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!

 

 

 

 

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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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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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Motifs of Life: Writing your own story

If you’ve studied English Literature, you’ll find motifs came up quite often. It’s a musical term, meaning a small repeated collection of notes/image. The more I write, the more I start to notice these little motifs and symbols reoccurring in my own life and my own writing. 

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It’s subtle, but you’ll start to notice the same images popping up- for a while, I kept using trees. Trees grow tall and strong, and up into the clouds, so they symbolise freedom, but they’re also rooted and heavy, so they’re grounded. The more I wrote, the more I found trees came to symbolise a whole bunch of things that I felt.

It might not even be a symbol, but a certain phrase that reappears. This phrase becomes a mantra, and the minute you recognise it from your other work, realise that it’s a repetition, it opens up doors for you.

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Writers often talk about the themes that interest them, or what they like to write about. But what about what they end up writing about, when they’re not setting out to do so? That unconscious leaning is what fascinates me, and what can give us an insight into how we’re feeling.

 

A few months ago, I kept writing about apples. Apples are seedlings, they symbolise growth, spring, Englishness. You can link them to the Garden of Eden myth, conveying innocence. I was writing about apples in response to children, to having children, to problems with childbirth, to the possibility of never having children, to responding to family members who ask these questions lightly. Are apples the best literary symbol for any of these things? No, probably not. But they became my personal marker. Every time I found an apple symbol creeping into my work, I could think ‘Ah, so I’m thinking about that again. Why is that bugging me today?’ and I could get to the root of what was worrying me. Often it’s just something that needs to be expressed, but if you’re being haunted by an image, and you don’t know why, then it has power over you, instead of you using it in a powerful healing way.

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There are no particular writing exercises for this- it’s just about being aware of the space that you’re writing from, and what it means for you. Have a look back through some of your old journals/stories/poems, and see if a particular time or event created a motif for your life at that time. It’s always fascinating, and can be useful.

 

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Writing For Wellbeing: Fragments of ‘Us’

Writing For Wellbeing: Fragments of ‘Us’

 

 

As many of you know, I’m currently setting up workshops in Writing for Wellbeing, as I continue training in my MsC in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. 

The Arts have always been accepted as having healing properties, it’s why art therapists and music therapists are so widely accepted in hospitals, hospices, rehab facilities, and why the arts are at the forefront of the health and wellbeing industry. But where have the writers been in this? 

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Writers are very often complicated people with complex lives and emotions, and putting things down on the page, whether as autobiography or as fiction, is a release from that. How about journals? As children and teenagers, diaries were encouraged as a way to share the thoughts that we weren’t comfortable or capable of expressing to the adults in our lives. Why is that any different now? Sometimes, we just need a space to address and accept the parts of our lives we’re not sure about, without judgement or comment. Writing is the simplest way to open a direct line with your subconscious, open up your feelings, and validate how you feel.

 

We all have stories of value, we all have moments that make us who we are. My style of workshops (and my style of writing) is influenced by ideas of fragmentation. We all exist in a series of moments, a childhood memory, a dream, a description of your mother’s kitchen, – our lives and our selves are made up of snapshots. They’re not necessarily in order, and you might not be the same person you were in those moments- but they’re still a part of you. 

Connecting to your stories through a fragmented writing process can bring a sense of calm, confidence, and a greater sense of self. It also allows us to be more empathetic with our ‘selves’. To look back and say ‘yes, I see why he/she made that decision, fair enough.’ To get some distance, some perspective, and look inwards with kindness.

Our lives are brilliant interweaving tapestries, complex and sustained narratives that are still growing and changing every day. Writing for Wellbeing, and working with fragments, can work a lot like therapy, helping us to break down the chunks, but to also take a step back and look at the bigger picture of who we are. 

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Sounds like a lot? It’s also fun! It’s brilliant to unearth those beautiful memories you thought you’d lost, to make up stories that make you laugh, to adequately and comfortably handle those stories that you never think about. 

If you’re interested in what Writing for Wellbeing can do for you, leave me a message here, and stay tuned for the workshop in April 2014, based in Barnet.