Writing As Self-Discovery

If writing a book tops your list of resolutions or regrets, you could be missing out on more than you know.
I was barely a teenager when I figured out that writing could help me sort out my emotions, which were on a rampage that would last longer than I would have liked. Much later, I would learn that writing could also help me identify thoughts and feelings I didn’t even know I had. I had been assigned a piece about how we are powerless to effect transformation in those around us. When I reread my essay, I had written “I am powerful to change others.”

Perhaps because of my work as a writing coach and author, my introspective writing has ebbed. Handmade blank journals sit on my bookshelf as display pieces rather than tools for self-discovery. And that’s too bad. The people I know who journal regularly seem to ride out their storms with more equanimity, and generally cruise through calmer waters than I. By putting pen to paper, they’ve found the “write balance” for themselves how to write a cause and effect essay .

Writing for self-discovery, however, is not limited to private journals. These days, more and more people are finding a sense of fulfillment through penning their memoirs. Whether for public or family consumption, the process can be just as illuminating when it comes to self-discovery.

Most my writing coach clients are working on memoirs or barely fictionalized novels. One woman wrote about growing up as the daughter of a CIA agent stationed in Greece during the 1967 coup. Her memoir started out as a way to obviate the guilt-by-association she carried regarding U.S. involvement in the Greek government’s overthrow, and subsequent torture of dissidents. Along the way, she figured that she would sort out the troubled relationship with her father, which had so scarred her. She has come to realize that her beautifully written book is really about her. Her exploration into what happened in Greece, into the role her father played in the coup, and into their relationship has evolved into self-exploration. In the process, she has been made whole again.

Writing a document is not the same as finishing a document. It’s sad how many people fail to understand this. You can be forgiven if you don’t polish what you submit in an essay test, because you’re under a time deadline and teachers generally give some leeway in this situation. But with other writing there is no excuse and often it’s this last effort – the editing – that makes your work impress.

When editing, you need to be your own critic because if you’re not, someone else will be. And this can cause a multitude of problems for you. Do you want your teacher, professor, girlfriend, or the hiring manager at the company where you applied for work to be critiquing your writing? Probably not. But, whoever is reading your writing will be your grammar checker, spelling checker and proofreader – your editor.

Have you ever received a letter or read someone’s writing that was filled with poor grammar and spelling errors? Can you remember the effect it had on you? Didn’t you form a judgment, not only of the writing but also of the person, even if you really liked that person? I bet the answer is yes. And the writing that left such a poor impression on you probably was that way because the author either did not take the time to edit his writing, or tried but didn’t have the know-how.

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