The Original Pennebaker Writing Prompt

The Original Pennebaker Writing Prompt

Dr. James Pennebaker is a research psychologist who discovered the power of writing during an experiment he conducted in the 1980s.

Here are his original writing instructions:

You have signed up for an experiment where you will be writing for four days, fifteen minutes per day in a solitary room down the hall. Everything you write will be completely anonymous and confidential. You will never receive any feedback about your writing. At the conclusion of each day’s writing, we ask that you put your writing in a large box so that we can analyze it. However, your giving it to us is completely up to you.

In your writing, I want you to really let go and explore your very deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of your life. In your writing, try to tie this traumatic experience to other parts of your life - your childhood, your relationship with your parents, close friends, lovers, or others important to you. You might link your writing to your future and who you would like to become, to who you have been in the past, or to who you are now. The important thing is that you really let go and write about your deepest emotions and thoughts. You can write about the same thing for all four days or about different things on each day - that is entirely up to you. Many people have not had traumatic experiences, but all of us have faced major conflicts or stressors - and you can write about those as well.

Excerpt from “Expressive Writing: Words that Heal” by James Pennebaker

If they seem a bit daunting, check out 5 Tips to get the most out of your Expressive Writing practice. I’m also working on resources using more specific writing prompts, e.g.

  • Where do you feel your life isn’t going as you would have hoped?

  • What do you get out of being stuck?

    • What are the positive side effects of not reaching your goals? 

  • What will be available to you once you’re ready to let go of the past?

If you’d like to be part of the beta-testing group as they become available, please sign up here.

Can expressive writing take the place of therapy?

Can expressive writing take the place of therapy?