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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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

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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Excess Baggage and how Writing can help.

 

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We’ve all got baggage, it’s a fact of life. We all have rich histories, full of trials, tribulations and joy. And with that, comes a big suitcase full of stuff. Some of it we’ve dealt with, some of it we’re putting off unpacking.

 

So, how can creativity help? Writing allows us to ‘write around’ those subjects, the one’s that are a little too painful to face head on, but we can write our way into them, as if we’re looking at them using our peripheral vision, acknowledging them, but not waving a red flag.

Writing lets us focus on a tiny fragment. Perhaps you’re not ready to talk about the pain of losing your mother. But you might be able to write about the china teapot she used to keep in the cupboard when you were a child. Each of these fragments that we can access gets us a little bit closer to unpacking that baggage, and walking away a little bit lighter.

 

Why not try it out for yourself? My Writing for Wellbeing Workshop is on Saturday 26th May, 10am-4pm. And you can get it for HALF PRICE if you book THIS WEEK!  Just put FACEBOOK50 into the Promo Code box on eventbrite: click HERE. 

 

(This means you get a whole day workshop, all materials, snacks, teas and coffees and a beautiful lunch for £32.50!- can you get better than that? There’s no excuse not to try something new!)

 

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Authentic Storytelling: Writing the message or telling the story?

 

Writers have quite a responsibility when it comes to the stories they spin. We are constantly looking for the message, the bigger picture. If the good little girl gets rewarded in love, we feel like we must be good to get what we want. If bad characters are punished, we feel we must believe in that punishment.

 

But what happens when fear of the message takes over your storyline? What if you have an ethnic minority character who happens to be the bad guy? Are you a racist? What if your gay character doesn’t end up with a partner but your straight character does- are you prioritising who gets happiness in society?

 

Every web we create sends out vibrations, saying that our belief system sits within these words. And that’s not always true. Sometimes I don’t give another character a love interest because I don’t have time, or I don’t want to end it in a triple wedding like a Jane Austen tie up. Sometimes, the bad guy is just the bad guy, because you want to make it more interesting, and give them a backstory. Not because you’ve decided all people of a certain race are evil.

 

But people will call you on this. They will expect absolute answers for every decision you’ve made, when really, some of them are just based on the fact that they felt right. A friend of mine is currently trying to write a villain who happens to be gay. Now, is there a way to do this without demonising gay people? Yes, of course. But is there always going to be one person with a foghorn standing there and judging her for the choice? Probably.

 

People are complex creatures with endless facets, constantly changing and evolving. To represent one of those on the page clearly is pretty much impossible. But in writing (as in life) reverting to labels never helps anyone. My friend’s character is not evil because he is gay, or gay because he is evil. He is an evil character that serves a purpose of evilness in the story, and also happens to be gay because…well, because he is. Just like how people are, because they are.

 

And what if you don’t have a message? Or worse, if the message doesn’t fit the genre you write in? When coming up with concepts for my new novel, I’d just watched two awful movies ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ and ‘Made of Honor’, both of which deal with the bullshit ‘We’ve been friends for years but now you’re getting married and I’ve realised I love you’ storyline. So I wanted to write a story where a girl and a guy live together, and are friends, and other people don’t get it, and keep waiting for them to get together. But they don’t. Because they’re friends. The message was there. Men and women can be friends, stop demonising it and making it all about romance because we all know that’s not true.

 

Except…well, no-one wants to read a story like that. Firstly, because it’s a story where nothing changes, and people want change, but also because people WANT the main characters to get together. They don’t care about the moral, or the message or what it means for society if we think our friends secretly want to shag us. If there’s a nice guy and a nice girl, and they get along, movies and novels tell us that they’re a possibility. And no amount of talking about the message will make that a satisfying read for people who have become used to the pattern of existing friendships in romcoms. I’m pretty sure we don’t do this in real life. We don’t look at a best friend of the opposite sex we’ve never been attracted to before, and suddenly decide they’ll do. And if we do, it’s more interesting to write about what takes that person to that point, where they are emotionally and how that affects the friendship.

 

My point being, we often feel like a story can’t exist without a message, but a message without a working story just feels like being hit over the head with someone else’s morality. Not fun. My chick lit books tend to work on the same theme, which is taking a chance and trusting someone. Do I do this deliberately? No, but I like writing emotionally distant and strongly sarcastic female characters, so the message comes naturally from how I enjoy writing. The message tends to reveal itself along the way, and if you’re already absolutely sure about what you’re trying to tell the world, well, just try and be careful you’re not hitting people over the head with it. Being able to enjoy a story, even if you don’t agree with it’s view of the world, is one sign of great writing.

 

Don’t forget my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop on 26th April, where we explore things like where our personal inbuilt narratives meet our characters on the page. If you want to explore how and why you write a little better, it’s the perfect opportunity! Plus, if you Quote: WORDPRESSCODE in an email to andrealmichael@aol.com when ordering, you get 10% off the ticket price! Bargain!

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Giving Yourself Permission to Write

Even as a professional writer, taking the time to write feels a bit selfish. Yes, I’ve got a deadline, and yes, it’s a business, but still. I get to sit here and make up stories, and it feels a little self indulgent. I could be doing my laundry, or cleaning the house, or advertising the book. We often take the stance that this is procrastination, and sometimes it is. But other times, it can come from the idea that what we’re doing isn’t worthy of the time we’re spending on it.

Writing is something just for you. In many ways it’s a completely solo activity. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, people write in a group, and share stories, create together, but usually, the process of drawing out a story from within you to on the page, is a personal journey. Learning that the stories you have to tell are relevant and important is necessary to work well. If you think about it in terms of your feelings, regardless of how the work will be received or what others will say- you have a story within you, and you need to get it out. If the story stays untold, unacknowledged, it’s not going to be good for you. It’ll sit forgotten, itching at you. Like many things that reoccur and pop into our heads, nudging us for attention, it’s important to listen to them.

To ignore your artistry is to ignore how you work, and how you feel about it all. I run Writing for Wellbeing Workshops, and these are a fairly new and holistic way of using creativity. It’s thinking about the process and not about the outcome. Obviously, the writing you produced has a part to play, and often you’ll create some beautiful and meaningful work. The reason people come to these workshops is because they feel they need permission to spend the time on their writing, to take a break from their lives for the day, and focus solely on them and their creativity. It’s a brilliant atmosphere, and the hope is that when you finish the day, you’ll take away the sense that writing is good for you, and it’s not selfish to do it, but necessary and helpful to you.

There’s more details on the workshop here, but always try to remember that anything you do has purpose, and you can’t feel guilty about that.

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