10 Ways Writing Helps Develop the New You

by Jerry Waxler

Until my mid-40s, I was so shy, I spent most of my spare time reading and writing. As I grew older, I tried to improve my social skills. The most important step was to go back to school and earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, where I learned a variety of techniques to relate to people, especially the fine art of listening. I also completed the program at Toastmaster’s International to overcome my fear of public speaking. Then I started teaching workshops, shifting my lifelong passion for learning from the back of the classroom to the front. My efforts to connect with people have turned the years after 50 into some of the most vigorous and interesting of my life.

And yet, even in these years of social involvement I continue to spend time alone, writing. My words create a sort of social currency, allowing me to share myself in surprising ways. In fact, putting words on paper makes the rest of life richer and more fulfilling. It’s not a result I would have expected, but here it is, an exciting discovery, especially in the internet age when we have so many ways to offer our writing to each other. In fact, writing has turned out to be such a valuable self-development tool, I would like to share ten of my observations with you.

1. Improving writing skills is a never ending job (and that’s a good thing)

Writing is a part of life. We fill out applications, and write emails. An employer or teacher may have directed us to write. At times, we write to a larger audience, for example with a letter to the editor, or a newsletter article. Strangers expect interesting, clear phrasing, and so we strive to give them our best sentences, word choices, timing and rhythm. The challenges are infinite, and so are the emotional and intellectual rewards.

2. Learning connects you with energetic peers

Conferences, workshops, and classes invigorate our writing skill as well as our connection with fellow learners. By taking classes, we affirm the importance of knowledge and open the gates to acquire more. Our early education turned us from babies into complete humans, and later education makes us more completely human.

3. Writing about favorite topics creates online micro-communities

The thousands of students and teachers at the University of Wisconsin in the 60’s offered endless opportunities for debate and study. Now the internet restores this stimulation. Without leaving home, we write what’s on our mind, and those who share our interests gather and discuss.

4. Serve causes and community

Information is the lifeblood of a community, motivating us to place our energy where it’s needed, and enabling us to make crucial, complex decisions about social policy. In the television age, newscasters provided information while we sat silently on the sofa. In the internet age, we play a more active role. By writing and publicizing, we weave our perspective into the fabric of culture and community.

5. Develop brain cells

Since the mid-90s scientists have learned the incredibly exciting fact that the human brain can generate new connections at any age. “Use it or lose it” now applies just as much to brain cells as it does to biceps and triceps. Writing forces us to coax words out of storage, to imagine situations, to develop clear sentences. It keeps the language centers alert, sustaining the skills we will appreciate in the years ahead.

6. Explore inner space

Writing, like meditation, familiarizes you with what goes on inside your own mind. Whether you’re trying to ease mental worries or trying to gain some sense of organization or control, writing lets you plumb the depths of your interior.

7. Learn almost anything by writing

If you want to deepen your knowledge about a topic, write about it. As you try to explain your material to a reader, you must develop the logical flow that ties it together. Gradually you increase your expertise in the subject, learning by teaching.

8. Improve self-management skills

When you work for a paycheck, your boss keeps your nose to the grindstone. When you write articles or books, you are your own boss, and so, you must establish your own goals and rules. The self-management skills that get you to the desk will help you accomplish goals in other areas of life, as well.

9. Life review – “I am the person who lived this story”
Who you are today is the sum total of the life you lived so far. To find that sum, write about it. By scanning memory and collecting the story, you find fascinating strengths, connections, and challenges, jewels amidst the refuse pile of old memories, creating a more nuanced appreciation for where you’ve been and who you are.

10. Write the story of who you are going to become

An important turning point in my life came from the practical suggestions in the book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. One of his techniques was to write a mission statement. Writing lets me clarify vague images and flesh in details. As I see the story develop, I can hold it up to the light, turn it this way and that, shape it, and use it to help me fulfill my dreams.

Leave a comment:
How has writing helped you find energy, connection, insight, peace, or any other value you would like to share?

More memoir writing resources

To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.

To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.

6 thoughts on “10 Ways Writing Helps Develop the New You

  1. Writing has helped me in countless ways.In relationships for instance, when two people disagree discussions can often become emotionally charged.

    But when one or both people take the time to put their words to paper, not only does it force the writer to slow down and think about exactly what needs to be said. It in turn makes one have to put things into perspective.

    Where my partner prefers to sleep on an issue, I like a clean sheet of paper. If it’s important enough I will present it to the lucky recipient. But if even I can see sometimes the whole issue isn’t worth “the paper it was written on.”

    There you go!

  2. Great post.

    A huge benefit that I’m experiencing can be classified as transformation. A major shift toward True Self is made possible through healing emotional wounds from childhood trauma. Writing about traumatic memories gave me a power over them, instead of them having the power. In the process, I’ve become more whole, more open and trusting. Through healing emotioal wounds, memoir writing can actually be a path toward a better Self.

  3. Hi Lisa, I love your idea of using writing as a way to gain some insight and “appropriate distance” from emotions you are experiencing right now. And in the process, you are embedding a tiny story that sounds like it wants to expand into a whole experience.

    Travelinoma, thanks for the praise. Writing is isolated, and praise is one of the tools for turning it into a community activity.

    Monty, thanks so much for the insight into healing and generating a more authentic self. This power of writing fascinates me. Many have noticed it but the idea languishes because it doesn’t have an academic or theoretical champion. It’s an observation of us common folk, and the internet lets us share our observations.

  4. About Number Seven, learning by writing: I’ve certainly found this to be true! It was also true when I taught high school, at which time I spent parts of each day explaining the concepts of chemistry, or other sciences, to students. Having to teach a concept to others goes really far in helping you more fully understand that concept yourself! Of course I already understood it (it’s how I got my degree in chemistry) but having to teach it in the morning made me understand it much better. You have to think of ways to explain the concept that will make it understandable–say, the concept of equilibrium. Having to write about it would do exactly the same thing for you. Most of us don’t teach, but we can write.

  5. Your example has added a lovely nuance, Tom. When you first learned chemistry you knew it for yourself, but after you’d been teaching it for a while you found ways to express that knowledge to others. That’s the same thing that happens when you learn by writing, too.

    By the way, I visited your excellent blog, http://tomrampton.blogspot.com/ – it takes me on a compelling journey through words and photography. I love that part of the country.

    Jerry

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