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Archive for the ‘Creative Writing for Health’ Category


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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Hello, Everyone!

 

Using creative writing to improve life quality for the long-term ill and distressed – and that of their family, friends and professional advisers – is a subject dear to my heart. And since I went to an Arts and Dementia Conference in Liverpool at the beginning of November, I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

 

As organisers Collective Encounters  explained, the conference aimed ‘to explore the possibilities in the use of arts in dementia care, celebrate excellence in the artistic work created by artists working with people with dementia and their carers, and look at the potential impact of Live and Learn [a new project] will have on the health and social care and creative sectors locally.’

 

It did and I found it difficult to process so many stunning insights all at once. But one story particularly impressed. David Clegg – a sculptor by profession – had volunteered to visit an old lady with dementia. When, after fifteen minutes, she found her front door, she was stark naked apart from ski-boots and oven gloves. She told him later, she was dressed this way because someone had stolen her clothes and replaced them with the clothes of an old woman. A stunning insight – indeed.

 

David now spends his time, when not sculpting, helping people with dementia record their stories and make sense of their lives. Which is what we all – as humans – want to do. And what creative writing is all about.

 

So, I have two pieces of news for you. Firstly, I now offer e-courses in Therapeutic Creative Writing – fiction, life-writing and journaling – for anyone dealing professionally or personally with relationship issues and emotional health problems. These e-courses each contain six units full of advice and writing games to explore the unit topic. Each unit may be completed at your own pace and in your own time with 24/7 support and – when appropriate – professional critique.

 

Secondly, November is packed with Lonely Furrow Company’s Out of the Box Workshops. These are designed to be useful for those – including writers – who deal with relationships and communication issues professionally. Group interaction is a crucial aspect of this form of communication training and the workshops provide a basis for further work.

 

November Workshops:

 

All will take place at The Conservatory, 28 Park West, Heswall, Wirral, CH60 9JF. (Tel: 0151 342 3877)

 

Communication Series

November 23rd 2011 (1pm-3.30pm) ‘Body Language – the silent story’  (£25)

November 30th 2011 (1pm-3.30pm)  ‘Story-telling – the techniques’ (£25)

 

Creative Writing Technique Series

November 26th 2011 (10am – 12.30pm) ‘Memorable Characters – how to write them.’ (£20)

 

To find out more or book your place, contact me initially via Elizabeth@lonelyfurrowcompany.com or telephone 0151 342 3877.

 

And, for a no-charge, no-obligation chat about any Lonely Furrow Company services, contact me initially via the Lonely Furrow Company brochure website www.lonelyfurrowcompany.com .

 

 

I hope you find the concept of Arts in Health as inspirational as I do. If you’d like to know more about this kind of work, please also see www.lapidus.org.uk. Lapidus is a professional organization which promotes the use of creative words for health and well-being, has established an ethical code for this work and maintains a directory of creative writing practitioners (of which I am one).

 

With very best wishes

Lizzie

 

 

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Reading and writing are concerned with people. The reason why I have been drawn to literature all my life is because I hoped – through story – to find out about people, to understand them better, to make sense of them where at times there seemed no sense. Sometimes, I have wondered how this works – this quest to connect to humanity. And, it seems to me, it works through the senses. And through the imagination.

As a writer, through sense impressions, you can build up a world for the reader which he can recognise. Sense impressions – visual, aural, tangible, olfactory, gustatory – link the writer and the reader through their common humanity. And, when this linking happens, as a reader, you know you are not alone, not a freak. You know you have something in common. You then take it further. You want to gain the insights which will help you make sense of your life. You want to be prompted to ask the questions ”What if . . . ?’ or ‘Where next?’   And, as a consequence, ‘What if . . .?’ and ‘Where next . . . ?’ are two of the most important questions a fiction writer can have in his or her tool kit.

The process has another important dimension. When you are the writer and the audience – as when journaling – the whole experience moves up a gear. You learn to understand yourself better, to make sense of your own life. You learn what is important to you and what your chief anxieties are. And, in the ‘safe place’ of solitude, you can learn how to express these – first to yourself and then to the world at large.

Here’s a writing game to engage you with your senses!

Settle yourself down where-ever you like to write, relax into your writing state and take up your pen. Complete the following:

On my way to my favourite chair, my desk, my bed:

  • I saw
  •  I heard
  •  I tasted
  •  I touched
  •  I thought
  •  I felt
Now, choose the three complete thoughts that seem to you to have the most potential for you to explore in fiction. Think of a character, give him or her a name, and your three sensations. Write a story of no more than 500 words using this material. Consider what you’ve created. Do you like it? Could you develop it further?
Through this game, you will demonstrate to yourself that you possess the imagination essential to linking writer and reader  in quantities.

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GPR_280111_045_Writing

A prototype for creative writing projects in primary care!

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Creative Writing comes from our ability to day-dream.  Through it we can practice our narrative competence – making sense of our own lives, our own fears, our own anxieties.  We can generate meaning and find re-assuring resolution.

As writers, as Freud said in his paper on Creative Writers and Day-dreaming (1907) we can make up imaginary worlds, take them seriously, invest them with huge emotion, enliven them with material from the world’ around us and keep these worlds separate from our own reality.

So what’s in it for doctors?  Why should they bother writing – creatively?

By developing an alternative world, you can process emotions you experience in the real world.  You can give your characters your own insecurities, your own feelings of powerlessness, your own sense of burnout.  You can express how these emotions act out in imagined situations based on the reality you live with – how bad news is broken, how guilt and fatigue feel.  You can put yourself in other people’s shoes.  And, from your own creative resources – as a humane and caring person – you can work out some better ways of handling matters, trying for the ‘happy ending’ – whatever that may entail.

The benefits are real if difficult to measure quantitatively.

You’ll be more easily able to see your patients as people, not medical cases, recognising and understanding their re-actions.  You’ll develop curiosity about what it’s like for them, for example, to hear the bad news you have to tell them.  And – because you understand them better – you may be able to adapt the way you tell them.

You’ll become a better communicator – even a better doctor – as a result.

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Unless you are writing exclusively for yourself – and I’m not sure how possible this is – you are not writing in a vacuum. You are writing for an audience.  That audience may be represented in indirect ways but an audience it remains.  For example, an editor represents the readers of his or her magazine or the buyers of his books.  And, as you write her memoirs, your great aunt Agatha will be sitting on your shoulder – probably tutting.

As a writer, you are – or should be – acutely aware of your audience.  And, when reading what you’ve written, your audience will be acutely aware of what’s in it for them.  To communicate with them successfully, you should be, too.

But, when writing up personal memoirs – whether as a series of anecdotes or a detailed auto-biography or a family history or even fictionalised as a first novel – you have to protect the feelings of people you know and love in a way that pure fiction usually does not.

Taking the extreme example of the First Novel – usually largely autobiographical – family and friends will paw over the text, hunting for mention of themselves.  At first reading, they will see little other than what they imagine – true or false – to be them.  And your saying ‘If the cap fits…’ will not help.

Similarly with Triumph over Tragedy personal stories for magazines, be cautious.  If you intend to write it yourself, consider how it will impact on all the other players in the ‘drama’.  Do they want their names, photographs, follies and fears all over a tabloid?  And don’t let someone else write it for you unless you absolutely trust them and you really don’t want to set pen to paper on the subject.

This begs the question: Why bother?

  • Some people get involved for the money.
  • Some people get involved because they want to help others.
  • Some people get involved for the therapeutic benefits of unloading.
  • Some people get involved for revenge, setting the record straight.

But writing up memoirs – as opposed to fictionalisation or journalism – has different, more personal, often more loving motives:

  • You may want to ‘remember’ someone in the most reverent way of which you are capable.
  • You may have been asked by ‘the family’ to be keeper of the collective sense of ‘Who we are’.
  • You may want to explore who you are through your own life-story.

You may also want to provide a record for future generations – an oral history transcribed into readable form. But you do not at this point know your audience and you cannot assume any knowledge of your life and times. This will influence what and how much detail you include.

And, even if you suspect your memoir will have a limited audience, you need to exercise diplomacy.  Great Aunt Agatha may be consigned to sitting on your shoulder.  But her other descendants and dependants – your siblings and cousins – may yet be extant. Include anecdotes with caution and – at times – at your peril.

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For centuries, creative writing has been accepted as beneficial to people with emotional problems. Aristotle described the cathartic effect of drama.  Shakespeare warned:  “Give sorrow words.  The grief that does not speak/ Whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.” And twentieth century researchers began to seek an evidence base for this – hoping to establish a cornerstone for creative writing therapy.

However some of the findings have surprised even the already-converted.In independent studies, benefits of creative writing have proved certainly emotional and spiritual but also psychological and physical. (more…)

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