Writing as a Form of Additional Therapy

Writing what you know

‘Write what you know’. Some hate the idea, some don’t. Some work with both experience and imagination. All work in their own ways.

With writing what you know, it all depends upon what you know and how you want to write about it.

Have a messed up mind? Over to the horror genre you go.

Been dumped quite a few times? Feisty chick lit for you.

Secret alien the government does not know about? Go immediately to Sci-Fi but don’t expect anyone to believe you.

Have issues, problems, trials and tribulations? Write that stuff out out when you freaking well need to. It’s cheaper than therapy. It does not need to be published. Often you will write more freely if you don’t think about the world reading it.

Feeling emotional

Be discerning and have the courage of your convictions when you decide whether this writing will be shared. Sharing could save a life, a marriage, a relationship or a mind. It can also, in the wrong hands, in the wrong place, set you further back then when you started.

I am a heart on her sleeve kind of girl. I get on my own nerves sometimes with how I am an emotional tap – ‘faucet’ to the Americans present, otherwise you’re going to think I mean tap dancing, although ‘Emotional Tap: The Musical’ could be amazing. Imagine the angry speed tapping, the slow, half-arsed tap of the big toe denoting melancholy…

I digress, as always…

Being an emotional whirlwind is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, I am not so repressed I’m practically turning myself inside out trying to feel something.

I was once incredibly repressed; holding all the emotions in the world inside and probably some of yours for good measure. Caution: do not try this at home. One day those bad boys are gonna unleash themselves and then the fallout is not going to be pretty. Take it from a survivor who knows.


So not being so repressed helps in that I can let my caring side out. I’ve been told I’m good at empathy. I try. It takes one emotional crank to know one.

On the negative side, it does mean being a victim to my emotions. On any given day I can run the gamut of feeling mellow, to smiley, to sad, to pissed off, to ‘Woah, she’s about to detonate’. It’s not always as fun as it sounds.

Something as simple as eating an ice cream can begin with elation at imbibing sugary goodness, with a radical switch to desolation that there are starving children in Africa who don’t have ice cream .

If you are a Brit you will be nodding in acknowledgement at the school of ’70s/’80s parenting that valued the directive to regularly demand that your children clear their plates because the starving children in Africa don’t have enough food. Those of you in other countries may have heard a variation of this. Insert the chosen country of your parents’ choice.

If you lived in Africa in these decades, I apologise for our parents’ naive understanding that children fit to explode from eating all the pie in the UK could halt your famines.

I naively tried once to tell my Mum that I would post my leftover mashed potato to Africa, believing that was the route to eradicating famines, rather than money and aid. Rather than receiving praise for my altruism, all I got was a clip round the ear. Sheesh.

My writing therapy

Since I have become a Proper Grown Up Writer (TM), I have come to realise that writing can be therapy. I have written a novel based on a person’s experiences with depression. She is not me by the way, but yes, I have been there.

I know how many writers cast aspersions on the newbie writer using their biography in their novels. Yes, this can be gratuitous, but it can also work. I wrote my arse off for that novel. Not literally of course, although I did get a serious case of writer’s bum.

I confess that there was therapy happening as I typed. I got to write what I wished I had been told about depression; that you’re not faulty for having it, you are not a criminal for feeling suicidal, you are not depression itself and you did not choose it.

As I wrote the first draft, I vented, cried, and laughed at the funny side of depression (black humour ahoy). Don’t be put off by this. It is not a whingy, whiny novel full of ‘woe is me’ business. It’s searingly honest, inappropriate and quite funny. Well, I think so anyway. It also, without intention, made me stronger.


Brit lesson of the day for the non-Brits: we don’t call them ‘panties’ here, unless we are a ’70s porn star or should be arrested for sexual offences. We just don’t. Ew. 

I’m now writing short stories whilst the second novel bubbles away in the back of my mind. I wish the little bugger would stop simmering and actually come to the boil. I will extract it out of my brain soon, even if takes a lobotomy.

The short stories generally aren’t based on my experiences but they still unleash some of the stuff that lurks in this strange mind of mine. Some of it is surprisingly dark. I thought I didn’t have that in me. Turns out I have been repressing a serial killer in there all the time. See? Repression can be bad if kept in.

I could have been famous for a murder spree if I hadn’t started writing. Now I unleash my homicidal thoughts upon my keyboard rather than upon the twatwaffles I have to deal with on a daily basis.

There are, some things I have written that I know you will never read, unless you snoop in my undies drawer or raid my house after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. My past diaries are one. The others are letters…


Letters are a counsellor’s often favoured method of choice for telling the bastards that hurt you what they did. Most of the time you will be advised not to send it and even to destroy it. The intention is that you get the release that comes from writing it.

You may want to send your letter to the addressee,  but I’d strongly advise not to, or at the very least asking a trusted friend to read it before you do. You could get sued, arrested, beaten up, killed or ridiculed if you don’t. It depends upon how much of a git the recipient is, and your word choices.

I have often found that the writing and aftermath of finishing the letter is the hardest part. It feels masochistic to put yourself back there, usually in a head space you have not entered in a long time. The thing is, it has always been there, taking up room and chipping away at you.

The letter unlocks a door and unleashes all the hurt, anger and pain. The emotions flood out and threaten to overwhelm you. At this point, make sure you’re supported. Writing alone will not sustain you. Real live people need to support your creative outpourings.

Then know that if you have written without reservation, not fearing the truth of your feelings, time can allow that writing to bring you through. I am only speaking from personal experience here. There are no guarantees. It can take years and many letters. I just firmly believe that there is catharsis in writing.

funny-times-1I wrote such a letter recently. I am facing head-on a traumatic time from quite a few years ago that has been hurting me ever since. It was more difficult writing that letter than an my novel ever was. I have no immediate release, but I also feel hopeful. A corner has been turned…

So writing can be therapy; not only for the writer but also for the reader. How many novels have you read that spoke straight to your soul? How many times have you cried because it hit too close to home? How many times have you laughed because you’ve just seen your issue in a humorous light?

Writing as therapy isn’t selfish. If it is just for you; you deserve it.

If you share it, even metaphorically or subconsciously, there is someone out there waiting for you to tell them they are not crazy, weak or worthless. Your words have the power to do this. What a gift and a curse!

Oh, and if a reader ever leaves a review or sends a letter thanking you for healing their hurts or casting their issue in a new light… bill them the going rate. Those therapists make a lot of dough. Writers do not. Just kidding. Sort of.

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

16 comments on “Writing as a Form of Additional Therapy

  1. I’ve always found writing theraputic. It requires a certain amount of honesty and sometimes a thick skin, but means people are reading you and you’ve managed to effect them.

  2. So much that I relate to here! That’s the thing about “write what you know,” though. It doesn’t mean “don’t write from the imagination.” Those two things aren’t in conflict. It means draw on your experiences. And when you want to write something you haven’t or can’t have experienced, draw on your experiences anyway. Haven’t met an intelligent outer space alien? What about somebody from a vastly different culture or worldview? You probably don’t have super strength, but have you ever crushed something in anger or just for the thrill of it?

    And our experiences will bleed in and color our writing whether we want them to or not. And you’re right. It IS therapeutic, if you let it be. I, too, struggle with depression and write that into many of my stories. Or even write stories with a large focus on it. It helps. And, as you said, it helps to read such stories as well.

    P.S. Emotional Tap: The Musical would be brilliant. Get on that!

    1. Hi Alex. Totally agree that ‘writing what you know’ isn’t indulgent and doesn’t curtail being imaginative. We are a product of our experiences and that is part of our imagination.

      I like a good musical but unfortunately my tap dancing skills are sadly lacking. I went to a class when I was seven and bombed. To be honest, I just went for the fancy shoes.

      I’m encouraged that you also use your experiences of depression in your writing. There has to be some positives out of such darkness after all.

      Thanks as ever for reading and commenting!

  3. Lol, I remember my mom telling me to stop being picky about my food because there were starving people in ___ who’d appreciate any food.

    About 3 years ago, I did actually write and send a therapeutic letter(as you call them!). I would definitely say it’s a great way to process what you’re feeling. I sent mine because I needed to tell the ingrate that they were no longer welcome in my life. And also I had bottled up 20+ years of issues and it seemed only fair that I wasn’t the only one who had to deal with the ugliness.

    I’ve received 2 emails(that were sent to me and my sisters) since then consisting of two lines of good rubbish to laugh over. Fortunately, I don’t see any negative consequences arriving, but it’s smart to think about who the receiver is and if it’ll send them on a mission to destroy your life.

    (though I don’t think they can sue you over a letter unless you threaten them or something.)

    1. My letters probably would land up in a lawsuit, ha ha!

      Good to hear someone else who was guilt tripped into eating because of a starving country. Not because someone was starving but because you get it!

      Sometimes the letter does need to be sent and your example shows this. It can be the only way to turn away and have peace. It’s also so brave. I salute you Kristen!

      1. I didn’t mention it in my comment, but that eating guilt trip is the worst. I never came across it. We had a you have to try one bite policy, but no finishing your food policy. At any rate, I’ve since gathered that it’s a common tactic used by parents and it’s rubbish. Finishing my food will not help starving kids in Africa. It’s a sad waste of food, but honestly it can probably be saved for later and if you really do need to throw out a small amount of food, there are worse things in the world. The amount of food grocery stores and sometimes restaurants throw out is heartbreaking, though.

      2. Lol, yeah, I think it was more of a “be grateful for what you have” not so much of a “eat all of it” thing. We didn’t have to finish(though it’d go in the fridge for the next meal, so there was no “I’m not eating” just to get out of it), but pickiness usually got that line. I imagine it’s meant to say, be grateful for what you have because someone somewhere would love to have it.

        Because yes, as Alex said, what we do or don’t eat isn’t going to effect people in other countries.

        I do find it sad how much food gets wasted in restaurants and stuff because it’s slightly less than fresh. It’d be nice if someone could drive around and pick up that food and bring it to people who wouldn’t care.

  4. Writing makes great therapy. I actually started seriously writing soon after my dog passed away (she’d been with my family since before I was born, and I was fourteen at the time.) It really helped me recover from the depression and I haven’t stopped writing since. Came across some old writings from way back while I was cleaning up my Documents folder–there were definitely some dark times in my past, but I’m glad to say things have gotten a lot brighter. 🙂 I’m glad writing has helped you, too!

    1. It’s incredible how many people have told me since I posted this how writing has helped them through tough times.

      I’ve found old writings as well recently, Heather, that have made me have a lot more empathy and love for my younger self. I’m glad things have got brighter for you. Reading back your writing can sometimes really help you appreciate where you are now!

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