Writing as Therapy
I’ve always been of the opinion that without knowing darkness, we cannot appreciate the light.
Life is a fragile balance between these states. Sometimes, the darkness touches us in a way that makes us feel as though we’ll never see the light again. Writing has the power to help see us through these times. As author Gillie Bolton comments, ‘writing is a kind and comparatively gentle way of facing whatever is there to be faced.’ Using the white page as a vessel to hold our most intimate thoughts and memories allows for ‘communication with the self’ which can help us to process thoughts, flags up areas for change or things we’d like to learn how to accept. Ultimately, it can help us heal.
There are many ways to use writing as a mode of therapy. My preferred methods are keeping a journal or writing fiction or poetry. Another approach of course is writing yourself – autobiography. Whatever your method, the key thing is consistency. Setting yourself a time to write every day or every week allows you to break down barriers within yourself far quicker than you would if your writing is sporadic. You’ll also find yourself writing in different moods. If you don’t set a regular time to write you’ll end up cherry picking and only writing when you feel inspired or happy. What I’ve found is that writing when you’re angry or sad or just not in the mood to be creative provides an opportunity to learn the most about yourself and work through feelings that hold you back.
I set myself a personal challenge on my blog mantimoon.co.uk in June this year where I wrote a haiku inspired poem every day for one hundred days. The idea was to engage with something I was grateful for as I wrote each poem. I found I was thankful for lots of small things which provided a real mood boost at times when I struggled to feel appreciative. Suddenly, tea and slippers and things I saw or used or drank/ate every day took on new significance. If you’d like to read more about this challenge please do visit my blog to have a read of each poem and the process I went through. I encourage you to try out a similar challenge. Remember, this doesn’t have to be for anybody but you.
As T.S. Eliot remarks: ‘Every poet starts from his own emotions.’ Poetry has a way of getting straight to the core of a problem or thought. Its powerful, compressed nature and rhythmic quality work together to provide comfort and acceptance. On occasion, it’s particularly hard to get your mind to play ball. In the event that you find yourself filled with resentful thoughts such as ‘I’ve got lots to be doing, I don’t have time for this’ or ‘I really can’t be bothered’ my advice would be to begin with freewriting. Set yourself a timer for between 5-10 minutes and simply write. You don’t have to focus on punctuation or spelling or the quality of the writing. In fact, don’t think at all. Just write, without taking your pen off the page. If you don’t know what to say, then write that until something pops into your head. I once wrote half an A4 page of scrawling handwriting that read ‘this is stupid’ over and over before something gave. You don’t need to share your freewriting with anyone, unless of course you want to. It doesn’t need to make sense. It’s just a way for you to break down those stubborn inner boundaries that block your creativity. You may decide to pick a central image from your freewrite that inspires you and write a poem from this. Perhaps you might take a stand out line and write a short story that works towards and ends with this line. Maybe you might choose to write dialogue between you and a person that comes up in your freewriting to explore possible ways of handling difficulties between you both. Or, you may just leave it as it is. Perhaps that’s all you feel able to do. It doesn’t matter. The point is you’re writing and you’re releasing.
As part of my university course I embraced the idea of the journal space on a number of occasions. You can write whatever you want here. It’s an extension of freewriting as it can include not only this but quotes, overheard snippets of conversation, a line of poetry that randomly pops into your head and observations of people, artworks or animals. You may also want to use the journal space to write and engage with painful memories or traumas. Be kind to yourself, don’t force this. Let whatever comes come. This space is for you. First and foremost, you deserve to take this time for yourself each day. Your mind and body will thank you.
The road to healing may be long and arduous, but with the comfort and support writing can provide you I believe this helps to smooth the path just a little, sometimes a lot. When I’m going through tough times, writing helps me reconnect with myself and the world around me. Being able to process my thoughts through writing helps me welcome the light back into my life one ray at a time.
If you’re interested in writing as a mode of therapy, I can highly recommend the following books to give you further insight into different techniques you can use:
The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing: Writing Myself by Gillie Bolton
This book offers down to earth advice about what therapeutic writing is and various ways to go about it. ‘Writing out trauma’, ‘The Power of Poetry, Fiction and Autobiography’, ‘Writing to help you take control of your own life’ and ‘Keeping a Journal’ are some of my favourite chapters due to their direct and informative style. Not only do they provide useful background information but they are also jam packed with practical tips and exercises. Whilst Bolton is certainly not recommending that you replace other therapies or medication with writing, it can act as a complementary practice that is both cost effective and a highly supportive way of helping you to understand yourself on a deeper level and provide support during times of suffering.
Stressed/Unstressed by Jonathan Bate, Paula Byrne, Sophie Ratcliffe and Andrew Schuman
In an introduction to my poetry booklet Paper Cranes, made especially for the Hamblin community, I mention this wonderful collection of poetry and the term bibliotherapy. In its simplest terms, bibliotherapy uses reading as a form of therapy. The idea is that you read a poem or piece of creative text in a meditative state, working with your breath to help calm the mind. This wonderful introduction to therapeutic reading using poetry is a must read, drawing attention to the power of rhythm, rhyme, repetition and engaging with subjects such as loneliness, grief, love and the natural world.
I’d now like to share my own poem, written as part of my time at Hamblin as I began exploring the links between meditation and creativity. I was very apprehensive about the start of my journey. However, after a ten minute freewrite to break down mental blocks, this allowed me to explore my nervous energy and self expectation on a windy afternoon in late Autumn.
Steel-capped acorns knock on the sanctuary roof
incessant windfalls from a deep-rooted oak tree.
Lobed leaves tap and skitter, scud against plate
glass, long to come in, but they have no fingers
and they can’t see a way inside the locked door;
the key sits in my lap:
Until next month then!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and my poem!
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