Tips on Writing for Emotional Health

By: James Pennebaker, Ph.D.

Try these tips on writing for emotional health:

  • Find a time and place where you won't be disturbed.
  • Promise yourself that you will write for a minimum of 15 minutes a day for at least three or four consecutive days.
  • Once you begin writing, write continuously. Don't worry about spelling or grammar. If you run out of things to write about, just repeat what you have already written.
  • You can write longhand or you can type on a computer. If you are unable to write, you can also talk into a tape recorder.
  • You can write about the same thing on all three or four days of writing, or you can write about something different each day. It is entirely up to you.

What to Write About

  • Something that you are thinking or worrying about too much
  • Something that you are dreaming about
  • Something that you feel is affecting your life in an unhealthy way
  • Something that you have been avoiding for days, weeks or years

James Pennebaker, Ph.D., a researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, gives people the following instructions for writing:


Over the next four days, write about your deepest emotions and thoughts about the most upsetting experience in your life. Really let go and explore your feelings and thoughts about it.

In your writing, you might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. How is this experience related to who you would like to become, who you have been in the past, or who you are now?

Warning: Many people report that after writing, they sometimes feel somewhat sad or depressed. Like seeing a sad movie, this typically goes away in a couple of hours. If you find that you are getting extremely upset about a writing topic, simply stop writing or change topics.

What to Do With Your Writing Samples

Your writing samples are for you and you only. Their purpose is to let you be completely honest with yourself. When writing, secretly plan to throw away your writing when you are finished. Whether you keep it or save it is really up to you.

Some people keep their samples and edit them. That is, they gradually change their writing from day to day. Others simply keep them and return to them over and over again to see how they have changed.

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Copyright James Pennebaker, Ph.D.