• Writing can be more than a creative endeavour – it can bring clarity and help us find our voice on and off the page

  • Author Harriet Griffey explores why we love to write and offers 6 tips to improve your craft

  • Harriet is running a writers retreat in June, details here

“I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart” - Anne Frank

What is it about writing that both charms and alarms us? To be a writer, all we have to do is to write, but it comes with something of a mystique. I’d love to write if only I had the time, people say, as if time was all that was required. 

Writing is in itself an act of creativity that can exist for its own purpose or fuel the beginning of a writing practice which could start as a self-help journal but in time yield poetry, narrative nonfiction like memoir or travel writing, or fiction from short story to novel. Additionally, the process of writing is an act of revelation, because it’s in the actual writing that we identify, reveal, name and clarify our thoughts and feelings. Through this process we write and become a writer.

Writing is also an act of confidence. And like other learned skills, it takes practice. And while some writers will achieve greatness with their words, this isn’t necessarily the intention for all of us. In her new book, Write For Life Julia Cameron says in her introduction: "I love to write. Pen to the page, I find clarity and order."

Cameron is also the advocate of morning pages, the daily practice of writing three pages in longhand first thing every morning, in a stream-of-consciousness form without pause or contemplation, to reveal and ground our thoughts. This practice helps remove self-consciousness about the formality of structure, allowing us to just to write, a physical process that documents a mind at work while avoiding the preoccupation with having something to say. Cameron went on to extend this practice into her first book, The Artist’s Way, finding that the process of morning pages helped unblock creative thought.

“Creative journal writing, which takes very little extra time, can give you the tools and the confidence to record and reflect, to move between the outer and the inner, to develop creativity and spontaneity, to pause, fruitfully.” Stephanie Dowrick, author of Creative Journal Writing

In addition, academic studies have found that writing by hand engages areas of the brain more effectively than typing, including working memory and encoding information, and showing that more complex neural connections are made too. Ideas are generated by the network of connections in the brain, and are the result of a number of different things. "You need memory but you also need speech and language," says neuroscientist Professor Faraneh Vargha-Khadem. "Thoughts are fleeting so the only way that we can capture our own thoughts is if we either talked about them, wrote them down or signed them into physical reality. The expression of ideas makes us human."

“In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could do to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent.” Susan Sontag, On Keeping a Journal

Writing is open to everyone. Whether you’ve written nothing more than an email or a shopping list in the past is immaterial. Writing is available to everyone as an aid to reflection, concentration and engagement, just as much as to creativity. Here’s how. 

I don’t know what to write

Do you have something to say? You may want to articulate something close to your heart, document a personal history or explore ideas through a fictional scenario, but we don’t always know exactly what we want to say until we start the process of writing. So play with different forms of writing – poetry or prose – and see what emerges and work with what that process throws up. 

Suspend judgement

The biggest block many writers face is the critical voice in their own mind. There’s no easy way to address this except to ignore, park or override it. Just keep writing and don’t judge every sentence, you can always switch from creative to editing mode later. The morning pages that Julia Cameron advocates can be helpful in this process because they are enabling you to develop the practice of writing for its own sake, and on which you can build.

Finding your voice

If you are serious about your writing then you will know that finding your voice is an important part of your development as a writer. Voice comes from the process of writing and is also linked to your confidence as a writer, which comes from your practice. 

Voice is a personal blueprint, a place from which you articulate and communicate your thoughts, an expression of your authentic self. Finding your voice in your writing may also help you to find your voice in your own life too.

Finding structure

Some writers like to structure everything and then write to it. Others like to let their creativity lead their writing and impose a structure on it later. Both approaches are equally valid. You may, for example, wish to write a memoir that focuses on one particular life event and, once that’s been written, the rest of the work's structure can coalesce around it. Knowing your primary focus, your writing aim, can help you with the structure of your non-fiction or fictional narrative. 

First draft

What’s also key is that once you have a first draft – of anything from a first chapter to a full manuscript – then you have material to work with, to refashion, to craft, develop and polish. Without a first draft you have nothing to work with.

Trust the process

This may seem unlikely when you start, but writing is a process and one that yields its own results. If you suspend your judgement, write regularly, find your voice, structure your narrative, craft your work, then you will find your confidence and become a writer. This is what happens through this process, so trust it.

“Just turn up. Be free and easy in your writing. Don’t bring your reason to it too much. Just have a go and see what comes out.” Anna Burns, Booker Prize winner, 2018

Harriet Griffey is an ex-publisher, published writer and author of Write Every Day. She also facilitates writers’ retreats www.writersretreats.org and will be running a retreat in Spain from June 10th - 17th 2023 https://www.laschimeneas.com/event/writing-retreat-with-harriet-griffey- 

Further reading

Cathy Rentzenbrink's top tips to start a writing practice

How writing fiction freed me from a deep depression

What does creativity look like in the brain?

Can working in creative industries harm your mental health?

The powerful benefits of reading fiction