Why writing fiction and journalling can be helpful

A guest post by Vanessa McCausland

I have a theory that a big part of what makes someone a writer is what writing does for us. It’s an outlet. It’s a balm. For me, writing has always been a place where I can let all my emotions out. I’ve had a journal since I was a child and looking back on those cherry-scented pages I can map the emotional landscape of my 10-year-old self. My crushes (too many to mention), my worries (the Gulf War and what to wear to the blue light disco) and my secret hopes (to one day be a hairdresser!). 

The pages of my journal now are not all that different. I write like no one is reading and I just let everything pour out – the good and the bad. It’s a place to let my mind and heart wander free. I bought a duck egg blue journal with thick, creamy paper during a summer weekend at Bowral late last year. I had no idea how much I would turn to its pages this year. I can honestly say that I’ve never in my life needed to journal as much as these past few weeks. I’m writing daily. Allowing my emotions to bubble up and pour out. Sometimes I just write about the small things. The fresh groceries that were delivered, for which I am thankful. A cake I baked. A conversation with my daughter. The feeling of sunshine on my face. Other days are harder and I write poems. Sometimes I cry. But it is all necessary. It is me seeking an even keel and sometimes even finding it.

I also know for a fact that journalling like this is healthy for our mental state. There have been times in my life where I’ve needed the help of a psychologist. Writing things down last thing at night is one of the best tips I’ve been given for dealing with anxiety. It’s a kind of ‘putting down’ that allows your subconscious to stop mulling and let you sleep. Her other helpful tip for insomnia was to get up if you’re lying in bed awake. Read a book or make yourself a warm mug of milk. It will help more than lying there riding the roller-coaster of your mind.

And then there’s fiction writing. I think there’s a link between journalling and writing stories. Both require keeping a faithful vigil with the unknown. Incidentally, the unknown is a big part of our reality right now. It’s scary but if we can learn to sit with the unknown, accept it as part and parcel of life, we will find a way to get through it. 

Starting a new work of fiction, as I’m trying to do right now, is having the courage to begin without knowing where things will end. A suspension of disbelief, a suspension of self-criticism. It’s a kind of communion with your subconscious. 

I don’t think the creative state is that dissimilar to dreaming. Just as I was finishing the last few chapters of my book, The Valley of Lost Stories, which is due out next year, I began to hear the name Sylvie and I wondered who this Sylvie was. Where was she meant to fit in this cast who were already finishing their story? And then I realised that she was my next story. So I went quiet and listened for what it was that she wanted. And now I am slowly unravelling her story. 

Delving into a fictional world we can get lost for a while. Writing fiction isn’t easy. It requires focus and sitting with confusion and frustration, and remaining open to wonder. I’m finding it challenging to create right now,x but the two hours where I’m on a wind-swept beach with my characters are two hours that I’m free from my own concerns. It’s magic. It’s a gift. And it’s worth seeking out, even if you feel creatively dry right now. Because you will find something there inside of you. And it will probably amaze you. It might even set you free.

Vanessa McCausland is an author and journalist. She lives in Sydney with her husband and daughter. Her book The Lost Summers of Driftwood is out through HarperCollins.

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