A few days ago, I tweeted about the hashtag spreading around Twitter where people described their mental health in three words. In my tweet, I said that while I was tempted to use my own take on the hashtag, it would be far too difficult for me.


I explained that every word I write–in my novels, poems, and short stories–is a reflection of my mental health. I would struggle for way too long to just distill my mental health into three words.

But what I’m afraid people might’ve taken from my tweet is the idea that for me, my writing is cathartic. That the best (or even only) way for me to get out my emotions comes from tapping away at chiclets to fill a screen with virtual words.

I’ll be honest and say that at first, I wasn’t sure what my view on using writing for catharsis was. While researching for this post, I came across a good argument against the notion of creative writing being cathartic from author T Kira Madden, who is open about her view that “writing is not therapy.”

First, it might be helpful to back up and give a simple definition for catharsis. Merriam-Webster’s website defines catharsis as essentially the purging of emotions “primarily through art”–which is why I suspect so many non-writers might think creative writers find their work cathartic.

If I hold up my own writing to this definition, than I can most definitely say that my writing isn’t cathartic. I have never purged an emotion with a single short story or novel–and in the case of the regrettable poems I’ve scribbled to relieve compulsions coming from my obsessive-compulsive disorder, those probably just made the emotions more intense.

Creative writing gives me insight about what’s going on in my mind, almost as much as mindfulness does.

Creative writing helps fuel my mind’s quirks into useful expressions.

Creative writing gives me purpose. Although I’m grateful I no longer have the feeling that I’d be rudderless without writing fiction, I still appreciate how it guides my life and allows me to look at life from different (if made-up) perspectives.

At the end of the day, writing gets my mind out onto the page in the truest and often rawest way that I know how. But what’s in my mind is still there. It’s not like my mind turns into a vacuum as soon as I’ve hit my word count.

But, of course, this is all just my experience.

I don’t speak for any other creative writers out there but myself. So, if you’re a writer (or an expert on catharsis–or anyone else out there with an opinion, for that matter), do you find that your prose or poetry gives you an emotional release? If so, why? I promise I won’t envy you for getting this expression from writing–sometimes, I don’t even want catharsis in my life, much less from writing, than to be aware of what’s going on in my head and engaging with it.

Speaking of the Twitter post that started this entry, follow me on Twitter at @ethan_nelsonwrt for takes on reading and writing (and mental health), all under 280 characters.