[THE WRITER'S LIFE] Writing as Nourishment

I once wrote about writing as compared to a long, cool drink of water:


“Writing [now] is like taking a long cool drink of water after a walk down a hot dusty road--revitalizing.  I often forget to do that--take a long cool drink of water, literally. When I’m tired or stressed I look to some restorative function to pick me back up again. It used to be cigarettes, can sometimes be alcohol, could always be chocolate, occasionally a nap and, surprisingly these days, exercise. But of all those times, a glass of water can usually do the trick. And I never remember that.


I also forget that when I am agitated of the soul and hurried of the mind and I look to those resuscitative devices again, it’s the figurative long cool drink of water I need. I need to write. And when I remember to-- writing usually does it for me. It restores me, calms me down and reminds me to breathe.

Writing is restorative and healing. I know saying this here on my She Writes blog is like carrying coals to Newcastle, but I do it because it is something believe with all my heart. Fortunately, it is also supported by research. In 2002, as I was completing a master’s degree in Education, I chose to write about writing for my thesis.  Its title is, “Writing Out Loud: Overcoming the Fear and Understanding the Pleasure of Writing” and in it I cited research on the health benefits of writing. (Next time I’ll choose a much shorter title.) Many case studies were done in a medical environment to indicate that writing helped patients get through a difficult diagnosis or long-lasting or even terminal illnesses. But the most interesting thing I found, and something I continue to include in all my writing classes since, is that writing is a phenomenological process that is intrinsic to us humans to make meaning of our lives. (I have mentioned this philosophy before.)

When I teach writing to young children, they are brave and confident. They can’t get the words out of their brains and onto the paper fast enough. By the time I get to the adults, many are apologetic and afraid. One woman in particular always stands out in my mind and I use her as an example in most of my introductions. She wasn’t a student of mine, but an educator who led the integration of technology in one of the largest school districts in our state. She also took on a number of other responsibilities (not unusual in public education) and the first time I met with her as a potential professional development workshop provider, she scared the shit out of me. Despite my fear, I started working with her on a regular basis and we became friends. One day, after she learned that I was really a writer masquerading as a professional development specialist, she confided in me that she “couldn’t write.” I looked at her in astonishment. She was in the middle of a PhD. program and doing quite well. She wrote grants and reports and loads of technical papers and was about to embark on her thesis. And she couldn’t write.


Well, of course she could. She did. And does. As Michael Feldman once said on his radio show “Whaddya Know?” on NPR, “Writing should not be the province of the few”. But so many of us think so. Legitimate writers are clearly listed on the New York Times bestseller list. The rest of us have that little devil on our shoulder whispering in our ears, “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t write to save your life!” (My little devil looks like Miss Gilpin from 4th grade, with her shoulder-length black-and-gray hair and thick, black-rimmed glasses and boiled wool suits. I think she was eight feet tall.)  I’m not guessing people think this; I hear it from accomplished, published writers.  What I’d like to say to all of us is: Relax. Sit down, grab your pen and have a nice tall glass of water.

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  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    This is beautiful Cindy!

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Also enjoyed reading this post. Recently felt this euphoria in anticipation of walking a labyrinth...which is a daily practice of mine. Usually write a short reflection after each labyrinth walk....and in the morning I record my dreans from the night before. My mind is so much more organized and I remember more when I write every day.

  • What lovely comments, ladies. I am so glad that you are able to connect with this analogy. Thank you!

  • Lifan Writing

    Greetings !
    Nice way to draw an analogy between taking a long cool drink of water and writing. I absolutely agree that writing is calming and restorative. When I am travelling, I will be on edge if I do not get a chance to sit down and gather my thoughts to write. Thank you for a nice article

  • In 2012 I received a grant to teach writing workshops in non-profits and I continue to teach at Pathways health resource center, in MN DOCs, community ed, women's retreats, etc. I am constantly amazed at participants who say they can't write and then write something articulate, thoughtful, vulnerable, imaginative, deep and beautiful. I know that writing can transform us, I have witnessed it happening before my eyes and I know writing has saved my life, made meaning from tragedy, and connected me with others when I was in despair. I also have read that it creates chemicals in the brain similar to doing yoga or meditation...and we know those activities make us feel happier and more serene. The itch to write is to retrieve those chemicals but also to make sense of inner and outer worlds. What impresses me more and more is that women are finding the courage to write their stories and to access that left brain thinking in order to find venues to publish, market and promote. A revolution is happening as women are silenced no longer and I am glad to be part of it. (PS I believe there is a niche somewhere for all of us...)

  • Patricia Robertson

    Love your comparison of writing to a long cool glass of water! Nothing refreshes like a cold glass of water on a hot day.