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When I told author Allison Fallon that I felt my consistent writing practice in 2018 had made me happier, calmer, and more confident in all of my work, she wasn’t surprised. “Of course you are. Writing is the most predictable way to improve your mood, to find your voice.” Fallon would know, as the author of 12+ books and a sought-after book coach, she has made writing her way of life and inspired hundreds of people to embrace their inner storyteller.
Fallon’s view that everyone is a writer is uncommon, yet absolutely true. We agreed that it’s one of the best ways to “level-up” to the next phase of your career or the next chapter in your life. If you’re looking for a new years resolution for 2019 that’s backed up by data, try incorporating 20 minutes of writing into your day. You will likely emerge more centered, focused, bold, and imaginative. Think of how it could impact your life at home and work!
Laura Youngkin: You believe that everyone is a writer. Why do you feel this way? How can people who don’t consider themselves “writers” now learn to embrace the title?
Allison Fallon: Most of us don’t think about ourselves as writers, but hear me out. Consider the sheer quantity of writing you do in a day. Think of the number of emails and text messages you send, the amount of times you have to write a caption to post a photo on social media, the amount of times you have to write something for or about your work. If you work for yourself or a small company, you are more than likely the marketing department. Even if you work for a massive corporation, chances are you have abundant opportunities to define yourself or what you do in writing. In the 21st century, writing is no longer an option for modern life, it’s a requirement.
Writing is not some sort of “elite” activity reserved for the especially talented or trained. Writing is communication, it’s self-discovery, it’s self-therapy, it’s spirituality and meditation. If you feel insecure or confused about what you would say in your writing, if you find yourself staring at a blinking cursor not knowing what to type first, well – consider this your initiation. Everyone feels this way. This is what it takes to be a writer. Welcome. We’re pleased to consider you part of the club!
Youngkin: Thank you! I’m so happy to hear that. The intimidation is real, but I do feel it gets easier to push through with practice. How can we all unlock the life-changing potential of writing?
Fallon: Studies show that if you write for as little as twenty minutes per day for four days in a row, you will experience a measurable improvement in your mood. So that’s all it takes – 20 minutes. I always tell writers: “if you don’t have 20 minutes, start with five. Start with two.” You have to think of this like going to the gym, where at first it’s going to feel strange and uncomfortable, and you’re going to feel like you’re bad at it. You’re going to want to quit. Then, over time, you’ll learn to crave it. It will be the thing you want to do when nothing else makes sense. You’ll start pulling out a pen and paper when you are in a funk or when you’ve had a bad day, or when you need someone to talk to and no one is around.
Think of writing like a constant companion and then follow your instinct when you have the impulse to write. I find most of us have this impulse at some point or another in our lives, and the only difference between “writers” and “non-writers” is that some of us follow the impulse. Trust that impulse. It’s a good one.
Youngkin: What are the benefits of a regular writing practice?
Fallon: Research shows a regular practice of writing can improve focus, concentration, sleep, motivation, confidence and even your love life! It’s true. People who write regularly are more likely to report being happy in their romantic relationships and they’re less likely to break up.
Studies show those who write regularly visit the doctor half as often for things like cold, flu and upper respiratory infections. This statistic always stays with me because I think—if writing can have this kind of impact on our physicality, there isn’t anything it can’t touch!
Dr. James Pennebaker out of University of Texas Austin did a study with a group of men who had been laid off from their jobs. The men were angry, hostile and “unpleasant to work with” according to Pennebaker. They were divided into two groups to do writing assignments. One group was asked to write about their deepest emotions and thoughts regarding the loss of their job. The rest wrote about time management. Eight months after writing, 52 percent of the emotional writing group had new jobs, as opposed to 20 percent of the time management group.The men who wrote about their feelings got jobs at twice the rate as those who didn’t! Without going to any more interviews than the time-management men.
Those who write regularly navigate life’s challenges with more ease, if only because they are more likely to process difficult parts of life in a healthy way. Writing forces us to be honest about what we think about things, to sit with difficult feelings, and it challenges us to fully formulate a perspective.
I could go on and on about the positive benefits of a regular practice of writing but as you can imagine, the point is there isn’t an area of your life writing can’t touch.
Youngkin: For those who don’t journal or write regularly, where can they start?
Fallon: You can start with a prompt I call the “Infinity Prompt” if only because you can use it over and over again, for literally any circumstance in your life. It goes like this:
Choose a situation from your life that feels charged. You can use a tragic event, but it might be helpful to start small—like with a frustrating conversation with your significant other. Once you have your circumstance chosen, follow the next three steps.
- Write the facts of the situation. Who said what? Where were you standing? What was happening around you? Were there noises? Smells? What were you doing with your hands? What did your face look like? What did his or her face look like? What else happened?
- Write your feelings about the situation. See if you can use only feeling words here. “I was angry…” “Even now I feel furious…” “I am still sad about this…” “It’s frustrating for me when…”
- Write your thoughts about the situation. See if you can stick with thoughts here, although you may make connections to the feelings. “I think the reason I got so mad was…” “I think what he was thinking was…” “I think how he feels about me is…” “I think what needs to happen next is…”
If you have a hard time separating facts from thoughts from feelings, amazing! You’re doing it right. That is the entire point of the exercise. In fact, you might find, as so many writers do, that you can write for far longer than 20 minutes as you try to figure out what happened, what you felt about what happened, and what you think now.
Youngkin: I know so many people who are craving a way to tap into their own bravery. How can writing improve your confidence?
Fallon: Writing helps you establish yourself and your voice. So, for example, if you find yourself being a people-pleaser (hand raised) maybe the only reason you seem to “go with the flow” only to realize later that you wish you hadn’t done that is because you didn’t know ahead of time what you wanted, needed, or thought about a thing. Writing can help you get to these answers faster, which gives you confidence in a circumstance where you need to speak up.
So if you have job interviews coming up, for example, I might have you do some writing exercises ahead of time so that you feel totally solid about how you’re going to answer the questions you ask, what the non-negotiable are for you, and even practice negotiating for a pay increase. Writing is this amazing way to “practice” the words ahead of time so they don’t feel so foreign coming out of your mouth later.
Youngkin: When I mentioned to you that I had written more this year than ever before, and found myself happier than ever before, you weren’t surprised. Why?
Fallon: Because writing is a predictable way to improve your mood and because writing about the things you care about and want will increase the likelihood that you actually take risks for those things and bring them to fruition. It is common for writers to be people of incidence. In part I’m sure this has to do with feeling confident enough to speak up about your ideals, but also stop and think for a minute about who gets to control the narrative in the world around us: it’s writers. Writers literally write the history books. They frame reality for the rest of us. And the fact that publishing is dominated by white men doesn’t surprise me. Nothing against white men, but I know our world will change when more women, more people of color, and more women of color have their stories published so the rest of us can learn from their experience.
Youngkin: Hear, hear! Absolutely. Owning the narrative is power. One of my former managers often encouraged me to focus on the story, but it took me years to understand fully what she meant by that. Now when I’m advising younger women, I often tell them to focus on crafting their own narratives at work – if you don’t manage your story, someone else will. How can writing help us us advance in our careers?
Fallon: This is honestly some of the best career advice I’ve ever heard. One specific way women can do this is to write the hopeful story of their career trajectory. I find most women haven’t even considered what their ideal outcome would be as it relates to their careers. Of course this isn’t true for every woman, but so many women are just “hoping” something amazing will happen in their careers while men can be much more direct, strategic, and aggressive in their approach. So to get started—even asking a question like, “what would be my ideal outcome in my career?” and then writing it down can be enormously helpful. Now you have a vision of what you’re walking toward, rather than giving permission for someone else to plug you like a puzzle piece into a puzzle that fits their vision.
When it comes to writing “ideal outcomes” I tell writers to write it like a scene from a movie. So imagine there is a climactic scene happening in front of you as it relates to your career. Who is there? What have you accomplished? What are people saying? How are you feeling and responding? What’s the expression on your face? Why does this accomplishment mean so much to you?
There is so much more I could say here, but an activity like this will get just about anyone started.
Youngkin: How can writing make us better leaders? Better colleagues?
Fallon: Writing will force you to see yourself more clearly. As you execute that prompt I gave above, you’ll find yourself recounting a circumstance where you were certain you were in the right and find out there’s actually a way you could have worded things better, or a different approach you could have taken to be kinder, more compassionate, or even more firm where you needed to be.
As you write regularly, you’ll start to notice patterns and build self-awareness — maybe you’re playing the victim, or bullying others, or rarely speaking up in public settings about what you believe, or that you regularly interrupt your colleagues with your own ideas. This kind of self-awareness can’t help but invite us to soften and learn to be more compassionate.
Additionally, writing is an excellent way to come up with a totally unique idea about something—an idea that was always there with you, but that you didn’t have access to until you wrote it down. Often I have the experience while I’m writing like, “Wow, I didn’t even know I thought that…” and I know so many other writers who report something similar. So writing will make us better leaders, all around, by giving us access to our best ideas, making us more original and innovative, and teaching us to see ourselves and other people more clearly.
Youngkin: I’ve heard you say before that you can write your way out of anything. Have you written your way to a better version of yourself?
Fallon: I have! About three years ago I went through one of the biggest heartbreaks of my life (a divorce and the loss of my job)—a giant left turn, the kind of thing that makes you feel like giving up completely—and made the incredibly important decision to write about it. In writing about the tragedy, I discovered it wasn’t as big of a tragedy as I thought it was. In fact, I realized that what I had was an opportunity to get the things I had always wanted anyway, in the deepest part of myself.
In my marriage, I had been out of touch completely with what mattered to me and writing allowed me to stand outside of my story and see myself as the hero of the story. Meaning I was the only one who could turn it into a story worth telling.
I would say I’ve done that. I’ve built my own business, written and published a book, fallen in love and moved to a new state, and have a community of women who support me unequivocally in everything I do… all born from the “worst case scenario” of my life! Not a bad trade.
The best part is – this opportunity is there for everyone; it’s all yours for the taking.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
December 21, 2018 at 05:22PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs