They say that we all have a book inside us. Many of us dream of writing a novel, penning poems, scribbling an autobiography and yet few of us ever put pen to paper. There are plenty of excuses – we don’t have time; we were never “good” at writing; nobody would want to read what we have to say. The words remain unwritten. And that, say Myra Schneider and John Killick, is a crying shame. Schneider and Killick, both published authors, believe that all of us could benefit from the therapeutic powers of creative writing. In their book Writing for Self-Discovery, they claim that writing can act as a potent form of self-therapy, illuminating the past and helping us understand our selves in the present. Writing freely can release emotional blocks, free creativity and help us in almost every area of our lives.
It’s not about writing a best-seller – although you may find that once the creative juices start flowing, you might just end up as a published author. It’s more about freeing yourself from the taboos of writing and learning how to access your innermost feelings.
Elke Dutton, who has followed the programme, says, “When I write about my life I lay claim to it and give it value. Writing helps me to stand in my own shoes. Creating finished pieces of work out of my personal world is also important, as if by giving the writing shape I also create an inner sense of completion and order.”
Psychologists have long recommended we keep journals to record our daily thoughts, claiming that writing our innermost thoughts and feelings, uncensored, can help our emotional growth. Freud pioneered the use of free association, saying or writing whatever just happens to “pop” into your head while Jung advocated “active imagination”, letting the imagination free to explore dreams or fantasies. Killick and Schneider’s book however does not dwell on psychological theory but instead offers an excellent practical introduction to using the healing power of words. Try these exercises from the book to gain an idea of what is possible when you free your mind and let your pen follow….
GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR FEELINGS
First of all, say the authors, you should start by trying out different ways of writing about your feelings, thoughts and attitudes. It doesn’t matter if what you write is uneven, over the top, contradictory or means nothing to anyone but you. Try out these exercises in a spirit of adventure. Work through them quickly.
EXERCISE ONE: AT THIS MOMENT. Sit down with a notebook and pen in a room at home and begin by looking at your immediate surroundings. See what catches your attention. It could be a pattern on the carpet or a fly on the window pane. Describe two or three objects, picking out some precise details such as shape, size, colour, texture, smell. Move on to describe yourself, how you are sitting, your mood, feelings, preoccupations, the thoughts that come into your head. Write for ten minutes.
EXERCISE TWO: PERSONAL LANDSCAPES. Picture an outdoor place or landscape that was special to you in your childhood or some years back. It could be a garden, a road, beach, playground, building. Describe the place, picking out features that were important to you. Include any sounds, colours, textures and smells you remember. Explain how you feel about the place and also how you feel as you think and write about it now. Mention any incidents you remember connected with the place. Spend ten minutes on this exercise.
EXERCISE THREE: DESERT ISLANDS. You are marooned on a benign desert island. It is warm, without any dangerous creatures, offers plenty of easily obtained food and fruit, fresh water and tree shelter. You have time on your hands. Write for three or four minutes about each of the following:
a) What and who would you most miss, explaining why.
b) What you would be glad to get away from.
c) Which two objects you would choose to have with you from your home to make your life better (excluding the phone, radio and television).
d) How you would cope with isolation and structure your time.
EXERCISE FOUR: PATTERNING. Patterning is making a list in which you repeat the same form of words to introduce each item. The repetition helps to release ideas and feelings and is a chance to play with words. Write quickly without thinking too much and enjoy experimenting. Take one of these opening lines and write a line with it; then add lines for six minutes.
“I don’t want…..”
“My life is…….”
“I wish I could…….”
“In my perfect world…….”
“Today I am……..”
“Today I am not…….”
This example from Rosemary Colehurst, who has worked through the programme, shows how it works:
“Today I am not going to climb a tower of anger.
Today I am not going to nag the kids.
Today I am not going to be a big soft punch bag.
Today I am not going to be a humpy camel.
Today I am not going to do any cooking.”
GOING DEEPER – KEY EXERCISES FOR CREATIVE WRITING
The introductory exercises should have proved that you can indeed write. Now it’s time to introduce some key techniques for unblocking your creative potential.
This technique works at unleashing the huge reservoir of ideas, images and feelings which make up our unconscious minds. Our conscious minds only contain a fraction of the wealth of material we possess so flow-writing offers a way to by-pass the controlling conscious mind with its insistence on analysis and logic.
By allowing yourself to associate freely – that is to put down the first words that come into your head and then to follow the train of thought wherever it leads you – you will find that your deepest ideas and feelings begin to surface. When you try this technique you may feel a strong urge to direct your writing, but resist it. Don’t plan, just write down whatever comes into your head. Don’t worry if you panic or dry up. Repeat the last few words you’ve written until something new suggests itself, then continue.
Try not to censor yourself – it doesn’t matter if what you write seems trivial or silly. If personal, private, uncertain or difficult feelings come up, feel free to write them down. You don’t have to show this to anyone. Don’t worry about whether you have the right word, or whether your writing is logical or your grammar perfect – just “go with the flow.”
There are various ways of starting off. One is to use a sentence opening which suggests discovery, movement, encounter or memory. Begin writing with one of these:
“I opened the door and……”
“For the first time in my life…….”
“I looked down and…….”
“It’s years since……..”
“What I wanted was………”
Then continue writing for five minutes.
Now try two or three of these openings and write for between five and ten minutes.
“Coming towards me was……..”
“What I wanted to tell you was…..”
“The music made me feel……..”
“I couldn’t speak because……….”
“If I’m really honest………”
“I look in the mirror and……….”
“If I’d dared I’d…………”
After you have written each piece read it and underline the sentences, phrases and words that strike you because they contain a thought or feeling or a word that catches your attention, interests or excites you.
Flow-writing is one of the most useful writing tools you will find. Once you become accustomed to it, you can use it to explore any theme or feeling you want.
TAPPING INTO MEMORY
Our lives are so shaped by childhood that recalling tiny details and the events and feelings that surrounded those details, can be an important element in self-discovery through writing. The authors point out that almost all the exercises given here could set off memories. However, because memory is so crucial, they include specific ways of tapping directly both into childhood and other areas of your past. An old diary or letters written by you or to you may be very useful in offering information. If you have this kind of material the first thing you might want to do is to write and Flow-write about events and feelings it reminds you of. If you have no material of this kind to refer to it doesn’t matter. The exercises that follow will spark off details, situations, episodes and feelings, some of which you may not have thought about for a long time.
OBJECTS FROM THE PAST: Look round your home and collect a few objects that are connected with your past. They could be items of clothing, jewellery, books, paintings, toys, that you have owned for a long time. Chose one that has special significance for you. Begin by describing it in detail: size, shape, colours, texture, smell, weight. Then write as much as you can about any or all of the following: where it was kept, any events or people it reminds you of, the period of your life you associate it with, your feelings then, the feelings the object triggers in you now.
LOST OBJECTS: Repeat the first exercise but this time make a list of objects you remember from your past but which you no longer have. Search your mind for “key” possessions. It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember then in great detail. It could be: your first bicycle, your desk at school, party clothes, a ring, a toy etc. Write for seven minutes or longer about two of these.
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE PAST: Now use a photograph as a trigger – it could be an old school or family photo; the photo of a pet, parent or sibling; your first boyfriend/girlfriend; yourself at work or on holiday. Begin by describing the photograph and the people, animals, places in it in detail. Then remember about yourself at this time – what you did, wore, who you knew, what you felt, incidents around that time. One memory is very likely to set off others you want to write about.
PLACES FROM THE PAST: Now choose a room in a house or flat where you once lived. Or it could be part of a garden, a road, a view, a shop, a place of work, beach, playing field, even a piece of waste ground or a station from which you used to travel. Visualise it as fully as you can. Begin by describing it and then Flow-write about the memories the place sets off.
PEOPLE FROM THE PAST: The people who have been important in your life may have cropped up already in pieces of writing you have done but this is an opportunity to focus on people who have mattered to you in the past. Choose two you would like to write a few paragraphs about. You might want to concentrate on showing the part your chosen person has played in your life. If he or she belonged to your early childhood you may only have a few memories and want to record everything you can remember. If your relationship with the person you are writing about had a definite shape – an affair, a friendship, a rivalry, a set-up in which you were bullied – you may find it best to write a narrative.
If you are not quite sure where to begin or how to tackle writing about your chosen person, write down the first few sentences about him or her that come into your mind. Then Flow-write for seven minutes or so. When you stop, underline phrases or sentences which suggest ideas for writing more fully, arrange them in order, then use them as guidelines to develop your piece.
*Adapted from Writing for Self-Discovery – A Personal Approach to Creative Writing by Myra Schneider and John Killick (Element).
Julia McCutchen offers good creative writing retreats. See www.iaccw.com/210/julia-mccutchen