Reflective Essays : A Panacea For Your Writing Habit

A man in his early thirties loves writing but is struggling to be a writer. He has only written for himself since the age of ten. His struggle is to write for professionals, to sharpen his writing and take it to the next level. He is stuck and lost.

Since childhood, pen has been his best friend. It would listen to him and help him articulate. It would understand his mind and emotions better than any of his friends. Paper would fill the void of belonging for him. No living being came close to what pen and paper were able to do for him. Textbook introvert, you see!

He knew he was a decent writer from an early age. He often got good feedback on his writing at school and college. He was writing a diary and notes on his habits and feelings. He also participated in a few competitions and got a few accolades.

He would enjoy the inner fulfilment of putting his thoughts on paper. This was far more than any external validation. At work, writing emails and spending time on them helped him sharpen his thinking. Writing improved his articulation and made him more assertive. Yet, he was always stuck at a level in his writing. He knew that his skills needed sharpening.

He was in the field of psychology. It required him to reflect on his experiences and feelings. These were reflection logs. He was able to write them with ease. He would enjoy writing them. He got a lot of encouragement on his logs from his mentors and facilitators. This made him keep on writing around his experiences. At other times, in-depth reading would give him an inner urge to articulate his thoughts on paper. After reading a lot he could not resist. He had to write. He would do so and give birth to a LinkedIn or Medium article.

This was not enough for him. He longed for more. Far more. To take things to the next level, he decided to build a writing habit. He started writing daily. It was helpful but he got lost a lot of times. Not sure what he was writing and for whom. What was the purpose etc. He had a lot of unfinished writing. This limited his ways of publishing and getting feedback.

Out of the blue, he found a writing course. This reinforced his belief that when a student is ready, the master appears! He joined the course and a lot of things started to fall in place.

One key insight he got from it was that always write for a reader. For him this translated into, keep one clear person in mind and write. This was a very powerful lesson.

Next, he learned that all writing is rewriting. This means separate draft 0 from other drafts. He started to set-up Pomodoro to get vomit drafts (draft 0) out. Now the next step would be to spend time with this vomit draft and sharpen it. This was the key. He learned that re-writing means to have a conversation with his reader. To expect her arguments. To imagine how she would feel reading this. Researching further to answer her arguments. It means reading his article aloud. Noticing if it is coherent. Thinking if all arguments are covered. Writing it in a tone that is free of noise. It meant to give a rhythm to his writing. He started to enjoy the process of writing! This was rewiring his brain. Again, all this was fine and yet not enough. These were tips on how to write. He was also looking for ideas around what to write. He kept on looking.

One day he discovered a form of essays called reflective essays. This changed his writing habit forever.

So, what exactly were reflective essays for him?

Well, they are reflections on any particular event or experience. It could be anything — a conversation, a movie, a vacation. Even something spread across time. An experience in a marriage, experience of graduation etc.

What is the purpose they served in his life? Why was he so much attracted to them? What appealed to him about them?

They helped him make meaning out of his experiences. They helped him in processing his emotions (A crucial thing for an introvert!). It helped him to be aware of the stories he told himself. He got aware of how those stories were limiting him or taking him forward.

Earlier he always thought that he was a pantser! He believed in the advice to write about things that you want to write about. Writing on reflections gave him this freedom. This idea of writing reflective essays had been phenomenal. It changed his world view. He would start from a concrete experience; write a vomit draft and from there build on things. This also gave a very clear structure to his writing process and each article. He can now also write for one clear reader.

He started to fall in love with this process. Enjoying and savoring it. There was healing as well as personal growth in this for him. This gave him a constant stream of ideas that were personal to him. With this he had the freedom to be both a pantser as well as a planner!

He started to be proactive in thinking of various topics to write about. He is noting their outlines in advance. He is able to sit and write for a few hours. He now has concrete articles to edit. Concrete avenues to publish.

It has only been a few weeks since he has discovered this. Oh, he is still not sure where this takes him. But he is very sure that this framework of starting to write reflection essays from his personal life is gonna help him write daily. Isn’t that the key? Rest he trusts will follow from there.

Is he Journal writing in the name of Reflective essays?

Journal writing was only for his eyes. He does not share that with others. In journal he focuses on things that are very vulnerable and dear to him. Also, the focus of the journal is emotional healing. It helps him to write on paper so that it is out of his mind and body.

Reflective essays are for his clarity. They blend fiction and non-fiction. They originate from his experience and thus are very personal to him.

Yet, a journal entry could be a vomit draft to his reflective essays. In a reflective essay he takes this vomit draft forward. He writes them with a clear intention of publishing them to the world. He edits and spends time with his drafts. (This never happens in journal writing. In the journal what was written was gone forever.)

Spending time with his reflections also helped him process some difficult emotions. It helps him confront himself. Thus sharpen his thinking and beliefs. A refined article takes a lot of energy. By writing like this he also develops an ability to see things from various vintages.That is also what his company AneKant labs is all about.

Reflections help him unearth various patterns. Patterns of intra, inter, group, societal processes that originate in his context. That is a very rich source of learning for him. Reflections also form a key part of Kolbe’s learning cycle.

In sales they say that instead of spending time on new lead generation you spend time on existing leads. Existing customers. Spend time with your existing network. In investing they say before learning how to earn more money, learn how to manage your current net-worth.

He has come to believe that before chasing new experiences, first spend time with existing experience. Reflecting and unearthing the same. This has given him far more dividends. This has opened up new directions. He is also now fully present to his experiences. He knows that he is gonna revisit them if they are important!

Are there others who do reflective writing?

Various fields encourage reflective writing to stimulate sharing and concretize learning

  1. Historians write reflectively about the meaning of a historical event.
  2. Medical students and nursing students may write about their experiences with patients so that they can learn how to be more sensitive to the needs of the people they treat.
  3. In a psychology or religion class, you may write a reflective essay to help you grow personally in your understanding of yourself and your beliefs.
  4. Business people use this type of written assignment to analyze their interactions in a business setting and to help them envision how they can better present their service or product to customers.

What are the areas around which he is gonna write reflective essays?

Relationships

They are his bread and butter. Also, sugar and spice! Relationships are areas where our inner needs and emotions manifest. They are the medium through which we live our life. It is said that others are just a medium to our Karmas. Viewing relationships like this and reflecting on them helps him take complete responsibility for his behaviors. Some of the places where you can also reflect and write around relationships are

  1. A conversation when you became very angry ; A time when you were afraid ; A time when you were lonely.
  2. A memory of when you were misunderstood ; A time when you were disappointed or discouraged by something someone said.
  3. A decision that you made which someone else disagreed with ; When someone showed you that they were proud of you.
  4. A moment when you knew you were in love ; When you first met a new family member.
  5. The birth of a child, or the adoption of a child or sibling.
  6. Watching an elderly loved one lose memory through dementia or struggling with a disease.

So many ideas already. Hope you are inspired!

An experience with Nature

We also have a relationship with nature. There is definitely a connection that goes beyond words. Often this experience triggers something deep in us. There is a lot of meaning in these events. Reflecting on those could help you enrich your life. One more reason why he likes writing reflection essays on nature experiences is that he can fully be in the moment when experiencing it. He is not glued to his camera or anything. He can revisit that experience in his imagination. He can capture it and relive it again and again through his reflections.

  1. Watching the ocean with your feet buried in the sand ; Looking at a sunset ; Sitting at the top of a hill, looking down over a valley.
  2. Watching a bird flying in the sky ; Smelling a flower ; Picking berries.
  3. Walking barefoot on a grass ; Climbing up a mountain.
  4. Playing in the sand at the seashore ; Swimming in a lake.

Places

Each place has it’s vibrations. Visiting old or new places can trigger lot of emotions if you are alive to them. Reflecting on them is a great way to understand the impact places have on your body. Understanding your surrounding in depth.

  1. Your room growing up, or your bedroom now ; The town where you grew up.
  2. A school you attended or a particular classroom, lunch spot, or place you hung out with friends.

Events

Events are a combination of places, relationships and something particular in our life. Where there are emotions there are reflections and writing.

  1. Holidays like Diwali, Holi, 15th August etc. ; Visiting a museum or zoo.
  2. Ordinary daily events like getting ready in the morning, doing laundry, studying with friends, walking the dog, or making dinner.
  3. Remodeling of your house, apartment, or street ; When the electricity or water was not working.
  4. Starting a new job, or going to a new school.
  5. Getting your first car, your first paycheck, or your first job.

Recurring or Significant Thoughts

We all are stuck in some loops. Loops around people, thoughts, memories or wishes. Writing around them can be a great way to understand them and accept them.

  1. A dream or daydream ; A conversation you wish you had or something you wish you had done ; A story you’ve told about yourself ; An embarrassing moment
  2. The person you’d like to be
  3. A strong recurring emotion

Important People

Writing around them can help you enhance your bond with them. It can deepen your feelings and help you express them clearly. You may share your writing with them or not. That is your choice.

  1. Your grandmother and/or grandfather, mom and/or dad, aunt and/or uncle, nephew and/or niece, or siblings ; Your best friend
  2. Someone who hurt you ; A special teacher or life coach

What is a vital part of his reflective essays?

A key part of it is observations. Just pure observations. Unadulterated showing of events. Not telling anything just showing. A very vivid imaginary of events is vital. This is both for self-healing as well as audience. The idea is first to unearth what did he feel? Next it is to feel that again while writing and lastly to make readers feel the same thing. This is also where emotions come naturally to him. As he has already lived it.

This is helping him build his emotional vocabulary. This is bringing more clarity.

What are some of the tips to write reflective essays?

  1. Start with what did you see, feel, hear in the moment?
  2. Reflect what is the meaning you are making of this experience? How do you know this?
  3. Was there something that surprised you? What caused this?
  4. What past experiences are similar to this one? How is this experience the same or different from previous times?
  5. How does this make me think about the future?
  6. Have I changed because of this? How? Is this good or bad?
  7. In what way was this a turning point for me?
  8. What could I have done differently?
  9. Is this an analogy for something else? What metaphors or similes occur to me?
  10. How can I use this experience to help someone else?
  11. What really happened? Is that different from what I thought was happening at the time?
  12. How can I apply what I’ve learned to my life or career?
  13. What questions did this make me ask?
  14. In what way was I challenged to think differently about social class, race, gender, or faith?
  15. How has this changed the way I think?
  16. Needless to say, you also reflect and write at three levels — Content, Process and Perspective. This is the most powerful one.
  17. Conclude by —

a) stating what you have learned — What did I learn from this? Are there some changes I need to make? or

b) what you think the main meaning of this experience is, or

C) by using an analogy.

Conclusion

Reflections help him get into his previous state. They help him be more aware about them. The state of his mind and body. NLP he recalls is all about state management. This is where he really likes this idea of un packing his visited states. Being more aware about his each state. This awareness and vocabulary is so vital to accept and manage his desired states. Also to accept and just be. Also, reflections come naturally to him. So why would he not tap into their power and explore them?!

I am sure you must have noticed that this entire essay has been a reflection on his writing journey. Writing this essay has affirmed his beliefs and has helped him articulate his way forward. Now ‘yours truly’ has decided to write one reflective article a week! Wish him luck and godspeed!

The blogs are my musings on various subjects - from art, science, culture to philosophy, psychology and personal finance