Creative Writing for health, well-being and fun!

Follow by Email

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Creative Writing and Health & Well-Being

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.

Alzheimers’ Disease Patients are regularly offered the opportunity of contact with working poets. They talk. The poets listen. The poets create poems from the patients’ words. The patients read these poems and re-gain, however briefly, their sense of ‘self’. This is also a gift to the people who love them.

But creative writing is also now recognised as a stress-buster, forming part of corporate stress management programmes. A bit left-field, you think? Not so. Engaging in writing down serious autobiographical material can lead – as the Alzheimer Patients find - to an increased sense of self (and self-worth) and a sense of control over one’s life. Insufficient control over the work we are paid to do, for example, has already been identified as a major source of stress in the Health & Safety Executive’s Stress Management Standards.

In the 1990s, author of Opening up and psychologist James Pennebaker identified that meaningful creative writing about autobiographical material (ie not about trivia) resulted in a strengthened immune system and reduced blood pressure. This could help to militate against certain cancers, stroke and heart disease.

And, even arthritis sufferers have been found to need fewer pain-killers when encouraged to engage in creative writing.

How creative writing works is well-documented.

As Julia Cameron indicates in her seminal work, The Artist’s Way, writing is a means of problem solving. She advocated – as all we coaches do – free writing to throw up repeating themes, concerns and even solutions. For example, she explains how Phyllis – a leggy, socialite – had for ten years written nothing but letters and shopping lists. But after starting to free-write – Cameron’s morning pages – she wrote her first poem and has moved on to many more.

It’s now generally accepted, according to Yogic principles, all the thoughts and ideas populating the ‘busy brain’ can keep you awake at night. So, having a journal by the bedside and writing them all down may even help with the insomnia produced. Once these images and issues are ‘out’ of the brain and – in the form of words on the page – become a visible presence, the writer can re-read them later (ie next morning) with a fresh perspective and focus. An empty brain allows you to sleep.

Increased interest in the deployment of the humanities in the practice of medicine and social care has resulted in a whole range of projects, pulled together in the Prospectus for Arts and Health (published by the Arts Council and the Department of Health). For example, funding has been made available for the inclusion of creative writing within a medical humanities model for the medical students of the University of Bristol.

As a well-thumbed source book for my Out of the Box Creativity Workshops – I personally commend Writing Works – a resource handbook for Therapeutic Writing Workshops and activities, published in 2006 by Jessica Kingsley and edited by Gillie Bolton, Victoria Field and Kate Thompson. And In his foreword to this, Blake Morrison expresses the view that this book should be used in schools, colleges, hospitals, prisons, rehab clinics and community centres.

“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come” said Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables. Creative Writing, of course, has always been powerful.

Your Life, Your Autobiography


Earlier in this series, we have looked at memories as a resource. But why stop at a memory. Would you like to work on your own Life Story? In this you are your own hero/heroine. You could find out the ‘Why’ of you. And another glittering prize – when you embark on this journey – is the production of a resource to answer all those questions your family will suddenly find they’d like an answer to – albeit long after you’ve forgotten most of what you’ve been and what you’ve done.

As a coach, I can almost hear all the unhelpful voices leaping out at you as you’re thinking about this.

Which one’s sitting in your head?
• My life’s been boring
• I was never any good at English
• I’d forget my head if it was loose – never mind recalling all those people and places
• And, where do I start?

Well, the beginning’s always a good place. Researchers such as Joseph Campbell (author of ‘The Hero with a 1000 faces’) and Christopher Booker – both of whom’ve studied human storying in depth - would agree that human beings love stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end. Well, you may not yet have reached the end but you’ll certainly already have lots of material to hand for the beginning of your book.

Here comes another wall of objections. There’s too much. And how do I write my story?

You need to:
• clarify what you want to achieve
• think about how best to do this
• organise your material
• learn to understand your material
• trust yourself.

And remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Lonely Furrow Company is there to help.

Public Lending Rights

Public Lending Rights.

Many Happy Returns to the 1979 Public Lending Right(PLR) Act. We’re celebrating a rather glorious principle this year – namely that the public should be able to borrow books freely from government- funded libraries but the creators of books - ‘lent’ by government -should have a legal right to payment for their ideas, energy and hard work.

The current situation is:
• Not only authors but also illustrators, translators, editors and photographers qualify for payment
• 1400 new authors registered last year for the February 2009 payments (part of a rising trend)
• The current loan rate runs at 5.98p
• 28 countries now have PLR systems
• The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society is the industry watchdog committed to ensuring payment is forthcoming to registered authors
• Registration must be completed by June 30th each year for payment to be made in the following February.

Those of you who have had books published recently and want the Library systems – in the UK or in the European Union Member States - to take them up should:
• Ask the PLR office for a registration form by telephone: 01642 604699
• Visit the website, ,to apply for registration online.