A catharsis is a purification or purging of emotions, and let’s face it, writers are emotional creatures. When we feel, we feel deeply. Sometimes, we write because we simply “have to” work through our emotions. By putting them down in writing we’re beginning a purging process or examining the feelings so closely that we depersonalize them. Thus, catharsis happens.
Great writers have felt compelled to write for catharsis nearly forever. Look at Ernest Hemingway, for example. Or Truman Capote. They worked through their emotional issues on paper and we all got to share in their revelations and moods. That sharing sometimes enables the reader to find similar catharsis, and although that was not the subconscious intent for the writer, it may be his/her conscious one.
Once the writer gets past his/her current emotional issue, the burdens are lighter. In that way, the catharsis of writing is extremely valuable both as a tool for creating compelling stories and as a means to free the mind and heart for productive efforts. Non-authors can use it too, quite successfully.
Catharsis is only one of many reasons why authors write. Next time we can consider how writers simply “have to” write for the challenge of perfecting a craft.