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Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Healthy Blog

As a writer and a retired teacher of writing, the following research comes as no surprise. I fully understand that the personal benefits of blogging may be great. I have preached employing writing as a release, a voyage of personal discovery, and a catharsis for decades.My students will remember that the willful act of composing involves both conscious and unconscious interaction that often leads to new and important understandings, understandings that help people grow in so many ways.

My class texts included Telling Writing by Ken Macrorie. In the book, he urges students to write "truthfully," that is to approach their composition as truthtelling that represents coherence between what they write and what they feel and know to be true. Macrorie says, "If students would write truthfully, they must listen to the world inside (an obligation to experience) as well as that outside (an obligation to society)  for truth is a connection between the things written about, the words used in the writing, and the author's real experience."

Macrorie says students who produce 
authentic writing must trust 
that words will "come to them" 
as they "ride the waves (of their unconscious), 
letting strange and exciting things 
drift up from the bottom." 

Explaining that writers' emotions often come into play in discovering their "second self," Macrorie encourages writers to engage themselves in personal exploration.

He instructs, 
"To be emotional 
is also to be human....
You can find the rhythms 
of your own life 
if you will only let go."

If a scientific perspective of the process of writing appeals more than a simple metaphorical view, read on. Setting out on a journey of writing activates a cluster of neurological pathways.

Neurologist Judy Willis finds, "The construction of conceptual memory networks builds the most valuable neural architecture a brain owner can have. These networks serve as "nets” to catch and hold new input with similar patterns, and 'work' when activated for creative transfer -- use of the information learned in one context for application in a new context." (Judy Willis, "The Brain-Based Benefits of Writing for Math and Science Learning,"
Willis explains, "Concept networks are the valuable tools the brain uses in the highest orders of thinking. When the brain seeks to predict the best response, answer, solution to a problem or make a choice, the executive function control networks in the prefrontal cortex send out messages to the memory association areas, such as the hippocampus and memory storing cortex of each hemisphere. These messages activate stored prior knowledge memories that relate to the new situation."

Writing improves problem solving because the more extensive the brain's collection of memory networks, the more successful it will be in activating the best prior knowledge to predict the best responses, answers, and choices for any new situation. And, the greater the links and cross-connections among networks of stored information, the greater a person's access to multiple storage centers of background knowledge to use in response to the new problem or opportunity.

The "New" Blogging Research

A study in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychological Services found that blogging can help teens improve their self-esteem and enhance friendships. Moreover, the online activity is especially helpful for teens with social anxiety or difficulty making friends and/or relating to the friends they had. (Rick Nauert PhD, "Blogs May Help Teens Reduce Social Stress," Psych Central, January 5 2012)

Researchers believe this use of social networking is especially suitable for teens who spend a vast majority of their time online. According to the researchers, blogging allows teens to freely express themselves and can be an easy method to improve communication among peers.

“Research has shown that writing a personal diary and other forms of expressive writing are a great way to release emotional distress and just feel better,” said the study’s lead author, Meyran Boniel-Nissim, Ph.D., of the University of Haifa, Israel. ("Blogging May Help Teens Dealing with Social Distress," American Psychological Association, January 4 2012)

Investigators discovered that for troubled teens, online documentation and maintaining a blog was more effective in improving self-esteem and relationship development than journaling in a private diary.

Researchers believe the interactivity 
of an open blog 
is key factor 
toward helping teens
reduce their social anxieties.

Positive social behaviors were expressed by bloggers when compared to teens who did nothing and those who wrote private diaries.

Improvements in self-esteem, 
social anxiety 
and emotional distress 
were noted among the bloggers.

Bloggers who were instructed to write specifically about their difficulties and whose blogs were open to comments improved the most. All of these results were consistent at the two-month followup.

Of course, previous studies have confirmed the therapeutic value of journal writing and blogging about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. Besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits.

Research shows that it (expressive writing)
improves memory and sleep, 
boosts immune cell activity 
and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, 
and even speeds healing after surgery. 

A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not. (Jessica Wapner, "Blogging -- It's Good for You," Scientific American, May 22 2008)

Why would blogging provide even more benefits than journal writing? I believe the answer is that a blog provides an audience, whereas a journal may be writing a person wants to keep strictly personal. The fact that
others will read a blog makes a writer conscious of meeting the needs of an audience in terms of supplying essential subject background and meeting various levels of personal comprehension. Going back to Macrorie's

I have found that audience also makes writers consider purpose. Many times they instill purpose unconsciously provided they supply the reader with adequate detail and facts. As fluency develops, writers find their inner voice driving this purpose or theme; however, upon revision, a writer who has an audience looks for gaps (that always occur) in sequencing and development in order to achieve clarity.

Blogging begs writers to ask this question: "What do you want the reader to do with this understanding you have carved out?" If the writer dredges his subject deeply enough, the answer is usually clear. The capture of words on paper engages introspection, both the writer's understandings and the reader's understandings of any subject. As the writer remains honest with the essential application of dual truth, communication breathes new life into receptive brains.

Another advantage of blogging is that it provides a window for feedback. The audience can relate additional information, clarify points, and beg for continuation through their comments and reactions.

To me, this is the zenith of education: 
developing an arena 
in which people can participate 
without the fear of reprisal 
while exploring their pertinent 
and unique points of view. 

Just about anything worth writing begs greater understanding. In the best learning situation, we all make a commitment to understand. Opening the sensory receptacles -- ears, eyes, mouth, skin, and, yes, even the nose -- to important ideas expands our creative minds.

Some Random Views From Blogs

* In his blog "TechnoBuck,", Hector Sanchez says,

"As I was restoring my old posts, I was very impressed, as I could see what was going on in my mind several months ago. It was like playing an old video-cassette movie in the VCR, but for my state of mind at that moment in time. So, that’s why I find very useful to have a personal blog, it helps me put things in perspective and see for myself whether I’m making real progress with my life or not."

* Ryan Cooper in the blog "jitZul,", relates,

"When writing posts for a blog you will often have to do research to best cover the topic you have decided to write about. Through this research you will often learn new things that you may have otherwise never discovered."

* Dr. Ed Pullen, a family physician,, relates,

"My wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer more than a year ago. With little time to make phone calls or write letters, I started blogging to keep our friends and family across the U.S. and Europe updated about Kay’s condition.

"To my surprise, I enjoyed writing the posts, and besides being able to articulate my feelings, the creative outlet became therapeutic for me during a difficult time.

"Coping with Kay's illness was trying, but once she went into remission, I thankfully no longer had anything to blog about on that topic. I soon discovered I missed writing, however, and with encouragement from my readers and patients, I started " - A medical blog for the informed patient" in December 2009.

* Myrko Thum,  AwakeBlogger - "Personal Development and Spirituality,", states,

"If you write something down it is a different level of commitment to yourself. You can use this fact to your advantage. Let’s face it, sometimes we all could use a small kick in the butt to get us going into the right direction. By using your journal in this way, you will become your own coach. You can really say something to yourself and by writing it into your journal you can put a commitment on yourself. In this way you can literally lead yourself."

* In Reason4Smile,, Robert A Henru contents,

"This (blogging) is particularly useful for the introverts, introverts do complain on how they’re not so good with words, especially when they have to speak. Writing is much more comfortable because we can think without pressure for the right words to say, and also for the opportunity to undo the statements.

"In a way, I started blogging as a channel for my passion to lead and create, passion for information-sharing, yet I’ve been baffled so many times by my limitation, especially the confidence in speaking and relating with people. Blogging in a way has helped me to use and think about putting the right words, sentences and grammars. As I am getting more comfortable with words, as I write, practically I am more comfortable to speak with words, soon the confidence will follow."
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