By: Erin McGinn
The internet is home to anonymous confessions. People write blog posts, songs, post on Reddit, and sell books about their life. Fessing up about what’s bothering you is healthy, even if no one can hear you. Confessional writing is great for defining yourself as a person, working through conflicts, reducing stress, and processing emotions. You should give it a shot.
What Is Confessional Writing?
Confessional writing is a type of autobiographical writing that is rather raw and can center on uncomfortable topics. Autobiographies are depictions of the writer’s history and emotions (Jahan, 2012). Confessional works can be written in prose or poetry.
Walt Whitman was the first confessional poet. He self-published Leaves of Grass, which was a collection of poems in 1855. It was shocking at the time for its honest depiction of sex (Price, 2010).
Most people start using this writing style to release emotion in times of crisis. It is not necessarily religious. It simply allows the person to spill their thoughts onto a non-judgmental page.
Confessional writers may use pseudonyms to publish their works and share their experiences without fear of ridicule. Confessional poetry and prose can be performative, as the author leans into a persona. It can also be a place where they admit their mistakes (Price, 2010). People flock to read published confessional writing to peer into the writers’ controversial lives (Price, 2010). The reading provides a community for individuals of the same demographic who have made similar mistakes. It helps marginalized communities define themselves (Jahan, 2015).
Benefits of Confessional Writing
What Does It Do?
The act of a confession, even if your thoughts are released to no one in particular, is like removing a burden from your chest. In multiple studies, researchers found expressive-writing participants writing about emotionally upsetting life histories:
…experience a multitude of health benefits, such as improved subjective well-being, reduced use of health care services, reduced absences from work and improvements in immune function … expressive writing is consistently associated with positive outcomes and clinically meaningful effect sizes across studies. (Valtonen, J. 2020)
However, people do not have to write about negative experiences to get the benefits of confessional writing. Writing about goals has a similar effect (Valtonen, J. 2020) Regular confessional writing also improves the author’s skill.
Why Does It Do That?
There is no single answer why writing helps. There are several possible reasons (Valtonen, J. 2020):
- Writing allows people to explore the conflicts in their lives and reflect on their consequences and solutions.
- Writing helps people make a narrative and meaning out of disjointed events.
- Psychologists believe confessional writing helps because people can face traumatic events in a controlled and safe way.
- Neurologists say writing reduces the impact of stress on you by activating stress glands or the neurons in the front, right of your brain.
- When people practice a skill regularly, they get better at it. Writing is no different.
Prompts to Try Confessional Writing
- Write about something you’ve told nobody else.
- Write about any doubts you are having.
- Write a future where you have already accomplished all of your goals. What does it look like?
For the best emotional health results, journal in a confessional style once a week instead of daily (Valtonen, J. 2020).
Verbalizing about the past can be the first step to healing from it, even if you aren’t ready to speak to another person. Write with others using the link below or start the Producer’s Playbook to write on your own. Go to The Love Story to join a community of confessional writers who will hold space and withhold judgment from your work.
Dowling Price, D. (2010). Confessional poetry and blog culture in the age of autobiography [Thesis], pp. 1–7. Florida State University Libraries. https://diginole.lib.fsu.edu/islandora/object/fsu:168587/datastream/PDF/view
Jahan, J. (2015). Confessional poetry: Voice of oppressed women [Thesis], pp. 1-41. BRAC University. https://dspace.bracu.ac.bd/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10361/4342/11103025.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Valtonen, J. (2021). The health benefits of autobiographical writing: An interdisciplinary perspective. Journal of Medical Humanities, 42), 1–15. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10912-020-09631-9