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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Questions about the psychology of writing

Well, I’m not sure that doing a PhD is really my cup of tea, only because I think I am too much of an extrovert to be cooped up in front of a computer for long periods of time, much as I enjoy writing and reading, I also have to get out and move around...actually that reminds me, my Myers-Briggs profile is surprisingly, INFJ – I’m actually introverted! The ‘I’ is the teetering-on-the-brink part of the profile. Yes I do like having time to think about topics – but not too much, as this latest stint at home has shown! I think about 3 days a week of work and 2 days writing, reading and thinking would be about right, oh and, of course, having coffee, going to the fresh food market and leaving a space at the end of the week to suddenly jet off home if the mood takes me.
ANYWAY. The point about this blog was to put some questions together, that relate to possible topics for further study, let’s say, whether just ‘further’ in my spare time, or whether I formally do something about it (as in further research) remains to be seen. There is so much interesting stuff out there; I have a whole pile of books to try and get through. But to make a start, I’ll put down my stream of consciousness questions about the psychology of writing, and then at least they will be recorded. So here goes, in no particular order:
“Writing is therapeutic” – yes, but under what conditions, for what kind of person, what kind of writing, what kind of process? How does the writing process help? Why is narrative so important? Is the satisfaction of a resolution important to the writer as well as the reader? Is writing in the first person more ‘dangerous’ than writing in the third person – since we know poets have higher incidences of mental health disorders and a higher rate of suicidality than narrative fiction writers, who more often write in the third person. How do writing and reading differ in terms of therapeutic benefit? Why do writers have elevated levels of depression and mood disorders? Do writers actually look after themselves? What kind of psychological or mental health profile do successful writers have? Are more successful writers immune to the vulnerabilities experienced by less successful writers? (Fear of failure, writer’s block, rejection). How important are turning points in a writer’s life? We know many famous writers have suffered from bipolar disorder – which comes first – the self-expression or the disorder? In what ways is writing similar to counselling or coaching? Both involve telling a story and making coherent sense of the various elements of experience. How does fiction writing differ from non-fiction and memoir, then? Is it safer to hide behind fiction and not get too close to painful experiences and emotions, as one does in memoir? How is writing related to motivational processes? In what ways is writing descriptively similar to mindfulness? Both seek to focus on the sensual aspects of an experience, and good writing draws you in to an experience as if you are living it ‘now’. How is writing - when it is going well – a creative process – how do ideas get triggered from other ideas, how does the writer free him or herself to deviate from ‘the plan’ and start generating ideas? Do negative emotions spark greater creativity? How does writing fit into a positive psychology paradigm? Does writing confer positive subjective experiences like discovering ‘flow’ and self-fulfilment, or is it simply finding those individual strengths and talents?
Phew. That will do for today.


  1. Wow, answering all these questions would make a very interesting book, PhD thesis or both. A professor once advised me that to succeed with doctoral studies, you must sell little pieces of 'self'. When you complete the PhD, you try to get these pieces back--but you will never get all of them. I found this to be true. It's worth weighing up the benefits and costs of becoming Dr Jane.

  2. Oh how exciting, someone replied to my post! Yes I think it is something I will just sit on for the moment...so you have done one...what was yours? thanks for your ideas too on blogging and all the rest!