therapeutic writing, writing tips

Larmertree Festival 2016 – a recap

So, I make no apologies for my obsession with Larmertree festival – it was the first festival I ever went to, it’s small and family friendly and chilled as hell. Bigger festivals make me anxious with their vastness and the huge amount of people. At Larmertree, if you feel a bit overwhelmed, you can go sit in a tree or lay in the Social on some pillows, or hang out in the Lostwoods and look at the lights. Quite frankly, I love it.

I also love that I get to run workshops, and explore all the different things I’m excited by about writing. Over the years I’ve run kids writing workshops, writing and craft, writing for wellbeing, fiction writing, and this year, I was exciting to offer three new ones: Writing and Nature, Writing and the Body, and Writing for Publication.

It was really great to be able to offer some activities based on my MSc research into writing and body, and I think everyone found it to be something a little different, and connected differently with it. For some, it was about writing an apology to their body, another was to ask why the hell it was slowing down on them in later life, and others just made a promise to stop feeding them rubbish and move them a little more.

It was such a beautiful, calm environment, and it’s renewed my desire to run writing for wellbeing retreats, something I’m going to start looking into as soon as my degree is over. There’s something so magical about being in nature, writing for fun, looking inwards and sharing with a bunch of people who really ‘get’ what writing can be.

I’ll share a few tips from my Writing for Publication talk next week, and hopefully Sara from Huhbub, who gave a talk on Publishing as an introduction for writers who aren’t sure where to go next, can share some more of the wisdom that she offered in the Larmertree Gardens. I’ve been working with publishers for years, but it’s amazing to hear about how it all works from the other side!

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Hope you guys are having a good week! Keep writing!

 

 

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Fiction, therapeutic writing

Update: Books, Research and New Projects

Hello all,

It’s been a while since I blogged about any of my goings on – mainly as I’ve been desperately trying to finish a book. Thankfully, that happened!

I’m excited to announce that Goodbye Ruby Tuesday  will be released on the 28th April. You can pre-order it now. There will, as usual, be a blog tour, a (truly) fantastic give away and a really different and creative event to promote the book and raise money for a great cause! The excellent Sara from Huhbub will be arranging all of this for me, so if you are a lovely blogger interested in the blog tour, leave a comment or send me a twitter message (@almichael_).

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday

It’s a book about three childhood friends who are brought together by the death of a rockstar they used to know, and start up an arts centre. It’s a noughties nostalgia-filled jaunt through the creative goings on in north London, with three friends fighting to create something special in memory of their friend.

Research:

My research into the application of creative therapeutic writing in eating disorder recovery starts next week. I’ll be running workshops in London, working with some lovely people in order to research how useful creative writing can be. I really do believe in the power of writing to heal and help arrange thoughts. I’m excited to see what this research discovers.

Future Writing:

Goodbye Ruby Tuesday is the first in a series of three books coming out this year. Each main character gets a book, so I hope you love the girls as much as I do, because there’s a lot more coming from them this year. The second book, Nice Day for a White Wedding will be our over the summer. The third, you’ll have to wait and see, but as I’m sure it’s clear, I’m picking some of my favourite songs as titles this time!

Other:

I’m excited to say I’ll be back at the wonderful Larmertree Festival this year, providing some creative writing for wellness workshops. They’ll be focused on nature and the body, really working to be inspired by the natural environment of the festival. If you’re there this year, stop by and try it out!

 

 

 

 

therapeutic writing

Writing, Wellbeing and Research- A call for participants.

I’m doing an MSc. In Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes.

Sounds fancy, right?

It’s actually just the science and research based around the assumption that writing can be good for you, and can make you feel good. The same is accepted of Art Therapy, Drama Therapy, Dance, Crafts, anything. Anything that involves creativity and expression is usually quite powerful for your mental state.

I’ve loved studying about this. Learning about the psychology of it, trying different techniques and consistently writing and playing, in order to learn and experience.

But here’s the hard part: I’m doing my own research. And it’s hard.

I’m studying the response from women who are in recovery from eating disorders when they take part in a therapeutic creative writing class.

Which sounds really intense and a lot of work. And when you work through the hundreds of (very necessary) ethics forms, work out how you’re going to be self aware, keep everyone safe, allow everyone to be authentic, avoid triggers and still let people actually do the writing, well…it’s exhausting.

But the workshops will be fun! We’ll be looking at poems and playing with metaphors and writing letters. The whole thing is designed to be positive, and engaging and to encourage self love and self respect, as well as even creating bonds with the people who take part.

But when you try to advertise things like this, well, they are serious, and they do have to be safe. So no-one signs up because it sounds like a drag. It’s a catch 22.

So here, in a basic way is what I’m asking:

-Are the things in the creative writing sessions ‘useful’ or ‘helpful’ in eating disorder recovery?

-How do you define ‘useful’ and ‘helpful’?

 

That’s pretty much it! I’m asking  women in recovery from eating disorders if they want to do some creative writing sessions with me and then talk about them. If they’re fun, if they’re exciting, stressful, relaxing. That’s all!

The aim is to find out what is ‘useful’ and ‘helpful’ and one day design workshops for people in recovery that can really benefit them. It already exists for other types of recovery from other illnesses, and I think it’s time it existed for those dealing with EDs too.

So, IF you know anyone who might be interested in taking part (and can get to London for the three sessions in the Spring) please do share this or ask them to get in touch at:

writingtonourish@gmail.com

Even if they can’t come to sessions, or they’re abroad, but they want to share their ED story, have some recommendations, or have used journalling before…anyone who wants to talk to me, I’m happy to listen/read an email.

It’s hard to talk about serious things like this, and it’s hard to make it sound like an engaging and positive experience, especially when it can be scary to ‘own’ an ED so publicly, but I really think the work I’m doing could benefit people (and if it can’t, it’s best I find out now!)

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therapeutic writing

Writing Full Time: When the Dream Doesn’t Live Up to the Hype

I haven’t had any work for the last few weeks. That’s the way it goes with my life, ebb and flow. Everything was a stressful overwhelming mess, and now there’s no more tutoring, classes, festivals or essays to be written. I literally just get to work on my novel. Which is all I’ve ever wanted.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? ‘One day I’ll earn enough to write full time and I won’t have to do my crappy day job.’ Except, sadly, I think I need my crappy day job for my brain to actually work. Otherwise, I sit at home and write a bit, tidy a bit, sit around watching TV and getting depressed about my ability to do anything, bug my partner at work, go to the gym, and wonder why I got more writing done when I had three other jobs on the go.

I think it would be different if I had a job that was still a joy, like being a mum and full time writer. Although more and more I wonder how the hell my wonderful writer friends with kids manage at all! That’s not really a job you get a break from. Or space to yourself, to climb inside your own mind and hang out with the imaginary people in there.

I knew this about myself. I wrote it in my five year business plan when I graduated from my creative entrepreneurship MA. I need to keep busy in order to be creative. Again, it’s about balance, something I’ve never been very good at. So at the moment, instead of doing all the powerful things I could be doing to prepare for when the work starts up again (organising files, doing my accounts, prepping all my tutoring work) I’m just distracting myself by procrastinating and using my skills for anything I possibly can. Including blogging about the distinct turmoil of getting everything you ever wanted.

Yeah. I hate me too. Ungrateful bitch that I am. So, now I’ve procrastinated for the day, I’m going to use that precious time for my actual job- writing books.

I guess the lesson here is ‘be careful what you wish for’ but really, it’s about knowing who you are, and what you need to stay creative.

• TROPICAL •• TASTE •

therapeutic writing

Is All Writing Therapeutic Writing?

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.

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therapeutic writing

5 Ways Creative Writing for Wellbeing Can Help You.

Most people don’t really know what I’m talking about when I say ‘writing for wellbeing’, but it’s pretty simple: writing to feel good. I often descibe it as yoga for your creative muscles. So whether you’re a writer, a thinker, a day-dream believer, Creative Writing for Wellbeing has something to offer you.

1) You’re a writer

Perhaps you’re a novelist, or an academic. Maybe you’re feeling a bit swamped with work, a little overwhelmed? Perhaps the creativity isn’t flowing as you’d like it to? Try some fun and engaging activities to wake your brain up, get you thinking and creating again. How is that different to a standard creative writing workshop? Nothing to prove. The writing doesn’t need to be good. What matters is how you feel about the writing.

2) You’re stressed

Creativity is a great stress reliever, and play is ridiculously beneficial. So if the English weather is stopping you from running off the weight on your shoulders, why not write them away?

3) You don’t like writing

Most people who don’t like writing actually like stories. Watching movies, reading books, talking to people. These are all forms of stories. Often those who hate writing have a negative association with school and the dreaded red pen. There are no red pens in writing for wellbeing. There’s no wrong. No corrections on punctuation or grammer. Hell, you can draw your stories if you want! What matters is how you feel.

4) You’re a fan of mindfulness/yoga/meditation/self-help

You get what this is about, and here’s a new and exciting way to get down to the truth of you, discover new things, unearth lovely memories and come away with something you’ve created.

5) You’re stuck in your batcave.

Whether writer or not, sometimes it’s hard to motivate ourselves to get outside and interact with people, especially when now we can rely on technology. Writing for wellbeing is about connecting, to yourself and others. It can be really lovely to hear other’s stories, and will often awaken ones you thought you’d forgotten.

If you think you might like to give Creative Writing for Wellbeing a go, I’m running a workshop on Friday 22nd May, 6pm-8pm at Friern Barnet Community Library, as part of the Finchley Literary Festival. It’s only £15 and you can buy tickets HERE

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therapeutic writing

Writing to Reach You: What does your blogging style say about you?

Most of you know that I’ve been focusing on my studies in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, and it’s something I’m passionate about. It feels like there’s a variety of things I’m passionate about within writing, and even as I write this, I know that I should be getting started on my next novel, or maybe starting a presentation, or a dissertation write-up. And yet I’m here, blogging.

People have asked ‘why blog’ for a long while now. Is it about connection, reaching people you wouldn’t normally find? Is it simply the fact that as writers and professionals in the modern world, we are expected to have a landing pad, a sense of who we are in the internet universe? Or is it cathartic, regenerative expression that allows us to get on with our day? A little of all of these, I believe.

I’ve been exploring for a while now how blogging can make people feel better. Certainly, quite a few bloggers I know are dealing with ill health, stress, anxiety, and writing their feelings down (and the connections that follow from those blogs via twitter and comments) not only feels cathartic, but powerful in being recognised in the big wide world as ‘normal’ feelings. Somewhere, on the internet, you will find someone who is feeling how you’re feeling, who has been where you’ve been. And that’s a powerful thing. Even if you don’t need anyone to read your blog, if you just want to shout into the darkness, that’s okay too.

Catharsis means cleansing. It means release. Catharsis can come in small waves or overwhelming tides. I always think of it a little like cleaning my internal space- if I do a little dusting on a regular basis, it’s unlikely I’m going to need a big overhaul. I think there’s a difference between catharsis and purging, and it’s that one is natural, and the other is forced. To purge yourself of something is to force it from you, and that’s why we negatively associate it with some very intense religious views, and body dysmorphia. Those are the only times I’ve heard the words, anyway. Purging your demons.

I would gently encourage you, with all the experience of someone who has made continued mistakes on the internet, to think about what you want your blogging to achieve. So many wonderful blogs are about overcoming adversity, and in truth, those are the stories that others want to hear. They want you to offer a nugget of who you are, what you’re dealing with, so they don’t feel so alone. But they also want to make you their hero, they want to root for you, to find out if you’ve got a way of dealing with your stuff, so they might deal with theirs. Be a pioneer in your issues, don’t become them.

In studying expressive writing, it’s become clear that for limited periods of time, writing about trauma, or upset, or strong, difficult feelings in detail, truly exploring and expressing, can be helpful in long term health. Repressing feelings makes us ill, there’s no doubt about that. But writing continually about painful, depressing feelings doesn’t help us. In fact, it makes us worse. It reinstates our depressed feelings. If I feel overwhelmed by an issue, and I spend a couple of days writing about it, really exploring it, and then I read it through, feel settled and put the piece away/destroy it, the likelihood is that I have addressed and dealt with it. At least as much as I am able to at the moment. If you are continually returning to the same issue, if you have nothing positive to say, nothing happy, or inspiring to share, then you are reinstating your own unhappiness: you are giving it breathing space. Air it, accept it, and find a way forward.

I read a lot of blogs, and I see so many that are authentic, and jagged, and breathy and funny. The writers are dealing with pain, and learning, and laughter and confusion, and they are reaching out. Remember that feelings are temporary, but words we share are often taken up by someone. There’s a reason we so often encounter trigger warnings in the online world now- people know that their stories affect each other.

Take responsibility for your story today. Tell it to yourself first, in a soft, quiet voice. Find out what your story is, explore how you feel. Decide if you want to share it. If putting it out in the world will make one person feel less alone, or show someone how to deal with issues you’ve dealt with, if it will make someone smile or laugh or feel proud: share that with them. If your story is unchanging after months, if you are still writing about how much hatred and anger and bitterness you have, if you are searching for silence instead of voices in unison, then write in private. Or even better, switch focus and try a different tactic. In a literal way, this means try writing your feelings in third person, try writing about what an object in your room might hear, try writing from the perspective of someone you know. Feelings are contagious, and the internet doesn’t need any help in spreading misery.

Am I saying to shy away from important, difficult writing? Am I saying you’re not allowed to be happy? No. Difficult writing is important. But I am starting to see blogs where the writers are stuck in loops- nothing is improving, nothing is shaking free or changing, and every bad thing reinforces the last. Change your perspective, search for the positive, and share your story and your lessons in a way that others can benefit from.