write? Do you keep a diary or journal? Do you write personal essays or poems? Have you ever burned (or otherwise destroyed) a piece of writing that you didn’t want anyone to read? Have you ever produced a self-expressive piece that you wanted to share or publish? Share your thoughts and experiences with self-expression in writing by leaving a comment, and keep writing.
You wrote a very interesting article about expressing yourself through your writing.
I am not a great speaker, but I can express myself much better through my writing.
I like writing fiction stories because I have an overactive imagination.
Thank you for this helpful article.
Thanks for your kind words, R.G. I think a lot of writers are more comfortable with written expression. I’ve thought about this a lot over the years…writing forces us to sort through our thoughts and feelings, which allows us to communicate more clearly and make sure we’re expressing ourselves accurately. Thanks again!
Oh let me count the ways! I have been away from doing any writing to speak outside of intermittent journaling. I scrapbook, but haven’t been able to go to my usual getaways thanks to COVID, and when I am home from work, household duties and appointments interfere with any “brainwork”. But reading this is sparking some of the old desire to put pen to paper. (That requires “butt in chair,” and I sit all day in my paying job, so I like to be more mobile!)
COVID has many of us discombobulated. I’ve lost count of articles from writers saying they haven’t written or they’ve lost their flow or discipline. I’m a bit torn on this: Sometimes I think it’s best to push ourselves and stick with our plans and routines–even in difficult times, doing so can keep us grounded. But other times, world events are just so overwhelming, it’s unreasonable to expect ourselves to be unaffected. We all must find our own balance. The most important thing, of course, is to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves and our loved ones.