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Who writes this stuff? Thursday May 2, 2013

Although some argue that technology spells the end for literacy - no more books, curtains for the written word - surely this is crazy. For example, from an early age children are now writing (or typing) more than they ever did: every day we send billions of text messages and emails, many of us write blogs and make comments online. Now, of course, much of this content isn't elegant prose - far from it. But what's important is that we now have another rich way to communicate with one another. Not - heaven forbid - a replacement for good old face-to-face conversation, but a great way to supplement it.

How good are we, though, at incorporating our true feelings into what we write? When you read someone's Facebook status update, can you genuinely gauge their state of mind? In fact, in the past week two different people have told me that it's not always easy to spot my own underlying emotions in the written work I share online. Now, this is partly deliberate. These daily mood nudges, for example, might not go down so well if I spilled my occasional personal woes and lows into them. (They probably wouldn't be much fun to write, either.) One place where tone of voice is crucial, though, is in the words you use when you're effectively writing to yourself. If you were to write a diary, what voice would you hear when you read it back? What type of person would have written words like that? Who were you when you wrote them?

My friend Annie has suggested that I read my own jottings as a detective might, and I must say that this has been enlightening. If you're writing something today, why not read it back to see if you can read your mood? It could be revealing. (Mind you, it probably won't be difficult if it's that letter you've been meaning to send to the phone company.)

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment on our Blogspot:

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Sarah Layton Thu, May 2nd 2013 @ 7:37am

Interesting thoughts Jon. Another approach is to give ourselves time to write knowing that we won't ever read it back - a kind of written 'dump' if you like.

I wonder if you and your readers know 'The Artists' Way' by Julia Cameron? It is a wonderful route to reconnecting with our creativity which can be one of the first things that goes when we are stressed or low. She advocates 'morning pages' - 3 A4 pages of writing daily first thing (if possible but at another time of day if not) which we don't read back. A way of getting what is going on in our heads out. I find it remarkably effective and mood enhancing - a bit like Moodscope!

Victoire Thu, May 2nd 2013 @ 8:28am

Hi Sarah, is this the exercise where you write fast and unedited, keeping the pen going across the page, no matter how nonsensical?
I used to do this a long time ago, and coincidentally, someone mentioned Morning pages to me recently, which prompted me to think about having another go... I did find it liberating, esp to let go of the Inner Critic which is always alive and kicking whenever I dare put pen to paper!

Anonymous Thu, May 2nd 2013 @ 8:44am

thisis an experiment wonder if I will be accepted. Jons lettersare very valuble to me

Sarah Layton Thu, May 2nd 2013 @ 8:53pm

Hi Victoire

I think that is a different exercise. Morning Pages are just a question of sitting down and writing 3 pages of A4 without editing, putting it away and getting on with you day. I really like the way that I catch those unconscious critical thoughts I haven't recognised when I write pages. When I do the pages regularly I do find that my mind is clearer.

I think it doesn't matter what we do - the important thing is to experiment and see what works for us.

Good luck with whatever you do.

Victoire Fri, May 3rd 2013 @ 8:24am

thanks Sarah. I might have a go at this, as writing without stopping, esp for 3 pages, is rather hard work, and sometimes beats the purpose! as you say, its about catching those unconscious thoughts early on... could put the rest of my day into a different gear.

Kieran Sun, May 12th 2013 @ 10:35pm


On 12 April this year as part of BBC Radio 4's Mind Changers series there was a programme that took a look at the history and study of writing therapy, particularly the work of psycologist James Pennebaker.

You can still listen to the program via a streaming webcast at the address below, you may find it of interest.

James Pennebaker and Expressive Writing

Duration: 28 minutes

First broadcast:Friday 12 April 2013 Claudia Hammond returns with the history of psychology series examining the work of the people who have changed our understanding of the human mind. This week she meets the American social psychologist, James Pennebaker, to discuss his work on expressive writing.

Pennebaker's ground-breaking experiment was published in 1986; he showed that simply writing about one's emotions can significantly improve one's health. His work revolutionised how emotions are viewed within psychology.

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