I was taken to the operating theatre at about 8.30am. My surgery lasted about three hours and at about midday I woke up in the recovery room. The nurse asked me if I felt OK and after realising my surgery was over, I told her I was OK. I then realised I could speak. I could also wiggle my fingers and toes so I also knew I wasn’t paralysed. My very first thought was “If I can talk and I can type, I still have a job”. Within an hour I had drunk water and ate a sandwich and could do both without difficulty or being in pain. However, it became very clear very quickly that I wasn’t in full control of my own hands as well as being unable to walk at all (my right leg could do very little – wiggling my toes was about the limit of my movement). I was also catheterised for the first time in my life.
After eight hours in the recovery room (I should have only been there 1-2 hours but there were no ward beds available) I was moved into a ward just after 8pm with some very serious cases (mostly with individuals who had gone through major brain surgery). All of us on the ward had to have our ‘obs’ (observations – blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, blood sugar, etc.) taken hourly right through the night (so I got no sleep at all). I also had horrendous spasms in both my legs (over 1000 a night for the first week). I was put onto a drug called Baclofen (which I’m still on now).
The day after my operation was not the best. Because of COVID-19 no patients could have visitors. I briefly spoke to my partner on the phone. That was the day’s only highlight. I realised that I couldn’t do basic things with my hands like eat with a knife and fork or hold a pen. The latter really upset me. I keep a very detailed hand-written diary so not being able to write in it was very upsetting for me. I was also unable to give myself a wash so for the next few days I was given a daily body wash by the hospital staff. I couldn’t even hold a toothbrush properly to brush my teeth. I found the whole experience demoralising and degrading. Not being able to shower was horrible. Anyone who knows me will tell you how important showering is to me and my mental health. I shower a minimum twice a day. Not being able to shower felt like an abuse of my human rights. I never felt clean after a body wash. On the day after my operation, it became clear I wouldn’t be going home that day and it soon became apparent that I would be in hospital at least a week.
After a few days, some of my hand functionality began to return. I could just about use a knife and fork and I could pick up a flannel to wash my own face. However, holding a pen and writing with a pen was impossible. Unlike the other patients on the ward (a couple of who were sedated almost 24 hours a day), once I had awoken, I spent the whole day out of bed sat in a chair. I had my iPod so listened to a lot of music but did little else. Couldn’t hold a book or magazine long enough with my hands to read.
On Tuesday (April 20) I had my catheter removed. That seemed like a huge step forward. My partner also dropped my laptop off. I was unable to see her but at least it meant I could Skype her and my children. I also realised that typing was something I could so with my hands relatively easily. Writing a few emails was also good therapy for my fingers and I had a link to the outside world (I don’t have a smartphone, gave up using one in 2019). The hospital physiotherapists had given me hand and leg exercises to do and I spent a lot of time using the ward rotunda as a mini-gym. No-one else was capable of using it (as they were all confined to bed) so I had it 24/7. I was moved to another ward which I was told was “good news” as it meant I needed less specialist care. On Wednesday (April 21) I begged the doctor to allow me to shower. He said I could have one as long as I didn’t get my post-surgery dressing wet. Had to shower in a wheelchair (surreal to say the least) but despite this, it was heavenly to wash my hair and feel clean after six days of humiliating body washes. My dressing was drenched but I didn’t care. I felt clean and alive. I felt co-operative and communicative.
Just after the shower, I had an unexpected visitor. A doctor visited me and told me that I would be leaving Queen’s Medical Centre and would be moving to another hospital (City Hospital) to a specialist rehabilitation unit (Linden Lodge). She said she would try to get me a bed there for that weekend and that I would probably be there for 4-6 weeks. My emotions were mixed. I was glad to be moving to a place with dedicated and specialist care, but was surprised to hear that I would be in hospital for another 4-6 weeks.
At lunchtime that day, I got the unexpected news that there was a bed at Linden Lodge that evening and I was told to pack up all my stuff (not that I had much to pack). At 7pm I was transported by ambulance (first time I had ever been in one) over to my new temporary home. I was given my own room (which was great) and I unpacked the few things I had. My partner had dropped off clothes at the unit but again I was unable to see her due to the COVID-19 visiting restrictions. At one point in the evening, I decided to sit on the floor rather than the bed to get undressed for bed (I found it easier than being on the bed). When the nurse came in and found me sitting on the floor, she thought I had fallen (I hadn’t) but recorded in her notes that I had fallen.
On the Thursday morning (April 22, one week after my operation) I began life in Linden Lodge. I wasn’t allowed to shower until I had been “assessed” by an occupational therapist. I finally managed to have an unsupervised shower (in a wheelchair) early afternoon even though I was not “assessed”. I also moved room nearer the nursing staff because I was deemed as someone who needed to be watched more closely because they thought I had fallen on the floor the first night I was in here. The more I protested the less they believed me. It was even written up outside my room that I was susceptible to falls (which was true prior to my operation but not something I had done in hospital).
Since then, things have gone slowly. I was told after my initial assessments that I would likely be here for three months (i.e., until August). However, I left hospital on June 22 (after 67 days in hospital). The hardest thing I had to deal with was (until about 40 days into my stay) the ‘no visitors’ policy. I did see my partner a couple of times outside the unit through the iron bars (which felt a bit like being in prison). Over the past 12 weeks, a lot of my hand functionality has returned although I still have some difficulties. There are things that I now consider easy (typing, eating with a knife and fork, sponging myself in the shower), some that I can do but have to focus (writing with a pen, putting socks on, washing my hair, brushing my teeth, doing a crossword), and some things which are very difficult but I can do (e.g., shaving, tying shoelaces).
The first Sunday I was in the unit, I found a sentence that had all letters of the alphabet (“Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs”) and spent hours trying to write it out in upper and lower case letters with a pen. Very difficult and very time consuming (but I did it). Over the next few weeks, I started to write my diary again. I began by writing the days events in bullet points in capital letters (writing in upper case capitals was easier than writing in lower case letters). I then progressed to writing the whole day’s events but all in capital letters. On May 19, I started writing my diary “normally” again (i.e., in sentence case rather than in capital letters). I use the word “normally” advisedly. I’m still very slow writing with a pen and it’s not the most legible, but any activity I do with my hands I still call “therapy”. As I type this, I still do not have full functionality in either of my hands and I have resigned myself to the fact that I never will.
You can read Part 1 of this blog here.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Many people that I know would probably describe me as a ‘writaholic’ based on the number of articles and papers that I have had published. When it comes to addictions in academia, ‘writing addiction’ is just about the best one you can have. I don’t believe I have an addiction to writing but it is a very salient activity in my life and I am a habitual writer and I write every day. In previous blogs I examined diary writing and psychological wellbeing as well as an article on graphomania (obsessive writing). Today’s blog briefly examines some of the things that make people more productive writers (and by definition a more excessive writer). During my career I’ve published many articles on the writing process (see ‘Further reading’ below) and today’s blog looks at some of my beliefs and practices.
Before outlining some general advice, it’s also worth exploring many of the false beliefs that many of us have about writing – beliefs which may explain why many of us don’t like writing. For instance:
- Writing is inherently difficult: Like speaking, writing doesn’t need to be perfect to be effective and satisfying.
- Good writing must be original: Little, if any, of what we write is truly original. What makes our ideas worthwhile communicating is the way we present them.
- Good writing must be perfect preferably in a single draft: In general, the more successful writers are more likely to revise manuscripts.
- Good writing must be spontaneous: There appears to be a belief that writing should await inspiration. However, the most productive and satisfying way to write is habitually, regardless of mood or inspiration. Writers who overvalue spontaneity tend to postpone writing, and if they write at all, they write in binges that they associate with fatigue.
- Good writing must proceed quickly: Procrastination goes hand in hand with impatience. Those writers who often delay writing suppose that writing must proceed quickly and effortlessly. However, good writing can often proceed at a slow pace over a lengthy period of time.
- Good writing is delayed until the right mood with big blocks of undisrupted time available: Good writing can take place in any mood at any time. It is better to write habitually in short periods every day rather than in binges.
- Good writers are born not made: Good writing is a process that can be learned like any other behaviour.
- Good writers do not share their writing until it is finished and perfect: Although some writers are independent, many writers share their ideas and plans at an early stage and then get colleagues to read over their early drafts for comments and ideas.
Even when these false beliefs about writing are dispelled, many of us can still have problems putting pen to paper or finger to keypad. Insights about writing only slowly translate into actions. For most professionals, writing is only done out of necessity (i.e., a report that they have to hand in). This produces a feeling of ‘having to write’ rather than ‘wanting to write’ and can lead to boredom and/or anxiety. Furthermore, most people appear to view writing as a private act in which their problems are unique and embarrassing. Strategies for overcoming this include getting colleagues to criticize their own work before going ‘public’, sharing initial plans and ideas with others, and practising reviewing other people’s work.
It is generally acknowledged that there is no one proven effective method above all others for teaching people to become better writers. It is also a process that can be learned and can aid learning (i.e., a skill learned through opportunities to write and from instructional feedback). Although there are no ‘quick fixes’ to becoming a better writer, here are some general tips on how to make your writing more productive. I would advise you to:
- Establish a regular place where all serious writing is done
- Remove distracting temptations from the writing site (e.g., magazines, television)
- Leave other activities (e.g., washing up, making the dinner) until after writing
- Limit potential interruptions (e.g., put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door, unplug the telephone)
- Make the writing site as comfortable as possible
- Make recurrent activities (e.g., telephone calls, coffee making) dependent upon minimum periods of writing first
- Write while ‘feeling fresh’ and leave mentally untaxing activities until later in the day
- Plan beyond daily goals and be realistic about what can be written in the time available
- Plan and schedule writing tasks into manageable units
- Complete one section of writing at a time if the writing is in sections
- Use a word processor to make drafting easier
- Revise and redraft at least twice
- Write daily rather than ‘bingeing’ all in one go
- Share writing with peers as people are more helpful, judgmental and critical on ‘unfinished’ drafts
Obviously, the problem with such a prescriptive list such as this is that not every suggestion will work for everyone. Many of us know our own limitations and create the right conditions to help get the creative juices going. Some people can’t write in silence or with others in the room. By reading this short blog I cannot make you become a more productive and excessive writer overnight. However, it has hopefully equipped my blog readers with some tips and discussion points that may help in facilitating better writing amongst yourselves and colleagues.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Productive writing in the education system. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 7, 460-462.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). How to…get students to write with confidence. Times Higher Education Supplement, June 8, p.24.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Tips on…Report writing. British Medical Journal (Careers), 328, 28.
Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Writing for non-refereed outlets (Part 1 – Professional journals and newsletters). Psy-PAG Quarterly, 29, 41-42.
Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Writing for non-refereed outlets (Part 2 – Newspapers and magazines). Psy-PAG Quarterly, 30, 5-6.
Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Writing and getting published – My top 10 tips. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 34, 2-4.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Addiction, fiction and media depiction: A light-hearted look at scientific writing and the media. Null Hypothesis: The Journal of Unlikely Science, 2(2), 16-17.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Top tips on…Writing with confidence. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 76, 33-34.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). How writing blogs can help your academic career. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 87, 39-40.
Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Top tips on…Writing blogs. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 90, 13-14.
Since my first day as a university student back in October 1984, I have kept a diary. What started out as my attempt to write a real-life Secret Diary of Adrian Mole has turned into 30 years of detailed journals where my whole life has been detailed and catalogued in 400-500 words every single day. Sometimes I wish I could stop as they have certainly got me into trouble (as a number of my ex-girlfriends will testify). But I won’t. The advantages of writing about my day-to-day life far outweigh the disadvantages. Even though I have never published any research on diary writing, I did appear on Radio 4’s All In The Mind radio programme where I was given free reign to speculate on why people write diaries.
Writing a diary is nothing new. Millions of people do it. A 2011 article in The Times of India on ‘Why we keep diaries’ noted that being able to keep a diary over a long period is not easy to do as it takes time, effort, patience, and most of all discipline (something that I can vouch for). Nalini Nair, a psychologist interviewed by the newspaper claimed that writing diaries is a form of catharsis (i.e., a process of cleansing or purging our emotions out on paper). She was quoted as saying:
“We relieve our emotional tension through several outlets like art, music and writing a diary is one of them. People who record daily events and jot down everything that they feel are more in touch with their inner emotions”.
A number of psychologists have done studies showing that diary writing is far more than writing for posterity. Some – such as Dr. James Pennebaker in his 2004 book Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval – have gone as far as to say that writing down your feelings is psychologically good for you (something I’ve known personally for years). His research has demonstrated that those who spend time writing about emotionally bad feelings visit their GP less than those that write about non-emotional feelings. More generally, Dr. Pennebaker’s research has found people that benefit the most from expressive diary writing typically use more causal analysis and express more emotion while writing. Therefore, expressive diary writing may be helping individuals simplify and organize their fragmented memories. A summary of Pennebaker’s research on the General Psychology website reported:
“Pennebaker surmised that the Theory of Catharsis can be applied to writing as well. (Sigmund Freud’s theory of catharsis states that people find relief from emotional distress and consequent psychological symptoms by simply expressing their emotions to a trained listener)…He found that college students who wrote about their upsetting and traumatic experiences, along with the associated emotions, reduced their illness visits to the student health center. They were significantly healthier than those students who wrote objectively (without emotions) about negative life events, and those who wrote about topics unrelated from their experiences. Follow-up studies supported Pennebaker’s findings. Pennebaker, Riecolt-Glaser and Glaser (1988) tested the blood samples of the participants and found that cathartic writing boosts the immune system. Additionally, Pennebaker, Spera and Buhrfeind (1994) found that cathartic writing among middle-aged engineers, who were fired after 30 years of service in a company, lead them to overcome their frustration and find alternative employment, compared to those who did not and remained angry and unemployed. This and other success stories strongly suggest that the theory of catharsis can be modified to include writing as a means to improve physical health and psychological wellbeing”.
In 2009, research presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science by US psychologist Professor Matthew Leiberman claimed that keeping a diary makes people happier (and termed ‘The Bridget Jones Effect’). Although I have been unable to track down the original conference paper, the research findings were reported in countless newspapers around the world. In the UK, The Guardian reported that:
“Brain scans on volunteers showed that putting feelings down on paper reduces activity in [the amygdala] which is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions. Psychologists who discovered the ‘Bridget Jones Effect’ said it worked whether people elaborated on their feelings in a diary, penned lines of poetry, or even jotted down song lyrics to express their negative emotions. When people wrote about their feelings, medical scans showed that their brain activity matched that seen in volunteers who were consciously trying to control their emotions…The psychologists investigated the effect by inviting volunteers to visit the lab for a brain scan before asking them to write for 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Half of the participants wrote about a recent emotional experience, while the other half wrote about a neutral experience.Those who wrote about an emotional experience showed more activity in [the] right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which in turn dampened down neural activity linked to strong emotional feelings.Men seemed to benefit from writing about their feelings more than women, and writing by hand had a bigger effect than typing…The study showed that writing about emotions in an abstract sense was more calming than describing them in vivid language, which could make people feel more upset by reactivating their original feelings. The findings suggest that keeping a diary, making up poetry and scribbling down song lyrics can help people get over emotional distress”
Another study published by Dr. Kitty Klein and Dr. Adriel Boals in a 2001 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology (General) examined expressive diary writing and found that it increased working memory capacity. They did two experiments with their students. In their first study, undergraduates were asked to write about their thoughts and feelings about coming to college. The researchers found that when compared to a control group that were asked to write on a trivial topic, the experimental group showed larger working memory gains when tested seven weeks later. In their second study (and compared to students that wrote about a positive experience and students that wrote about a trivial topic), undergraduates that wrote about a negative personal experience showed (i) greater improvements in working memory, and (ii) greater declines in intrusive thinking. The researchers believed that the improvements in working memory may help free up cognitive resources for other mental activities, including the ability to cope more effectively with stress. Talking to the press, Dr. Boals said:
“[The results] hint at a way to short-circuit that destructive process. They suggest that at least for fairly minor life problems, something as simple as writing about the problem for 20 minutes can yield important effects not only in terms of physical health and mental health, but also in terms of cognitive abilities”.
In a 2008 issue of the British Journal of Health Psychology (BJHP), a study led by Dr. Y. Seih examined the benefits of psychological displacement in diary writing. Their study investigated a new emotional writing paradigm called ‘psychological displacement paradigm in diary-writing’ (PDDP). The authors wrote that:
“PDDP instructs participants to write diary in first-person pronoun first, and then narrate the same event from a different perspective using second-person pronoun. Finally, the participants write it again with third-person pronoun from yet another perspective. These three narrations were to be written in a consecutive sequential order. Results demonstrated that diary writers indeed benefited from features of PDDP. It also showed that highly anxious people received most long-term therapeutic effect from PDDP”.
The authors argued that PDDP enacts the needed mechanism to balance psychological distance prolonging and self-disclosure making in emotional writing. Some of the authors of the BJHP paper followed up this study and published a paper in a recent 2013 issue of the Journal of Happiness Studies. In this latest study (led this time by Dr. Jen-Ho Chang), the researchers attempted to investigate whether the PDPD had both immediate and short-term psychological benefits. Individuals in either a PDPD group or comparison group were randomly assigned to write about their recent negative life experiences twice a week for two weeks. Results showed that the PDPD group showed a decrease in negative emotion and an increase in positive emotion immediately after each diary writing session. The PDPD group also showed an increase in psychological wellbeing relative to the control group for at least two weeks.
Interestingly, there appears to be more research on why writing diaries are good for people rather than on why people write diaries in the first place. As the article in The Times of India concludes:
“Keeping diaries have always been a mystery. Why we keep them and why we record them is something worth probing into. Years later, you can always flip through these diaries and see what you were. The kind of person you evolved from. Perhaps that will give you a better clarity to life on the whole”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Chang, J.H., Huang, C.L., & Lin, Y.C. (2013). The psychological displacement paradigm in diary-writing (PDPD) and its psychological benefits. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 155-167.
General Psychology (2013). How can writing improve your health? Located at: http://general-psychology.weebly.com/how-can-writing-improve-your-health.html
Grey, J. (2009). 8 benefits of writing in a journal or diary. Located at: http://hubpages.com/hub/10-Benefits-of-Keeping-a-Journal
Hiemstra, R. (2001). Uses and benefits of journal writing. In L. M. English & M. A. Gillen, (Eds.), Promoting journal writing in adult education (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 90, pp. 19-26). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (Located at: http://www-distance.syr.edu/journal1.html)
Kareem, R.A. (2011). Why we keep diaries. The Times of India, August 25. Located at: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-08-25/man-woman/29926572_1_diaries-anne-frank-emotions
Klein, K., & Boals, A. (2001). Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 520-533.
Pennebaker, J.W. (2004). Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering From Trauma and Emotional Upheaval. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.
Sample, I. (2009). Keeping a diary makes you happier. The Guardian, February 15. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/15/psychology-usa
Seih, Y. T., Lin, Y. C., Huang, C. L., Peng, C. W., & Huang, S. P. (2008). The benefits of psychological displacement in diary writing when using different pronouns. British Journal of Health Psychology, 13(1), 39-41.
Whitbourne, S.K. (2009). Tracking your travels through time: The benefits of writing in diaries. Psychology Today, December 16. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/200912/tracking-your-travels-through-time-the-benefits-writing-in-diaries