writing-through-pain-expat nest

Pen to Paper: Letting Ink & Emotions Flow

We write all the time (emails, Whatsapp, social media posts, work documents), but when last did you write by hand? This week’s guest author was inspired to reflect on the value of writing by hand after she received a surprise handwritten letter. Below, Terry Anne Wilson shares the story of someone who got off the keyboard, who put pen to paper, to write though pain.

I asked Terry Anne to contribute to our blog because I was inspired by her vision to make the world smaller by connecting people through their stories. And because, for me, writing is a way of expressing emotions. We’ve been running this blog since 2013, and some of my more popular articles – the ones that resonated most with our Expat Nest community – were written, spontaneously, by hand. I believe there’s a simplicity in this soulful approach to expressing sorrow or joy. I hope you enjoy this week’s article as much as I did…


I returned home to find a good old-fashioned letter waiting for me. It lay on the steep stairs of the Den Haag apartment we were sojourning at, next door to the home of my Monday Morning Emails co-author, Jo Parfitt. Surprisingly, the letter was from her.

‘To Terry Anne, Monday Morning Emails Two, the envelope stated. Yes, we are writing again and what I find interesting is that even though we happen to be neighbours for a number of months, Jo chose to write by hand rather than send the usual e-mail.

At the end of her letter, Jo admitted that her hand and arm were cramping, but asked, ‘Allow me to indulge myself Terry Anne, let me write myself dry. Let me write with pen on paper, through my pain…’

There was something very poignant and weighty about holding the clutch of papers, a friend’s heart and soul flowing forth like an emotional fountain. Jo’s father has dementia and has also been diagnosed with terminal cancer.


Writing our way through pain

It is understandable that we turn to writing when we are hurting. Both Jo and I know the benefits of sharing our thoughts and concerns, both past and present; Monday Morning Emails is the result of doing just that over a six-month period. Yet putting pen to paper goes deeper still.

I have written longhand since I was a teenager, but until recently, haven’t truly understood the importance of this. There now seems to be irrefutable proof that pen-to-paper offers many physical and mental health advantages.

Psychology speaks to writing by hand as a natural healing benefit, as well as a practice to improve IQ, relieve stress, and stimulate the brain. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, confirms that “pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory”.

Indeed, as we age, writing by hand engages motor skills and is a good cognitive exercise to keep the brain sharp. Many of us writers engage in ‘speed writing’ in the morning – letting your pen flow for ten minutes or so, allowing your mind to convey its thoughts, without reservation. While it is tempting to resort to the convenience of a keyboard, these musings by pen tell truth, invoke creativity and foster ideas. Indeed, pen-to-paper can feel simple, yet the effects are far-reaching.


Writing for global nomads

Like Jo, I have long embraced the long form of writing especially while traveling; letters to my parents and sweethearts, journals and travel diaries, even postcards — tiny spaces holding tales and treasures of a place and a time. It always felt instinctive and was just what a traveller did.

Writing Monday Morning Emails spoke further to the power of writing and we’ve been told it has encouraged others to engage in their own correspondence to a friend. Wonderfully, some are also writing by han d.

I invite you write to someone today, and to yourself.  Pose your pen on fine parchment or on a fresh journal — what you find on the page might surprise you.


Is free-writing something you practise, and why? Has writing touched your life? We’d love to hear your story. Do share this article with a loved one who is in pain and might appreciate the simplicity (and healing) in putting pen to paper.


About the author: Terry Anne Wilson is an author, writer and traveller. Though Canada has recently become home again after thirty years overseas, she continues to explore her love of culture, people and travel. Terry Anne is currently writing a travel memoir which will carry the same name as her blog: Notes On A Boarding Pass.