Creative Writing for Wellbeing & Discovery; what can happen when you are curious about the process of writing?
When writing, we tend to concentrate on the finished product; a book, a poem or an essay. But, what happens if, instead of focusing on the outcome, we focus on the actual process of writing itself?
This is what I began to explore in 2018 when, as a volunteer, I started to run Creative Writing for Wellbeing sessions.
As we progressed through the sessions, I discovered that the participants benefited enormously from this type of writing in a group. It not only enabled them to take time for themselves to do something creative but also to challenge their thinking, tap into insights and see things differently. They experimented, discovered and made connections enjoying the moment along with that relaxed sense of energy that comes from achieving a state of flow.
Insightful and enjoyable
In each session participants were given a prompt, such as a poem, and encouraged to write about it. After writing, we would discuss the activity through questions and feedback.
Combining the magic of writing with a non-prescriptive approach whilst actively encouraging group participation meant that the writers not only consistently learnt from each other but also worked in a way that was deep, insightful and enjoyable.
It seemed that each week, it would naturally be the turn of one or two of the group members to have some sort of insight that would bring about a transformation or shift in their thinking and, or, emotional awareness.
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Whilst many people come to writing workshops with an interest in writing, they are often surprised to find out more about themselves through the writing exercises.
As Gillie Bolton points out
“writing can have an intensely cathartic or gently illuminating effect upon the writer”Writing Works, (2006, p.15)
After attending these courses, participants have reported:
- an improvement in general wellbeing such as feeling calmer and happier
- tapping into wisdom or insights that they didn’t know existed
- gaining confidence as a writer
Some of the participants on these courses have continued writing, published their stories and formed writing groups with like-minded people that they can call on for motivation and support
Out of all the benefits that participants report, the one I see standing out so clearly is a renewed sense of confidence. As Gillie Bolton notes when discussing the satisfaction involved in creating something that didn’t exist before:
“The very creative process is deeply self-affirming and creating of self-confidence: I’ve made this; therefore I really exist and am worth something!”Writing Works (2206, p.18)
Claire Jaggard, a participant on a Creative Writing for Wellbeing course in January 2021 commented:
Rebecca uses a wide range of techniques not just to inspire you, but to draw out ideas, thoughts and ways of working that you didn’t know you could do. This boosted our confidence. Her activities meant that not only can you make writing a priority but also you feel that you can do it.Claire Jaggard
After the course, Claire joined a local writing group. In the same year her stories were published on BBC Radio Bristol and she went on to be a winner of the Stroud Short Story Competition.
Whilst the outcomes were different in every group, participants often arrived with similar worries and doubts.
At the beginning participants can be nervous and worry about not being able to write, their spelling or grammar. I’m often asked if you need to be good at writing to join these courses. The answer is no, you just need to be curious about the process.
Whilst this type of writing uses examples from creative writing, I don’t teach the craft of writing itself and reassure the writers that I won’t be commenting on their work from a literary perspective. I also emphasise that I am not a therapist and, therefore, while this activity may indirectly be therapeutic, it’s not designed as therapy or counselling.
A form of creative discovery and expression, it’s a way to recharge energy, reflect, learn and explore; clearing your mind without focusing on the outcome or the result and just allowing the words to come.
A non-judgemental atmosphere
The aim to set up a safe and non-judgemental atmosphere in which the participants can write without preconceptions. No one is going to read your writing except you and I make it clear at the beginning that we are not there to judge. If people want to share their writing our role is simply to listen.
There’s never any obligation to share anything that’s been written in a session although many people realise that talking around the writing can often help clarify ideas and lead to further insights.
It’s important to remember that everyone is at a different stage in their journey and what comes up for us today in our writing may be different tomorrow. It’s not prescriptive and the only rule is that we don’t judge ourselves or others for what comes out on the page. You just need to be open to the writing process and observing what appears.
Noticing the benefits that participants were getting from the writing groups, and, in particular, from the moments of flow, I teamed up with my friend, colleague and Mindfulness practitioner, Suzanne Lloyd from Red Berry Mindfulness to deliver creative writing with guided meditation. Together we ran a workshop that brought together writing, coaching and guided meditation practices.
““A really enjoyable day – I came away with loads of ideas, not only on writing but about myself as a creative person. “The combination of Mindfulness practices and writing exercises was really powerful.”Hilary Smith, educator and author of Relationship-based Pedagogy in Primary Schools (published by Routledge); participant on the Awaken The Writer in You workshop
How does it work?
Sometimes I wonder exactly what happens during these writing sessions. I’m often awed by a breakthrough moment or a shift in someone’s thinking as a result of what appears to be a simple writing exercise. It’s a bit like that moment when we exercise, and suddenly we’ve forgotten about the shopping list, that client/relative/student we are having problems with, popping round to granny’s with a bottle of milk or fixing that broken door handle and find ourselves deeply immersed in the activity. The moment of flow when everything else disappears temporarily.
For me, it’s usually about 15-20 minutes into a yoga or a Pilates class when my mind stops distracting me and I start to feel the benefits of the exercise. It also happens when I walk, cook (for enjoyment and without pressure), write or read. For others it might be other creative activities, watching a film, spending time with friends or meditation that leads them into this state of relaxation.
A moment of concentration
There’s a moment when we forget everything else and concentrate solely on what we are doing. This state that we might refer to as presence of mind or flow, often enables us to free up our minds and make space for ideas to come through. It’s that moment when we open our minds to other possibilities. They may not always come straight away and we may find that an idea comes to us in a flash of inspiration when we have moved on to do something different.
Freeing up your mind
In his book Strategic Intuition, William Duggan notes that flashes of insight are brought on by thinking rather than emotion and are both powerful and exciting.
“That’s why it excites you: at last you see clearly what to do”Strategic Intuition (New York, 2013, p. 2)
Whether it’s because this type of writing practice enables us to make connections in our thinking that we don’t normally make or, because we focus on what comes from within us, rather than what is externally imposed or influences us, I’m not sure. It could be the fact that there’s no judgement and that this allows people to thrive or maybe it’s because it enables us to raise our self-awareness and this level of self-knowledge in turn, gives us confidence. Or perhaps, it’s simply because we create a space to listen to our thoughts in a non-linear way.
Duggan suggests that
“In a free mind selected elements from various past examples come together in a new combination.”Strategic Intuition, (New York 2013, p. 59)
which, of course, according to Bloom’s Taxonomy is where creativity comes into itself; through the process of knowledge, synthesis and evaluation that leads us to combine existing elements into something new.
So, what next?
There are many books on the topic if you would like to try this type of writing. I would recommend starting with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It does have a slight spiritual element to it, so if this is not your cup of tea, Julia recommends substituting the word ‘God’ for other words such as the ‘Universe’. There’s also Kathleen Adams’ Journal to the Self which is a practical book full of exercises that you can dip in and out of.
To find out more about joining one of our courses, email us at creativewellbeing (@ )outlook.com. Suzanne and I are using the writing and mindfulness process to create our own ideas for a You Tube channel where we will share some of our techniques and ideas, so expect to see some clips soon.
Writing Works, Bolton, G et al (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006, London)
Strategic Intuition, Duggan, W (Columbia University Press, 2013, New York)