I recently finished reading The Post of Writing It Down by Allison Fallon, and after letting the ideas and my notes percolate for a few days, I thought I’d write a summary of it in my own words.
The book is all about how writing can help you center yourself, and find clarity in your thoughts, and starts off by having the reader ask themselves two questions.
- What is currently holding me back?
- Why is expressing myself in words so hard?
These are two very interesting questions. The first because everyone has something holding them back whether they know it or not. The second because most people have a hard time expressing themselves in words. Almost everyone I know has some sort of Hang Up in their lives. Fallon defines the Hang Up as the one thing that doesn’t feel write, or the underlying source of the background uncomfortableness that most of us feel daily.
One thing that Fallon emphasizes is that the reason that we may feel this uncomfortableness is that we may not be fully able to articulate our daily experiences. We may not know how we actually feel about things. She says that if you cannot form the words to describe and respond to an experience, then science says you didn’t actually understand the experience. So the friend that you have that describes everything as “great” or “terribe”, is actually not processing events that happen the same way that you are mentally.
Naming our experiences, or being able to accurately describe them, helps keep us from over-inflating or under-valueing experiences that we go through. If we can actually describe these experiences, then we can understand the difference in sadness between dropping a bowl of food and a loved one dying. People that can’t describe these experiences actually cannot accurately rank them in their mind.
When describing these experiences, word choice matters more than you might think as well. Scientists were also able to find concrete links between the word choice in someone describing an event and how well they actually remembered the event later on. This is why finding the right word to describe something is so important.
The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between a lightning bug and lightning. Mark Twain
If you’re sitting there thinking that you don’t know how to do this, or worry that you might fall into the group of people that can’t accurately describe their experiences, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Fallon does talk about a way to start integrating this pattern in your life. She recommends metabolizing your life through writing, using it as a way to ingest what takes place in our lives, break it down into peices, absorb the parts that we want or need, and to discard anything that we don’t care about.
Fallon’s perscription on how to do this is through Expressive Writing, which is the act of sharing your deepest thoughts and feeling about a subject on the page. And the steps to do so are very simple, so simple that anyone can do them. But don’t let yourself be tricked into thinking that just because anyone can do it that it doesn’t mean you don’t have to actually try at it. So how do we do this?
To write about something, you need three things: the facts of a story, your thoughts on those facts, and finally your feelings on those thoughts. In order to write though, you need two other things, space on your calendar and space in the world. You need enough physical space for your brain to feel comfortable. But, this doesn’t need to be a fancy office or anything, it could just be somewhere with your laptop or a journal. You also need enough time do this, but it can be as small as twenty minutes a day.
Once you have the time and the space to do this writing, you’re ready to begin. Now, the first few times, I want you to get all setup as if you’re going to write. Put some music on, grab some coffee, whatever it is you normally would do. And then… just sit there. Don’t put pen to paper. Just enjoy the feeling of being alone with your thoughts. This is what we’re going to be doing, sitting alone with our thoughts and then writing about them.
Now, after a few day, you’re going to want to actually start writing. You should always focus on answering questions that come to mind, as answering questions is much easier than writing without having a topic. And if you get stuck, you can try the Infinity Prompt, so designed that you will never run out of things to try:
- What are the facts of what happened?
- What is the story that I am telling myself?
- How do I feel about the facts and the story?
- What did I do based on those feelings? What action did I take?
- What was the outcome of this action?
Now, I will be frank. I haven’t fully started this process. But I plan to, and I think it will be really enjoyable to see what comes as a result.