A Review of
The Power of Writing it Down: A Simple Habit to Unlock Your Brain and Reimagine Your Life
Reviewed by Diane Roth
I have been writing for almost as long as I could hold a pencil – driven to try to write stories, poems, and plays, and to write my deep and common thoughts in journals and diaries. I’ve also struggled with writing, found it painful, difficult and easy to avoid. I have read more books than I can count about writing, writer’s block, writing for publication, getting ideas for writing, and making your writing sparkle.
You get the picture.
But Allison Fallon’s book, The Power of Writing it Down is not like these books. It is not a book to make you a “better” writer. It is not about writing for publication, although she herself is a published author. It is not about writer’s block (although some of the ideas contained in the book may help you if you are a writer who is blocked). It is not a book for people who think they are writers or want to be writers. It is specifically written for people who DON’T think they are writers, to convince them that writing can be a powerful tool for them, even if they never get published or want to get published
This book is about writing for your life. It is about writing to help you find yourself, writing to help you figure out your direction in life. It is about writing for therapy. She makes a compelling case that writing can save your life.
In that way she sounds a little like an evangelist for writing, an enthusiasm that is compelling to me. As someone who both spilled out her guts in journals, I know that writing can help me to clarify my thoughts and stop avoiding unpleasant truths. I agree with Ms. Fallon enough that, when I am avoiding writing, finding it difficult to find a time and a place, I wonder if it is not the case that I am avoiding myself. Ms. Fallon has worked with non-writers who have found the discipline of writing has helped them when they felt stuck in their lives, when they needed clarity or a new direction. (To be fair, she has also worked with writers to tell their stories with the goal of getting published.) She shares some insights from James Pennebaker about Expressive Writing, and how writing about a trauma for 20 minutes a day for four days can help you get unstuck from that trauma (Pennebaker cautions not to write about a trauma in which you are currently embroiled, but about one from your past.) So writing can certainly be an effective form of therapy.
Like Fallon, I believe that writing can be a helpful tool for us on the way to health and well-being. But I am also a writer, by which I mean, I feel comfortable writing, even if nothing I ever write gets published. I know there are others who need health and well-being for whom the thought of “writing it down” will not resonate. This book is not for them, and it needs to be said that there are other tools to help them find their voices.
Her book includes both inspiration (what to write about) and practical advice (finding a time and place to write and sticking to it). This is a book not just to read, but to DO. You will not get much out of her book if you do not make time to practice: for example, make the list of things that keep you from writing. Create your writing space and make that appointment every day. She counsels that the appointment is helpful because we’re not just looking for the flashes of inspiration to write down. We need to spend time confronting that blank page in order to go deeper into our own lives.
I found the chapter detailing the Infinity Prompt and how to use it especially useful. The Infinity Prompt is this process: you start first by asking:
1. What are the facts of what happened? After that, you ask,
2. What is the Story I am telling myself about what happened? (This point reminded me of the work of Brene Brown. She asks a similar question when interpreting reality).
3. What are my feelings about what happened and about the story I’m telling myself?
4. What did I do to engage or disengage with what I felt? And
5. What was the outcome of my chosen action?
These are the steps of the Infinity Prompt. Practicing these steps faithfully can surely provide clarity and truth about our lives and about our direction, and help us to find the truth that will set us free.
“The truth that will set us free” – that sounds like a faith statement, and it is. Ms. Fallon identifies as a question, and leaves a few tantalizing clues about her faith journey (including a couple of sentences about leaving an unhealthy version of faith behind to find a better one). But other than that, this is not a book about writing from a Christian perspective. There is nothing wrong with that. That means this book will have a broad audience.
However, I did find myself musing on whether there is something that can be said about writing as a faith practice – about the power of writing down our faith stories, our honest and unvarnished faith stories — not simply for the sake of evangelism, but for the sake of the truth. That might have been a fruitful conversation, although it would have made the book’s appeal narrower.
I absolutely agree with Fallon that writing can change your life (but not just writing). I’m glad that she encourages more people to explore their own lives more deeply through the practices that she shares in The Power of Writing it Down . The best praise that I can offer the book is that I will use some of these practices in my own writing life. But I also can’t help but wonder what would happen if we would explicitly apply some of these practices as we seek to grow in knowledge of God and ourselves.
Diane Roth is a Lutheran Pastor who currently serves Grace Lutheran in Conroe, Texas. She has also served congregations in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and in rural South Dakota. She and her musician husband have two sons and three grandchildren. In her spare time, she knits, writes, and dreams of getting another dog.