When is writing cathartic and when is it self indulgent?

I have been furiously active on twitter, over the course of the last month. After the 800 word guideline which I try to follow on WordPress, the 280 character limit is refreshingly sparse and easy to tap out in 30 seconds.

On average, it takes me about two hour’s to write out a blog post for WordPress, although this is something I want to work on as I spend way too long editing out the ramblings of a first version into a piece I am happy with. I want to get better at writing an 800 or so word article, which doesn’t take me two hours to get into an acceptable state.

Anyway, I’ve been busy. I’ve gotton hooked on twitter, and I’ve had my first article published on MQ’s website, which is a Mental Health Charity with a focus on research; and I am very happy to be involved with them and blogging for their site. However I want to come back to WordPress and start writing on here on a more frequent basis again; I’ve gotton way out of the habit, and I have about 60 draft posts which I want to turn into published articles.

I penned out the title for this article about six months ago, and then never actually went anywhere with it- though as I continue to type I feel it’s relevance more and more. When is writing cathartic, and when is it self indulgent? This is a question which makes me slightly uncomfortable, as I am someone who has always written. When I was at school the subjects I was most proficient in were English language and literature; I wrote prolific diaries through my teenage years and then went on to study English Literature at University. I can write as easily as I breathe, I swear; though I’m not saying that my writing is always good.

I always used to joke, when I was at Uni, that success in English Lit requires that you are able to waffle, to turn a sentence into a paragraph and then an essay by, quite simply, waffling on and on and on until you reach the phrase, in conclusion; and then waffling on a bit more.

I think that the years I spent writing diaries means that I’m very apt at putting my thoughts onto paper/onto a screen in front of me. However, the reason I eventually stopped writing my diaries was that I started to feel as though the cathartic nature of them was shifting into a more self indulgent strain. I’m not sure if that was as I became more cynical, or the nature of the problems I was grappling with became more complex; or perhaps a mix of both. When I was young, writing used to really help me clear my head; but I think that as I lost the spontaneous nature of this, I lost the ability to gain a sense of release by framing my thoughts with words.

However I think that, via WordPress, I’m starting to enjoy writing again. This, and the fledgling sense of confidence which a few likes and follows installed within me has allowed me to start redeveloping that muscle and regain the sense of catharsis which writing can invoke. My problem is though, that I still have that tendency to waffle, so if the process is cathartic I’m not exactly sure what pressure it is that I’m relieving.

I’ve noticed, with WordPress, that I often start writing posts with the intention of discussing a certain idea, but my ability to waffle supercedes the initial point or inspiration, and I end up with a post very much like this one..(!!!) My initial point, was that I have started to wonder where the line between self-indulgence and catharsis is drawn, and at what stage does a post shift from being useful, to only being mildly narcissistic.

Now I self justify, at this point, by reasoning that, as a fledgling writer, everything I write is useful. I’m working on improving my craft, and therefore everything I write contributes to that. However I’m very much aware that WordPress is not a diary; and exists to function under the assumption that other people will read my writing. I must write with other people in mind. In fact I think I watched a YouTube video on writing a few days ago, which actually said that this was the most crucial factor in writing a publishable novel. It may be your vision, and your idea, but it must be written in a way which is ever mindful of the reader; it must work to first hook, and then continue to engage someone who opens a book and reads the first few lines.

So simply waffling on and on is not good practise on WordPress, and probably not at all. But I’m so very good at doing this! This article is kind of a case in point!

I will literally force myself now to draw the focus of my writing back around to the actual subject I planned to discuss, which was whether writing to discuss the various aspects and elements of Mental Illness, and the symptoms and the experiences I have had with it, is actually a worthwhile and healthy process. This is one of the driving forces of my blog, but I often wonder whether or not I’m writing to elucidate my own opinions and versions of events, or merely reassure myself that those very opinions have value.

Once again, it is probably a bit of both; but as I am very recovery orientated atm, I wonder whether minutely describing my symptoms and experiences is actually helpful. I enjoy writing, and I enjoy exploring the issues and questions which my diagnosis throws up; mainly because most of them are so dam weird and so dam mysterious. But is it functioning to help me leave these mysteries behind, or only allowing them to remain alive and well in my mind and in my thinking?

This is a question which does fill me with some sense of unease, because it’s a fairly telling one, and the answer may have serious repercussions and implications. Perhaps this is why I have left it to the very end of the post, and have posited it as more of a rhetorical device than something I will actually work on finding answers for right here and now..

Where does catharsis end and self indulgence begin? Perhaps this post itself has indicated that I’m not too good yet at finding the acceptable or therapeutic line which separates these two forms of writing, and that I seriously need to work on planning and structuring my articles. I usually just start writing, and then follow my chain of thought wherever it takes me; but for the future, it’s very likely better practise to plan what it is that I’m going to write before I start tapping away at my keyboard.

So I guess that, although this post has been a serious walk around the houses, I may have reached some kernel of truth or conclusion by the end of it. Although, as I’ve only actually touched upon the main subject I wanted to discuss in the last two paragraphs or so, I may go onto write a second part of this article.

I very much hope it is more focused than this one.






7 thoughts on “When is writing cathartic and when is it self indulgent?

      1. Really good thank you. I am looking into my own writing practices at the moment for one of my assignments so blogging away this weekend and investigating where the thoughts and ideas come from … all very interesting. So delighted to hear all your good news xx


    1. Hmm.. but i do sometimes wonder, whether writing about symptoms I ultimately want to leave behind is sensible. I self justify (always) by telling myself that i dnt describe the really bad ones so much any more, and with all the rest it’s more about reinforcing my own sense of what’s happened which IS positive.. I just need to get better at planning so that i actually end up with the article i meant to write!! Xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You can only deal with your symptoms consciously. After all, if you’re not conscious of them, how can you acknowledge them?

        In becoming conscious of them, you will see their full horror. In a reversal of the myth of Pandora’s Box, you’ll find that there is one white butterfly that is the gift each of these symptoms brings you. Only you can make this struggle, and thus far, you have shown that you are equal to it.

        As to writing what one intends, that is a lot harder than it looks. The other side to this problem is that it is exploring a side to the problem that will form a broader foundation to its solution than if it were left unexplored.

        Exploration is, after all, consciousness.


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