Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Writing for Well-being with Beth Kempton
[00:00:02] PP: Thank you for joining us for episode 425 of Live Happy Now. What would you say if I told you that picking up a pen could change your life?
I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m talking with Beth Kempton about how writing can help you connect with your feelings, your creativity and ignite your dreams.
As the author of many books, including her latest, The Way of The Fearless Writer, Beth knows firsthand how writing can help boost our well-being. More than 30,000 people have taken her online writing courses. And today, she’s here to talk about why becoming a writer is more about what it does for your soul and becoming a bestseller.
Let’s have a listen.
[00:00:42] PP: Beth, thank you so much for joining me on Live Happy Now.
[00:00:47] BK: Oh, it’s my pleasure what a treat to get to talk to you about writing and call it work.
[00:00:52] PP: I know. I’m so excited to have this conversation because, you know, writing has been part of my life since I was a child. And I think it’s an amazing way to connect with ourselves, connect with others. And to begin with, I wanted to find out about your writing journey. Tell me how writing started for you.
[00:01:09] BK: I don’t remember not writing. I mean, I was surrounded by books since – well, for as long as I can remember. They were a part of decoration in my house as a child. Books everywhere. And even when we didn’t have much money, my mum would always prioritize buying books, going to the library.
And interestingly, we would be rewarded with books. And I remember she had this bin bag. Here in the UK, we have black bin bags. Well, these days it’s just landfill. But back in the days of no recycling, we used to have these big, heavy, black bin bags that she would fill with books. And if it was a rainy day, we’d get to go in the cupboard under the stairs and pick one out. Like a lucky dip. So it always just been such a wonderful part of my life.
I didn’t get to writing books until much, much later. But I have always written. I mean, I have over a hundred journals in cardboard boxes in my attic. And not always writing the same thing. Not always – only journaling. Not always writing stories. Not always writing lists. Just literally, it’s just a mishmash in every journal.
And it’s very interesting to look back through certain periods of my life and see how what I wrote changed. How I wrote changed? And even the style of writing changes. Like if I’m very excited, and traveling and good stuff going on, I tend to write like really loopy and big. And then some of my journals are like really, really tiny neat writing. As if everything is – I’m very constricted.
It’s very interesting to look at that. And I wasn’t aware of it at the time. But when I came to write about writing, I started to think about all these things and realized how I’ve really traced a path through my whole life with words.
[00:02:55] PP: And that’s interesting that you saved all that. Because that’s important. I know, as a child, I would write a lot of stories. And when I read them now, I’m like, “Oh, did no one call CPS?” Because I was working out a lot of family stuff in my stories. And my mom ended up saving them. And I read them now and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. I was a little kid trying to process trauma.” And I was doing that through telling these stories.
[00:03:22] BK: That’s incredible though, that you did that and put it on the page.
[00:03:27] PP: No. That was just such a way – even back then, without me realizing, it was such a way for me to speak my truth and be able to tell a story even though I was telling it as fiction as somebody – it was happening to somebody else. And it was happening in other times. You know, like medieval times, or Hobbit times, or whatever.
[00:03:44] BK: Yeah.
[00:03:46] PP: But, yeah. For myself, that’s where it began. Like I started using storytelling to work through some of that stuff that I couldn’t process as a kid. And so, I think it’s so wonderful that you were able to save all that and look back really on your life through the eyes of your younger self writing that story.
[00:04:05] BK: Yeah. I mean, one of my favorites is a five-year diary from when I was a teenager. Um, it’s one of those where it’s got the same day every year for five years on a single page. So you can see how I’m maturing in the way I write. And also, the things I notice and care about and write, it’s fascinating. I wish I’d kept that up all my life.
[00:04:25] PP: Oh, yeah. Oh, man. That’s a great one for our listeners to jump on to. That’d be a great practice to start where, one day, you pick the same day every year and you write about where you’re at. That’s fantastic.
[00:04:37] BK: Yes. And I think what’s wonderful about that is that when you get back to the first page, January the 1st, or whenever you started, you realize how far you’ve come. And I think sometimes when things are really difficult, it feels like we’re treading water or we’re kind of going through mud and nothing’s changing. But something is always changing.
And it’s not always a good idea to go back and read everything. Sometimes I think just getting onto the page and getting it out is the best place for it to be. But for little snippets like that, it can be really good to remember, “Oh, yeah. I was experiencing that. And I don’t feel like that anymore. And I’ve come far.” Whatever. It can really help you notice those changes however small or big.
[00:05:19] PP: And what I love about that too is you can look at it. If you’re going through a difficult time one year, you can look back and say, “Okay. But three years ago, look how good things were.” And you can see, like it can get back to that again. You start recognizing how cyclical everything in life is. And you’re going to have years that are amazing. And you’re going to have yours that you barely survive. But you can kind of track that.
[00:05:45] BK: And see that the difficult periods end as well. Everything ends at some point, which can be hard to see when you’re in it. But it’s a beautiful way to capture that, for sure.
[00:05:55] PP: That’s a terrific tool. I love that. At what point did you realize what writing could do? That it was more than just something you were driven to do. But you really realized it was a need?
[00:06:08] BK: Well, I think I wrote my way out of my corporate career just in terms of what I wrote in my notebook. And I was just talking to my husband about this the other day actually. Because we’re soon on our way to Japan for the summer. And we’re taking our children now. And they’ve never been. But we got engaged there 12 years ago.
And he took a sabbatical from work for six months. And he took a notebook, a brand new notebook with him, and he went to Japanese school in the morning. And every afternoon, he would cycle down the river and sit by the river and write in his notebook. And he’d never done that before. It was like a whole new thinking.
And he wasn’t really aware of what he’d written. And then he said – he was looking on the plane home and realized he’d written, “I must quit my job,” about 15 times in his notebook. And he hadn’t even realized he’d written it. And so, he came back and quit his job and joined my company. And we’ve been working together ever since. But I think that often happens. It’s what you write over and over again without realizing it. It’s like you’re trying to send yourself a really important message. I’ve done that as well.
But in terms of understanding how it can help us through difficult times in – I mean, in my work, my company is called Do What You Love. And I help people to navigate difficult times in their life or change career and find ways to do what they love. And most of my teaching is online. And I’ve always had a lot of very interactive exercises, which I think in the beginning I didn’t realize how much they would generate words.
I would just ask people questions. And I think it’s strange to – especially being British, to name my own superpower. But if I have one, it’s probably asking questions. Just asking people exactly the question that they need to hear to find their own answer. And so, that’s what a lot of my courses have done.
And what I was finding was that people were just writing and writing and writing and finding that that in itself was helping them. Never mind the answers that they were discovering in the writing. I felt that more than a decade ago. And as we’ve gone on and I’ve started teaching actual writing classes. Not very conventionally. There’s never any feedback in my writing classes. And they’re very warm, comforting places. There’s absolutely no critique or anything like that. It’s absolutely just about learning to trust yourself and getting your words on the page.
But it’s amazing to see how people open up. And when they start their writing habit, you come – I do a lot of seasonal writing courses. And so, they come back the following years. This is what we were talking about with the diary. And they’ve kept their writing habit up all year round and they come back again. Say, they were in the winter one. They come back the next winter.
And you can see how they’ve worked through so much in their life. But also, how their writing has developed. Because they’re allowing themselves to just write whatever wants to be written rather than trying to call something on the page.
And I’ve found it in my own life. But more than ever this year. Because I lost my mum a few months ago. And it’s just been such a difficult time. I was very close to her. And it’s interesting because I had a very strong 5am writing habit before she became ill. I’d done it all the way through writing The Way of the Fearless Writer. And it’s really how I get books written as somebody – a mother of two small children. I have to be up early in the morning.
But that whole routine went out of the window when she was diagnosed with cancer. And I spent the last weeks of her life by her side the whole time. There was no routine, whatsoever. But I kept writing in all sorts of ways. I had a journal. I’d write a lot on my phone. I would speak into my phone as well.
And I recently put this all together. And there are thousands of words. And where my brain has kind of went to mush and I couldn’t really remember the details of what had happened. And I’d find myself going towards biases of certain things. Things were really difficult. Things were really beautiful. Things were really challenging. Depending on my mood, that’s how I was reflecting.
I looked at my notes and it gave me a much clearer picture of the whole thing. And I’d captured entire conversations with my mother. And I’d captured my own experience of going through something that I never experienced before. And now I’m still in the very early stages of grief. But without question, writing words myself and reading, poetry especially, it’s been incredibly feeling.
[00:10:51] PP: Yeah. What a gift you gave yourself to – because when you’re in the middle of that journey. And as you said, it’s a blur. You’re going through it. You’re on autopilot a lot of times. There’s so many big emotions involved. And to be able to sit down afterwards and see what you were feeling and what you were going through. And you find – you discover good times that wouldn’t have stuck out to you had you not written it down. I think that’s such wonderful advice. And like I said, it’s such an incredible gift that you give yourself, give your future self, to be able to document challenging times and see how you made it through.
[00:11:26] BK: And I think that’s exactly the right word, to document. And I wasn’t differentiating between what’s a beautiful thought, or a poetic thought or something, “Oh, I must capture this.” Because I just had an idea about the meaning of life or whatever. I was capturing everything.
There’s medical notes. How much she drunk, you know? Or pain relief she’d been given followed by a line that might be in a poem. Followed by what the weather’s like. A conversation I’d had with one of my brothers. You know, it’s a real mishmash. But it’s so interesting to have it all as a picture.
And actually, I’m working on another book now. And a whole chapter is based on those notes. I didn’t write them to become part of a book. But as it so often happens, when we’re completely honest with our words, something really important bubbles up out of it. And you can sense a kind of truth that maybe doesn’t sit in the individual words. But when you look back at the whole thing, you can kind of see into the heart of it. And that’s certainly been my experience these past few months.
[00:12:31] PP: Yeah. And I want to talk about the fact that, so oftentimes, people say, “Well, I want to be a writer.” And they feel like if they’re not going to write a book or if they can’t get a book published, there’s really no reason to write.
And I come from a very different place on that. I have had some books published. but I’ve also written manuscripts that were entirely for the journey of writing it. It was telling the story. And it didn’t really matter if that story ever got out. It was my need to tell that story.
Can you talk about the importance of people considering writing even if it’s never going to be published? Even if only one other person reads it. Or if nobody reads it. What is the value of discovering that writing journey?
[00:13:15] BK: It’s such an important thing to ask ourselves. And I’ll be completely honest and say, when I got my first piece of paid writing published, it was in a travel magazine. I was still quite young in my early 20s. But I think I thought, “Oh, my goodness. I’m a writer now. I’ve had this validation from an editor who thinks it’s good enough to pay me. And they paid me enough money to buy a visa to go to China. Oh, my goodness. This is like the real deal.”
But, obviously, in the year since I’d come to realize that writing has nothing to do with money. For me, writing – there’s many reasons to write books. But the financial side of things purely buys me time to do more writing. That’s really what it’s all about.
And I think our society has a lot to answer for in terms of why we feel that way. And, I mean, I’ve had thousands of people through my courses. And the same things come up again and again. And we trust other people’s opinions. And we value other people’s opinions more than our own.
Why is that? It’s crazy. When you start writing from that point of view, you expect what you write to begin with to be – has to be really good. Otherwise, I’m going to get – someone’s going to say my writing’s rubbish. And then my confidence is going to be crushed. And then – well, probably. But nobody said you have to share your writing with someone as soon as you put a sentence on the page.
I mean, if you go back through my journals and my notes, even notes from my MacBook manuscripts, until very far down the line, they’re a little rubbish to someone else reading them. And I put a lot of effort into polishing my sentences towards the end. But I’m interested in what comes from my heart and spills onto the page. And some people call that flow. What is really important to remember is that flowing the writing doesn’t mean flow in the reading.
[00:15:19] PP: Ah. That’s true. Yeah. That’s a good point.
[00:15:21] BK: It really doesn’t. There’s work to do to make it flow when you read it. But the flow in the writing is I feel like it’s connecting to something very, very deep and important in the human experience. It’s very bizarre when you get to a point that you can spill words in a way that you almost can’t remember what you’ve written until you look back and read them.
And so often, what you read back just feels like something you knew but you don’t know how you knew it. And when you get to the point that you can do that, which simply comes from practice, from ritual, from seeing writing as a sacred thing that you do in your life. You might light a candle before you write. You might just find other ways to close kind of – I like to think about going to another room not necessarily physically. But a different space away from the rest of my life to write and come back again.
If you give yourself the grace to do that, whether that’s for five minutes, or five hours, or five days, you’re sending yourself a really important message about the fact that getting to know who you are, and what matters to you, what words live inside you, is important to you. Because, for sure, it’s important. That is what is going to guide you authentically through your life and help you stop being swayed by what everyone else thinks and help you make better decisions as much as anything. I mean, I think it’s a real life tool.
And then there’s the creativity aspect of it. Just the beauty in some words landing on a page and feeling like a poem. That’s just gorgeous. That’s as beautiful as any flower you’ll find in your garden.
[00:17:14] PP: That is so true. Because as you’re speaking, it occurs to me like I do. I feel like my smarter self shows up to write. And then I come back through and read it and go, “Oh, okay. That’s a great thought.” And that’s what you’re talking about without flow. Like we have an innate wisdom. We have things that our head is too busy to hear. And when you really release on a page and you let yourself write at that level, then things come out that, like I said, you’re just too busy to hear.
[00:17:43] BK: Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of things that we struggle to articulate in words out loud to another human being if things are difficult. If we’re trying to make a decision, or we’re not happy with something in our life, or there’s a relationship difficulty, or we’re struggling because of grief or whatever it is that is difficult for us. I find, if I’m in my head, which is where I am often when I’m talking, although I’m learning to talk from somewhere else, I struggle with the words I want to say.
And because, often, somebody – in conversation, just the way we often talk to each other, they then come back and then I have to respond to them. And blah-blah-blah. And I don’t really get to what I want to say. But when it’s just you and the page, the page doesn’t say anything back to you. It just accepts whatever you put on to it.
And I think, that way, you can work through a lot of your suffering or also your joy and capture it in a way that might get cut off in a conversation. Whether that’s because of the other person or just because of your own brain going, “You haven’t said that very well. Stop talking.”
[00:19:00] PP: Well, and I think it’s important to point out. Like, to mothers, that might be the only conversation you have where nobody talks back to you that whole day.
[00:19:09] BK: Absolutely. And any kind of life situation that feels lonely, I think words are amazing. And any life situation that feels overwhelming, because you’ve got too many people around all the time, it’s also respite from that. It’s just the easiest, cheapest, most wonderful tool I think that we have to use in so many ways.
I think one thing that does happen though is people say I’m not a writer yet. I have to become a writer first. And to me, writing is literally just writing words on a page. It’s taking what’s in your head and heart and spilling it and just capturing your experience of being a human. Nobody before or since will have the exact experience as you. So don’t be selfish. Share that with everybody. [inaudible 00:19:58].
[00:19:58] PP: Exactly. Yeah. Even if you feel like you don’t need to share it with anyone, it changes you. And so, can we talk about that? How you’ve seen people change when they connect with themselves? Connect with their writing? What does that do for them?
[00:20:13] BK: I think it changes the way that people see the world, and respond to the world and see their place in the world. I’m speaking very much from experience. But also, from what it’s reported back to me from students.
I think if you have been able to draw out the words that have been stuffed down, there’s a liberation in that. Just as some people use breathwork for trauma release, for example, writing can be just as powerful as that. You’re physically letting something out of your body. So you’re not carrying it anymore. And people say that they’re walking through the world much more lightly. And they’re noticing things that they were totally closed off to before. They find themselves having conversations with new people because, suddenly, they realize that everybody is inspiration as well as everything else.
And also, I think it can help you relate to other people better. Because you realize that just as there’s things behind the mask for you, things below the surface, you start to notice that in other people too, which can lead to really amazing connection.
[00:21:26] PP: Yeah. Throughout your book, you have some wonderful lessons. And I think it’s important to note that it’s not just about – it is about writing. But this is not a semantics of writing book. And one of my favorite chapters is the one on releasing. And I thought that was so amazing because you give us exercises. You give us ways to really go deep and release things through our writing. I thought that was really incredible. One of the statements that you have in there, and you have great little sayings in the margins, but you said, “Words heal. Apply liberally.”
[00:22:01] BK: Yeah.
[00:22:02] PP: And tell me where that came from. Because I absolutely loved it. I’m like I need to make a sticker of that and put it on my wall.
[00:22:10] BK: Oh, I love that idea. But like I always say to people, you are right that the world needs your medicine. But before you can start administering that medicine to anyone else, you have to administer it to yourself. And really, words are so healing. Of course, they can also be damaging if they’re used in the wrong way.
But in the sense that I’m talking about, which is just getting words out onto the page. And also, filling your life with words. Reading beautiful words from other people. Just the more you do it, the better you get. Like if you need medicine and you take it in the doses that you’re supposed to take it in, you’ll probably get better. It is just the same thing.
[00:22:56] PP: But what I really want to know from you is tell us what it means to be a fearless writer. Because your book is called The Way of the Fearless Writer. And explain to us what a fearless writer is.
[00:23:09] BK: For me, a fearless writer is just somebody who allows themselves without editing, or criticism, or any kind of barrier to spill what is in their heart and their head onto the page. That’s where it all begins. That’s how books get written. That’s how hearts get healed. That’s how things get figured out. It really is just that.
The fearless part of it I think – well, I did a survey not long ago with more than a thousand writers in my community. And a hundred percent of them said that self-doubt got in the way of them writing what they want to write. I mean, I’ve never done a survey where 100% of people have said the same thing.
And it was incredible. That’s actually partly why I wanted to write the book. Because it’s such a – we love to talk about the fear of writing as well. We love to talk about writer’s block. We’d love to talk about how hard it is and all of this. And I really wanted to write a book which gave people tools that they could give themselves permission to not be afraid to write. Because sometimes that’s all it is.
[00:24:19] PP: That is the perfect way to wrap this up. Because you’ve given us a lot to think about. And your book has so many wonderful exercises. So many tips. We’re going to tell our listeners how they can find it. We’re going to let them download a free chapter of it. And I really appreciate you sitting down with us today and talking about this.
[00:24:37] BK: Oh, it’s such a joy. I’m so grateful for everything that writing has brought to my life. Just in the pages of my notebook at five o’clock in the morning with a candle and the early sunrise. And also, the doors that writing books have opened to new people and new opportunities. Things I never could have dreamed of. And it all begins with just writing words on a page, which anyone can do, right?
[00:25:00] PP: That’s great. Beth, thank you so much.
[00:25:04] BK: Thank you so much. What a joy.
[00:25:10] PP: That was author, Beth Kempton, talking about how writing can help you connect with your feelings and your dreams. If you’d like to learn more about Beth and her books or her online writing courses, follow her on social media or download a free chapter of her latest book, The Way of the Fearless Writer, just visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps reminding you to make every day a happy one.