The mere act of writing can be a mechanism for psychic survival, and more.
There have been a few periods in my life where the ability to keep a journal and write out my inner turmoil has, I believe, prevented me from going to a shrink or off the deep end. The fact is that I have written many hundreds (quite literally) of pages that nobody ever saw, that I never reread, and that I eventually shredded and, distributing the shredded materials over different waste baskets in different locations at different times, threw out. It was the mere act of the writing, not the content or the subsequent reading of the content, that was crucial.
I am not sure why this should be. Perhaps, on the one hand, the blank page is something akin to a kind confessor who is utterly without judgement about what is being written on it; and, on the other, perhaps the writing is a means of attempting to organize and thus gain some kind of control over the roiling mess that is within. It may be the illusion of control, or the actual shaping of what is in truth disorder into some kind of orderliness, or somehow the gaining of mastery over a personal situation that seems to be on the verge of imploding – whatever the etiology, the writing seems to work.
Once you learn how cathartic and beneficial it is to write when life is going against you, you come to realize that there is no reason not to write also when life is going your way. Writing, in short, becomes a habit of mind, a kind of psychological exercise to help promote sustained interior stability and well-being. A kind of psychic exercise routine. It matters not in the least if anyone – including yourself — ever reads what you have written: again, that is not the purpose of this kind of writing.
And then serendipity sets in.
If you do this kind of private writing for strictly private ends, what is to prevent you from writing for public purposes? I admit that for me it has led to an interest in writing poetry and short stories and even novels, not because I want to exorcise inner demons but in order to give artistic shape to my variants and versions of common human thoughts and feelings about love, or loneliness, or brilliance, or death, or relationships, or whatever. (With the exception of the novel now appearing on this blog, I have not succeeded in publishing such narratives and poems, but that does not keep me from keeping at the writing of them. For the writing itself vouchsafes me great pleasure, and I believe I gain some inexplicable personal reward from that act. For the act requires thinking and the arrangement of thoughts, analysis, use of language, precision. It is, if you will, a selfish if solitary, even solipsistic preoccupation, but it comforts and even gives pleasure.
Writing also makes you a more careful reader. I now keep notebooks of phrases and wordings I find in things I read – great literature (Shakespeare, Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot — to mention a few of my favorites), pedestrian literature (thrillers, detective novels), and the daily press (for example, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, etc.) – or hear in things I watch (television programs and films are not to be underrated in the clever use of language they sometimes employ – it is not all, many self-styled intellectual to the contrary, a great visual wasteland out there).
But I should think I would hardly have any difficulty convincing readers of this blog that such is indeed the case!