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Is blogging addictive?

Apparently, but it's also therapeutic

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A recent article in Scientific American magazine carries this headline: "Blogging — it's good for you." The contention is based on some speculation and studies by neuroscientists, who are attempting to map what goes on in the brain during writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings.

While they've yet to figure out why, lots of research documents psychological and physiological benefits of so-called expressive writing. Studies observe significant improvements in memory, sleep and immune function.

The healthful benefits of such writing produced a cultural obsession with journal writing a decade or more ago. Those journals have now moved online as usually public blogs and add the advantage of community engagement to the other benefits. Even some hospitals are now hosting patient blogs, according to Scientific American.

Undoubtedly, the discovery of the invigorating effects of personal writing can also be blamed for the explosion of the memoir as the most popular literary form in recent years. That's starting to change, according to some publishers. I'm guessing that's because so many memoirs have become such competitive efforts in outrageousness that lying has become predictable.

I've used writing with clients in my psychology work for years. The first workshop I developed, specifically to address creative blocks, draws heavily on some classic journaling assignments. In the last few years, I've urged clients to maintain blogs, too. Sometimes they're individual blogs, sometimes group blogs.

My move to group blogs has a practical motivation. Even though my workshop is specifically geared to blocked writers and artists, less than halfway through I always find myself deluged with pages to read. It isn't unusual for a "blocked" writer to hand in 25 pages a week. Multiply that by seven or eight people over the course of 10 weeks. War and Peace would be an easier read.

So moving some of the writing assignments to a collective blog allows group members themselves to respond directly to one another's work. It also has the effect of immediately demonstrating how consistently creative blocks operate from person to person. Finally, the medium itself, being highly imagistic, lends itself to performing as a blank slate for the unconscious, dreamlike expression. I've frequently seen material develop in cyberspace that never gets articulated otherwise in real-time sessions.

I've been most curious about that surge in writing that occurs halfway through my workshop. The Scientific American article presents a fascinating explanation: compulsion. It seems that expressive writing might involve the brain's limbic system, which controls our drives "whether they are related to food, sex, appetite or problem solving."

There's no explanation (yet) about the way writing stimulates the limbic system and turns into a compulsion. One guess is that blogging and journaling "might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art."

Personally, I resisted blogging until I began working on Creative Loafing's food blog, OmnivoreAtl.com. You can't call writing about food expressive writing, at least not in the usual sense. But I certainly have found an addictive quality about posting. Partly, it's the telegraphic style, I think, which is completely contrary to my usual style.

I've also noticed, as I have with many others, that my attention to spelling and grammar is mysteriously lax while writing blog posts. It doesn't matter how many times I reread something; I still don't catch the errors. As someone who worked many years as an editor, that's embarrassing. But I wonder if that too relates to the brain's limbic system. Does the compulsivity of the experience override the usual structure? Maybe that's also why unconscious material is so spontaneously projected in cyberspace.

I've also started my own blog (cliffbostock.com/sacreddisorder) as a way of keeping track of my interests in psychology, culture and politics. But, as part of my research for this column and a post there, I found an article suggesting that people who write for a living should never blog. The argument is that blogging saps creative energy that would be put to better use writing for publication.

Perhaps. But it seems like a useful way to ensure that I write daily which, as any writer knows, is essential to remain productive.

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.

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