Is all writing therapeutic? I’m pretty sure it isn’t. When talking to writer friends hacking away at their novel, or stressing over edits, or rewriting that same conversation four times because it just doesn’t flow correctly…well, no, that doesn’t sound therapeutic.
But maybe it is.
These last few days I worked at Larmertree Festival in Wiltshire, running creative writing workshops. This is something I have been lucky enough to do for the last five years now, and I love it. Last year, I introduced ‘Writing for Wellbeing’ workshops for the first time, and this year I ran two, which were quite popular. I also ran a few standard ‘Creative Writing Workshops’ and a Kid’s workshop. And what did I realise? All of them, in a way, are focused on wellbeing. They all include the principles of a Writing for Wellbeing workshop.
These included, group dynamics, feeling safe enough to share or not, using our own history and stories as ideas, being supportive of the other group members, being playful with your writing.
What else did I learn? Any prompt can be a trigger. You don’t know what people are going through. As I’ve been running wellbeing groups, I’ve been very careful to be a facilitator- I’m in the ‘therapeutic’ state of mind. But standard creative writing groups don’t deserve anything else- their prompts can also hurt or upset people. Just because we have made the distinction in our mind doesn’t mean that the effects aren’t the same. I chose an incorrect prompt, simply because I thought ‘standard creative writing’ workshops weren’t capable of the same power as wellbeing ones. And that’s not true.
There is something about responding in words that makes us feel certain things- lists make us feel certain, or determined, or sometimes more confused. Recipes make us feel guided, or perhaps a little rebellious, eager to make them our own. Reviews, rants, letters, complaining emails, twitter posts…all these little ways of expressing ourselves in words have an emotional reaction. If they didn’t, why would we do them?
So as a facilitator, my lesson here was to pick things that can be engaging without overwhelming- my context is not everyone else’s. Think carefully about what you bring into the room. But also, even when I’m slogging through writing a bit of a novel that seems rubbish, or writing a rambling blog post…I feel better. I feel expressed. And maybe that’s the point. Any writing can be powerful, as long as we let ourselves connect.