Everyone processes things differently. Some people exercise to expend nervous energy, some people listen to music to feel understood, others meditate to clear their heads. No matter what it is, it’s good for everyone to have a way to make their internal world less overwhelming. After all, no one enjoys being a big ball of stress, and no one enjoys being around one either.
In order to keep myself sane, I do a combination of the things mentioned above and many others, but my main outlet, as you might have guessed, is writing.
Something about making my thoughts concrete on a piece of paper (or on the computer) makes my mind feel less heavy. It’s like unpacking a stuffed suitcase and clearing the air for me, whether I’m writing a structured article based on a prompt or just journaling for my own sanity.
How I start writing
It’s not always easy. I don’t have control over the sparks of inspiration that strike me. The ideas have to come from somewhere and they usually are based on the energy I’m feeling. Normally I get the ideas from the people around me and events that happen in my life –– and how these things make me feel.
If something intrigues me and sticks in my mind, I’ll write about it. If something excites me, I’ll write about it. If something confuses me, I’ll write about it. Basically, if something makes me feel something –– anything –– that strongly, I’ll write about it.
Through my writing, I’ve discovered that I’m usually trying to pin down why I’m feeling that way about that specific topic. By dumping my thoughts about it onto paper in an organized way that is eventually meant to make sense to someone else, I end up exploring the topic further and unearthing the reason why it stuck in my mind in the first place.
Once I have the idea, of course, I need to then actually start writing about it. It can be hard because most of the time, I’m not really sure where to start tackling the problem. But, as always, you have to start somewhere. So, I just start writing anything that comes to mind. I write in stream of consciousness to get all my thoughts out to where I can physically see them. At this stage, it doesn’t even matter if it makes sense, as long as there’s something there.
Once that’s done and everything is out of my head, I’ll go back and reread it all. Being able to see it on paper makes it easier for me to organize the thoughts into categories and put them into a logical, understandable order. It’s a very fluid process and there can be a lot of changes, and I might have some new ideas that I need to add in.
Sometimes I even realize that I disagree with something that I’ve written, and I have to work my way around it to figure out what I actually want to say. This is also where I get to make the page look organized, and an organized document means an organized brain for me.
The next stage
Next, and this is going to sound annoying, I do the same thing again. And again, if need be. Basically, I repeat the last stage of the process as many times as is necessary for me to stop adding new ideas. That’s when I know I’ve really said everything I need to say about it, and this is also usually when I come to understand what it was I was trying to figure out through writing the piece, because I usually end up adding to the very end of it. The part I add to the end is usually the reason why I wrote about it and it ends up being something I realized as I was reading the rest of the piece. In other words, I end up teaching myself through my writing because I’m reading it as a third party by this point.
Lastly, I let it sit for a couple of days just to have some space and untangle myself emotionally from the topic before I give it a last read-through for language, voice, and readability. The few days of space is really important, because it allows me to come back and look at it as if I was reading something new.
This is where I’m trying to pick up any typos, phrases that don’t make sense or words that seem out of place, and I need to be as detached as possible to do those things. I have to be reading what I actually wrote, not what I meant to write.
And usually, this is the quickest part for me and the most exciting, because I’m able to realize all over again that these ideas came out of my own head and I have successfully discovered, mentally processed, and outwardly expressed something that I learned through my own experiences and hard work.
After finishing a piece of writing, whether it’s going to be published somewhere or sit in my journal just for my own eyes, the idea usually leaves my mind unless a small reminder pops up. Writing about these things that take up residence in my head helps me to clear mental space for new ideas and experiences that may crop up –– and this is what helps me grow as a person.
Oftentimes, if I go too long without writing, I find myself feeling mentally cluttered because I just have too many pieces of unprocessed junk floating around in my head and I seem to run out of room. Writing forces me to pick one of those things, focus on it, and calmly articulate it, and by the time I’m done, I feel accomplished and like I’ve gleaned everything I can from it.
I then have this shiny new piece of knowledge that I can start applying to my experiences moving forward and I can always come back and reflect on the piece of writing if I need a reminder every once in a while.
So, if you feel like you need an outlet and you’ve never tried writing, I would highly recommend it. Just start with stream of consciousness. There’s no pressure there and you don’t have to share it with anyone if you don’t want to. It can stay in the stream of consciousness or you can slowly develop it into something more complex. It’s your way of processing your world, so do it in whatever way works for you.