There are basically two kinds of people in this world. The first kind – and probably the most common – is The Talker. This is someone who is able to speak in such a way as to successfully convey exactly what’s on their mind. These people are basically broken down into two subcategories: those who think before they speak, and (more hilariously) those who do not think before they speak. If you are a Talker, you converse, share stories, give opinions, argue and describe things effectively using The Spoken Word. You are probably good at telling jokes, participating in debates, and recounting events.
The second type of person is The Writer. They are able to do everything The Talker can do, but with one fundamental difference: they do it best using The Written Word. People in this group generally find it easier to communicate when they have the opportunity to consider their words at leisure, making the best choices they can in order to properly express what they’re feeling.
That being said, there are also plenty of writers out there who practice “free association” writing, in which they let the words flow out, uncensored and without conscious thought about what they are writing. These types of writers are akin to those who speak without thinking, yet there is one obvious difference: while the Talkers will often get themselves in trouble by randomly blurting out whatever comes to mind, the Writer has a choice about whether to let anyone actually view their rants. As we all know, sending out a fiery email that was written in the heat of the moment – without thoroughly considering the possible consequences once said tirade is in the hands of its recipient – is rarely a good idea.
Now, a lot of people are able to walk the line – they can talk and write effectively. I am not one of those people. I use writing to articulate my thoughts, but I have never been able to do it well in person. When I am writing an article such as this one, I tend to scrutinize every syllable. I read and re-read and edit and proof and cut and paste at great length until I am satisfied with the results. I am a stickler for grammar and spelling and form and structure, and I simply will not rest until it feels right to me.
However, this article is not about writing articles. This article is about the other type of writing that I mentioned: free association. Now, before you go patting me on the back for coining such an awesome phrase, know that this is not a new concept. It is a well known technique that has been used by psychoanalysts as a means to delve into the subconscious mind since Sigmund Freud developed it (Wikipedia.org). And, while I don’t pretend to understand the inner workings of the human mind, or the practice of psychoanalysis, I do use free association writing.
We all have ways to relieve stress. Some people take long baths, others scream into pillows, and some even turn to medications (whether pharmaceutical or illicit). I have found that writing has become my most powerful coping tool for life’s various face-slaps.
Think about this: have you ever completely lost it on somebody who absolutely deserved it? Do you happen to remember how good you felt after you did it? Perhaps you felt a little guilty, or even ashamed at your behaviour but it was a release. Despite any remorse you may have felt after telling your foe – in great detail – the type of farm animal he should have sexual relations with, you probably felt immensely better about yourself.
Now, I’m not advocating that you go running around, randomly shouting insults at people for your own psychological improvements. I simply want you to try giving someone their comeuppance, without actually giving it to them.
Let’s say, for illustrative purposes, that your boss is a complete douche bag. It’s 4:40 on a Friday afternoon, and he’s just informed you that he needs you to complete the report – which he just assigned you an hour ago – before you go home for the weekend. In fact, he’s always trying to get you to stay past quitting time, and you’re beginning to suspect it’s just so you can serve coffee to his late-night clients. While telling him to go fly a kite may be perfectly justified, the odds of you actually keeping your job after saying such a thing are likely very low.
Here’s what I suggest: write him a letter. You could compose a detailed, well-written missive, outlining exactly what you dislike about him and how he could improve. He may appreciate the effort and promise to strive to better himself. Realistically though, I highly doubt that you will be able to achieve in one letter what his wife has probably been trying to do for years. In all likelihood, your efforts will gain you nothing but your boss’ mistrust and wariness, and a strain on your professional relationship.
Or, try writing him a different type of letter. One full of the ugliest, most hostile profanity you can possibly come up with. Call him horrible, obnoxious names. Tell him what you’d like to do to him if you met him in a dark alley. Write down exactly what you’d say if you only had the chutzpah to do it in real life. Don’t hold back!
What you get is the literary equivalent of beating the hell out of an inanimate object with a large stick. You release what’s on your mind, you relieve stress, and you just plain feel good. Probably drained and exhausted, but infinitely better. You know deep down that your boss is not likely to change, and your diatribe – though comical – is certainly going to do more harm than good. But, you’ve had an emotional release. Now you can get on with your life and relax until Monday when you have to tolerate his inane stupidity for another week. The letter has served its purpose, so now you can destroy it.
Writing a letter you have no intention of sending may seem futile, but it is a wonderfully therapeutic technique I’ve used for years. It can be in the form of a letter, a journal entry, or simply a passionate, raving outburst on paper. The goal is not to create something that someone else will read, but rather to express your negative emotions when doing so verbally isn’t an option. It is an effective means of relieving anxiety, and it is also a great way to hone your literary skills. The best pieces a writer can create are from the heart, and you may learn how to better emote with these exercises.
So go ahead. Get it off your chest!