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It’s no news that writing can be used in healing purposes. There are dozens of studies that support that conclusion. One of the leading scientists in the field, a social psychologist Dr. James W. Pennebaker has conducted controlled clinical research on the mind-body connection and found that expressive writing can help with both physical health and work performance. More information can be found in his book Opening up: the healing power of expressing emotion.

Journaling is another very popular concept as of recently. Keeping a diary has proven to be a great way of keeping mental hygiene. It doesn’t only help with stress management but also alleviates the symptoms of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

All these writing exercises focus on writing about bits and pieces of your own life; journaling about your everyday struggles, writing about the traumatic experiences in your past, penciling down your own stream of consciousness. But writing fiction can have the very same benefits as writing out of your own experience.

As a reader, I love nothing more than to read a dialogue tag or a description (preferably in as little words as possible) that convey an emotion that is known to me, but that I’ve never heard described before, or at least not described so efficiently.

Examples:

  • “She opens the door and puts the basket on the table, and he feels a sort of enjoyably pleasant sensation in his throat.” -Sally Rooney, Normal People.
  • “The girl put her head on the pillow, and curled up like a poked caterpillar.” Glendy Vanderah, Where the Forest meets the Sky.
  • “For a timeless moment, she hovered on the brink, breathless, possessed, loved. The orgasm crashed over her.” Helen Hoang, The Kiss Quotient
  • “Coming back to this place always felt like reuniting with a loved one; I’d get this irresistible urge to embrace the scenery.” – from my novel, The Plant Whisperer.

Subsequently, what I most crave as a writer is to be able to pin down an emotion or a physical sensation in a way that feels authentic, in a way that readers would recognize and say—’‘Yes, this is exactly how it feels. I know what she’s talking about.”

When I’m writing, I can see the scene unfolding before my eyes, as if I were watching a movie. There are so many details in that imagery that it’s impossible to convey everything — all the nuances of the characters’ movements, facial expressions, feelings, and physical sensations. Out of all the available information, the writer has to choose to put to words those that are most pertaining to a certain situation. Those that most people would feel inside their gut as their own reaction to certain stimuli.

Finding the right words can sometimes be excruciatingly hard. You sit in front of your laptop, feeling that chest-tightening pain, but words like ‘his/her chest constricted’ feel so done, boring and not remotely doing justice to the situation. Sometimes you nail it instantly, and can’t even believe your own ingeniousness. But more often it takes hours to get the words right. Sometimes, you just don’t find the right words and leave in the next best thing, hoping the words would come to you someday, somehow.

Once you start experiencing these dry spells, you inevitably become more attentive to your own everyday experiences.

Sometimes you walk through the streets and think about how you would best describe the humid, summer air. Sometimes, something happens that infuriates or saddens you, and you instinctively try to be aware of where your body reflects those emotions. How does it feel? Does it sting, prick, stab, burn? Where do you feel it? Is it in your throat, back of your head, lungs, legs?

And there it is; that’s what mindfulness is all about. Being present in the moment, noticing the world around you instead of passing through it unaware of both yourself and your surroundings. It is acknowledging the depth of your emotions; how they feel, where they tend to cling inside your body, where they resonate and how their intensity changes over time. You don’t just blindly go through them anymore, you experience them in whole their glory. And hope to become a better writer for it.