Get Started with Expressive Writing

Expressive writing involves writing freely about your thoughts, feelings and experiences—your deepest emotions about yourself, your life, and events from your past or present. Studies have shown that this type of writing can result in a wide variety of therapeutic benefits.

So, want to try expressive writing? Here are some tips to get you going:

  • You can start out writing for as little as 15–20 minutes a day for 3–5 days.
  • You can write however you’re most comfortable doing so—freehand on paper, typing on a computer, or using an online memory platform like JamBios.
  • Write about something personal that’s important to you. The greatest benefits may come from writing about a trauma that you’ve kept secret or of which you feel ashamed.
  • Write continuously; don’t worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar. Keep your pen on the page (or your fingers on the keyboard).
  • You don’t need to share your writing when you’re done with it. You can come back to it after a few days if you want, or throw it away if you’re worried about someone finding it. It’s for your eyes only. The important thing is that you write it.
  • It’s perfectly normal to feel down for a little while after you’re done writing. This is temporary and usually goes away within a few hours.

Lastly, a couple words of caution. Firstly, if the thought of articulating your emotions on paper or in your JamBio causes you too much stress, expressive writing may not be the technique for you. And if you start to feel that writing about a particular topic will trigger extreme distress, whether beforehand or as you’re starting to write . . . it’s best not to write about it. Our suggestion? Try writing about something else . . . or using your JamBio to reminisce about a happy memory instead!

If you want to try expressive writing, let’s get started. Dr. James Pennebaker is a psychologist at the forefront of therapeutic writing as a field. Here’s the prompt Dr. Pennebaker uses in his studies for a 20-minute writing session:

In your writing, I would like you to really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts about the most traumatic experience in your entire life. You might tie this trauma to other parts of your life: your childhood, your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends, relatives, or other people important to you. You might link your writing to your future and who you would like to become your future, or to who you have been, who you would like to be, or who you are now. Not everyone has had a single trauma, but all of us have had major conflicts or stressors, and you can write about these as well. All your writing is confidential. There will be no sharing of content. Do not worry about form or style, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, or grammar.

After you’re done writing, give yourself some time to reflect on what you have written. Remember to show yourself compassion and avoid being too hard on yourself. And be sure to give yourself time after the four days of expressive writing as well, to reflect on your conclusions and any new perspectives you may have gained.


Write on!