Writing is Hard Work

Writer Ernest Hemingway said, “The hardest thing in the world to do is to write straight, honest prose on human beings. First, you have to know the subject, then you have to know how to write.”

By quoting him, I don’t mean to discourage anyone about writing – quite the opposite. I want to encourage you to keep writing, to recognize that it’s a skill and like any skill gets better with practice.

Most of us in English-speaking countries – and many in other parts of the world – began to study and practice writing English when we were very young. Our unspoken assumption is that by now, writing should be automatic and easy. Years ago, a colleague said that if he were truly a “good” writer, writing should be easier than he felt it was. Only by continuing to write, did he, over time, recognize his own skill and that writing is actually hard work for all of us.

Hemingway’s words especially apply to those writing on a complex topic like psychology. Issues can range widely, from depression and suicide to anger and PTSD, bipolar disorder, and substance dependency. The writer works hard to convert complicated ideas into user-friendly words. S/he may also be writing to help people toward changing their life narrative – changing their story.

psychology writing, writing to heal, communicating and the brain

Writing and the Brain

As neuropsychologist Dr. Diane Engelman pointed out in a recent presentation, few of us have considered the complexity of what we are asking of our brains. In his 1994 book, The Psychology of Writing, Ronald T. Kellogg lists four cognitive processes that are fundamental components of writing tasks:

  1. Collecting information
  2. Planning ideas according to our own system of personal symbols
  3. Translating those ideas into written text (our form of mutual communication with others)
  4. Reviewing our ideas and text

In order to do all that, we have to hold in our minds not only the content of what we are writing but also the skill-set of writing itself. The more we practice writing, the more space we clear in our brains to focus on our content and not get caught up in the “how” of writing.

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