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Archive for the ‘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 the 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. (This blog is devoted to this sort of creative writing.)

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. (The writing blog I have developed for this group is named Light for Shadows (http://lightforshadows.wordpress.com ))

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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It all started when I was climbing the conning tower of the UK’s latest nuclear submarine.  Yes – you’ve guessed it. HMS Astute. My knee not so much gave way as disappeared out of my leg completely.  And that was it – over twenty years of freelance journalism and poor workplace ergonomics (I work from home) were catching up with me. Musculo-skeletal disorders were rearing their pretty ugly heads. Along with a rather peculiar form of adrenaline-aversion which is triggered particularly by deadlines. And deadlines – as we all know – are an essential tool in journalistic productivity.

‘No work’ was not an option and ‘Less desk-bound work’ and ‘using my expertise’ were imperatives.  And – with unusual foresight as opposed to journalistic crisis management – I just happened some time ago to have taken a coaching course. So now, I was able to re-jig my career – for the fourth time if you include motherhood.

I still do occasional medical journalism assignments and I’m working on a series of short stories and a novel.  But, since 2005, when I founded the Lonely Furrow Company, a new world has opened up. Trained in co-active coaching, NLP and transactional analysis, I am now a writing coach.

As a result, clients ask for my help with projects ranging from novels to academic theses. And tricky but common writing coaching problems  include writers’ block, time management and work life balance, where to find ideas, how to handle feedback and how to write a book proposal.

But, it doesn’t stop there. I improve people’s communication skills – personal and professional – by drawing on my eclectic knowledge of literature and my Masters in Sociolinguistics. Communication impacts on human relationships and the simple equation is: better communication skills = better relationships. Of course, other aspects such as shared values and a GSH help. But communication contributes here too.

Within the Lonely Furrow Company stable, there is also the workshop facilitation service, Out of the Box Workshops. Some workshops on offer embrace creative writing for personal development – such as memoir writing and journaling – writing coaching, creativity and opportunities for peer review. Others deal with media coaching issues such as how to write a winning press release or how to give a good account of yourself, your work and your organisation when interviewed by the media. Other presentations deal with corporate interests such as the role of communication in leadership and team building and yet more, deal with the highly-charged areas of family breakdown and healthcare.

And I am a storyteller. I use story to help people reflect on their personal and professional lives. And I train others in the use of story. Clients for these workshops range from healthcare workers to family lawyers to organisational leaders.

In fact, put simply, I tell stories for a living and help others to do the same. And this – in the brave new world of the economic downturn – is what retirement means.

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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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