Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 1 Aug 1999 01:17:35 -0400

Write Well

(from RC 286)

I talk to myself. You wouldn't hear these conversations if you met me on the street, or even if you peeked into my office. These are talks-on-paper, and I've conducted them nearly every day for almost 40 years.

The habit started innocently. Fred Wilt advised in his book, How They Train, "Keep a written record of your running."

As an impressionable 16-year-old I did as Wilt ordered. The first run went onto a notebook page in late 1959. One loose-leaf binder led to another until they now fill three shelves of a bookcase and will spill onto a new row next year.

The diary has evolved from a pure record of training and racing into a journal of thoughts and experiences. I now deposit the day's run on the first line of the page, then fill the rest of it with whatever subject needs airing that day.

This endless book helped guide my running and writing. Now I've learned that these daily talks with myself might shape me up in other ways.

Newsweek carried an article recently on the hidden power of the pen. "Confessional writing has been around at least since the Renaissance," wrote Claudia Kalb, "but new research suggests that it's far more therapeutic than anyone ever knew. Since the 1980s studies have found that people who write about their most upsetting experiences not only feel better but visit doctors less often and even have stronger immune responses."

Kalb reported on studies by James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas in Austin. "It's hard to believe," he said, "but being able to put experiences into words is good for our health."

Pennebaker matched college students who wrote out their big concerns against those who dealt with minor matters. The first group's visits to the campus health center dropped by 50 percent, while the others still sought medical help at their old rate.

Journal-keepers are advised to write regularly and quickly, for no more than a half-hour. They "forget polish and politeness," said Newsweek's Kalb. "The point is not to craft a perfect essay but to dig deeply into one's emotional junkyard, then translate the experience into language on the page."

This is how I've long approached these self-talks. I write as fast as my hand can comfortably travel from top to bottom of one sheet, front and back. This rarely takes more than a half-hour.

The point isn't to write finely here. This is where I can write most honestly and personally without boring, shocking or offending anyone. This is where I begin to give some order to the clutter of life.

Even in the computer age I prefer recording these talks with with pen on paper. This is the simplest, cheapest and most portable way to write. It requires no power cord or batteries, costs less than $10 a year and travels well at a tiny fraction the weight of the lightest laptop.

My habit is to write in the first minutes of morning, before anyone else's spoken, recorded or written voices have mixed with mine. My thoughts go down fastest and smoothest when the day is quietest.

I don't have proof that writing in a diary promotes health. But having this little talk rarely fails to leave me feeling better at the bottom of the page than at its start.


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