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Archive for March, 2012



On the recommendation of Lisa Rossetti (www.positivelives.co.uk), Katherine Hansen of A Storied Career (www.astoriedcareer.com ) recently interviewed me for her on-line Story Practitioner series.

Here are my Q&As as featured on the web this week.

Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/ narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?

A: I was brought up by storytellers. Telling stories was how we related to each other, entertained each other, informed each other, re-affirmed each other. I love storytelling because what my family of storytellers did for me, I can do for others.

Q: One of your areas of specialization is storytelling and writing for well-being. How did you get involved in that area? Did you have personal experience with having your well-being improved through writing/storytelling?

A: Story-telling and writing for well-being have chosen me, and I have built on what they have given me. I started to write as I learned to read stories. And I have written all my life. But at times of crisis — when in such severe trauma I doubt my heart will hold out — writing is a form of restorative meditation. And — although I can tell stories to move to tears — I also tell stories to entertain and develop relationships. Although at times, I cannot avoid the former, I prefer the latter.

Q: You offer workshops in memoir-writing and journaling. Undoubtedly many reasons exist for journaling and writing one’s memoir. What do you feel is the most compelling reason? Why do people need your workshops assist them in these endeavors?

A: One of the most compelling reasons for writing your own story is “witness” — even if the writing never sees the light of day. But — when shared in a supportive, empathic group (such as I create in my workshops) — the writing brings all the human emotion contained in the writing to the outside and allows the writer to reflect on it and feel in control once more. To do this, with an audience, is to be empowered, to lose all sense of merely being a passive recipient of the experience. This endows the writer with a self-esteem and confidence, which he or she may never have felt before.

Q: One of your specialty areas is communication and storytelling in organizations. When organizations (and the people in them) seek out your services, why are the typical communication issues they face — and how can storytelling help?

A: Teams (like families) are quite often dysfunctional because their members have ceased to communicate with each other. Story sessions encourage people to listen, to be curious about what is going to happen, to sift their own experiences for answers to common problems and to share. Stories also generate empathy and laughter. And living — for however brief a time — in a functional “metaphor” is a “habit” that can be carried forward into everyday working life.

Q: What has surprised you most in your work with story?

A: The eagerness to engage that people display when listening to stories and telling their own — even if this is a new experience for them.

Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?

A: Storytelling is becoming popular now because, as people increasingly understand, “hardware” is not enough. They like human interaction — loving or loathing others. But, as people find opportunities to interact are programmed out of their lives, they will make efforts to re-introduce them. And story is a way to do this.

Q: What’s your favorite story about a transformation that came about through a story or storytelling act?

A: A young girl was raped. Years of therapy hadn’t helped her forget and live life as she wished. Then a wise counselor asked her to tell her story — as a story, as if it had happened to someone else. She did. She felt witnessed. She felt empowered. She has displayed such talent and passion for storytelling and writing, she is now a full-time novelist. Telling stories has changed more lives than medical interventions.

Q: If you could share just one piece of advice or wisdom about story/storytelling/ narrative with readers, what would it be?

A: Listen with attention, reflect in depth and share.

Q: What question do you wish I had asked you but didn’t?

A: What did Einstein mean when he advised parents if they want their children to be wise, encourage them to read fairy tales?

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At the beginning of any Lonely Furrow Company group session, I like to encourage people to feel ‘in the room’. I use a few Open Space guidelines to settle people down – such as ‘Who-ever comes are the right people’ and ‘Whatever happens is the right thing to happen’. For added safety, I add the Chatham House Rule: ‘What is said in the room stays in the room’.

And then we begin – usually with a free-write on ‘Why am I here?’

I run two sorts of creative writing groups. One is concerned with creative writing and publication. The other has as its focus the well-being of individual participants and creative writing is the means to achieve this. At the point of the first free-write, the nature of each group becomes clear.

Writers concerned with the art and craft of creative writing and the possibilities of broadcasting and publication concentrate on technique – themes and inspirations, characterisation, plotting, location and descriptions, dialogue, editing, language and style and how to approach publishers. They are honing their skills. They may enjoy the ride but the finished product – story, poem, memoir, drama – is their goal. (I have devoted the writing blog, Authorgym, to this: http://authorgym.wordpress.com )

On the other hand, in a therapeutic creative writing group, the possibilities of self-exploration mean that technique doesn’t matter. In these groups, creative writing may take the form of journal writing, unsent letters, dialogues, expressions of altered time perspectives, and creatively-written accounts of imaginings, dreams and visions. These writers may take pleasure in the writing itself.

But, for these writers, it is the process that counts. Nothing written can be ‘wrong’. The purpose of the writing is to observe what is going inside the writer and what is going on around them and to bear witness to this. It is not to produce a work of Art.

As, for example, journal therapist Kate Thompson explains in Therapeutic Journal Writing (Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011): “for most people who practise therapeutic journal writing, the product of their process will be greater understanding, behavioural change or enhanced well-being rather than the writing itself.”

And, released from concerns over spelling, grammar and punctuation, writers – who never thought of themselves as writers – begin to use words fluently to feel into the darkness within and shed light. (This blog explores this further.)

There is another major difference between the two groups – the desire to ‘share’. Creative writers who want to produce stories or plays are not writing in a vacuum. Part of their purpose in writing at all is to ‘share’ – whether this is reading aloud to a group or being published.

But, within the therapeutic creative writing group, seeking to know themselves better, the ‘sharing’ is optional. For some, it’s enough to have borne witness to their lives with only themselves as audience. They may then choose to share with a trusted A N OTHER. Or they may choose to destroy what they have written. Whatever they choose doesn’t diminish the power of the process itself. And their choice not to share is a valid strategy and must be respected.

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