Coming from keyboard of a writing instructor, those two little words might just conjure up images of sentence diagrams and arcane grammar rules. While I do admit to making my advanced writing students suffer through a brief “it’s/its” and “there/their/they’re” refresher (because really, can I release them into the real world without knowing the difference?), I have no intention of discussing writing mechanics here.
No, I’m much more interested in a far more compelling meaning of “writing well.” A few months ago, I mentioned a creative writing program for pediatric patients with chronic illness I was given a fellowship to finish developing. I spent more than a year consulting with doctors, pediatric social workers and other experts and compiling extensive research to make the case that if you give pediatric patients the tools to express their feelings and emotions about illness, the benefits are manifold: better adjustment and attitude towards illness, increased compliance with treatment plans, increased quality of life, and decreased hospitalizations and costs.
It’s a win-win situation.
Though I’ve had to step away from active implementation of the program temporarily, I remain committed to seeing it come to fruition, and remain committed to my belief in the power of words to heal. And certainly, witnessing a thriving medblogging community only furthers my belief in this.
Of course I had a lifetime of personal anecdotal experience to motivate me—when I was a child sidelined with illness, I read and wrote constantly. The sicker I got, the more pages I read and the more pages I wrote.
However, I used something far more concrete to help build my case: research published in JAMA that showed patients with asthma and rheumatoid arthritis who wrote about their illness experience manifested better health outcomes than the patients who didn’t.
I am happy to report there is more evidence to help make the connection between writing and wellness even stronger: a recent New York Times article by Tara Parker-Pope called “The Power of Words for Cancer Patients.” Researchers followed 71 adult cancer patients who wrote about their illness experiences while waiting for their routine oncology appointments. They were asked write about how cancer changed them, and how they felt about those changes.
According to the article, “After the writing assignment, about half of the cancer patients said the exercise had changed their thinking about their illness, while 35 percent reported that writing changed the way they felt about their illness …While a change in the way a patient thinks or feels about a disease may not sound like much, the findings showed that the brief writing exercise led to improved quality of life.”
Writing about illness is far more than merely a coping therapy. Expressive writing can be transformative. The article quotes one study participant as saying the following about the writing process: “Don’t get me wrong, cancer isn’t a gift, it just showed me what the gifts in my life are.”
Seems like no matter what your age or illness is, if writing can somehow get you closer to that point, it’s worth a shot. Right?