Writing makes you feel better?
I have been thinking about writing for wellbeing recently. This is because my writers group is organising a writing festival. We have been fortunate in gaining adequate funding from various bodies, including the Arts Council Lottery Fund, some local council community funds and from the Network of Wellbeing.
Applications to all our funders included our two aims which reflect the value we attach to writing for everyone:
- promote the participation of writers of all experiences ages and diversity in a range of writing activities with other people.
- provide opportunities to gain experience and confidence in writing and creativity, reinforced through interaction and celebration with professional and other writers.
WRITE NOW TOTNES! Festival
We want to attract to the festival people who don’t see themselves as writers, who are not confident as writers or who could be helped by the writing process. We are encouraging them to engage with writing, through workshops, performance events, exhibitions and the opportunity to meet with other writers. Our group offers an on-going, permanent and social connection through writing.
The restorative aspects of writing
As writers we spend much of our time thinking about writing for publication. While it is great to write for publication writing for oneself is also a valid activity. It may not be a different activity of course.
Writing for publication has an intention outside and beyond the process of writing. In restorative writing the process is more important than the output. There is a body of research that supports writing as good for wellbeing, among people of all ages. For example, one team found that a very small amount of writing has a swift outcome:
Writing about personal experiences in an emotional way for as little as 15 minutes over the course of three days brings about improvements in mental and physical health. [James W Pennebaker & Janel D Seagel (1999) Forming a story: the health benefits of Narrative, in Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol 55 (10).]
So how does writing help? What does it mean to write for wellbeing?
Journaling and Morning Pages
Many people, and they would not necessarily see themselves primarily as writers, know the value of writing frequently. Many suggest undertaking writing every day.
To unlock their creative capacities, many writers and artists follow Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, in which she describes the daily act of writing Morning Pages.
Here’s a quick guide. Morning Pages are done first thing every day, in long hand, over 3 pages of A4. Write whatever is in your head, on your mind: worries, plans irritations, fury everything. You keep on for three pages and then stop. You don’t have to reread them. Here’s Oliver Burkeman describing the effects of writing Morning Pages after some years of resistance:
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at how powerful Morning Pages proved, from day one, at calming anxieties, producing insights and resolving dilemmas. After all, the psychological benefits of externalising thoughts via journaling are well-established, … Crucially Morning Pages are private. [Oliver Burkeman does it every morning. You should, too. Guardian4.10.2014]
Form of writing
The benefits of writing about stressful events appear to come from, at the most basic level, avoiding supressing negative feelings, and relief from the stress of the events. More positively stress can be reduced by writing about experiences, such as serious illness.
By writing, you put some structure and organisation to those anxious feelings. It helps you get past them. [Pennebaker in the Journal of American Medical Association 281 (14)].
Another researcher stresses how writing about upsetting events is most beneficial when people focus on finding meaning because this allows them to develop greater awareness of positive aspects of a stressful event.
The value of writing within a group: The Write to Life Group
I have seen how writing with the support of others can be very beneficial. The group I am thinking of often publishes and performs their work. This is theWrite to Life Group, run by Sheila Hayman for the organisation Freedom from Torture. Members of the group are survivors of torture, supported by writing mentors.
I have attended performances of their plays, read poetry written by members of the group, and support the group financially in a small way. Recently they performed their work called Pawns, Princesses and Poets, based round objects at the V&A Museum. One member of the group is Hasani.
A certain writer once remarked that, ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live.’ Having gone through a terrible experience in my country of birth because of my political views, I left it for the UK. Through the ‘Write to Life’ group I have found a place that helps me to free myself from the turmoil inside.
I have written about the group, its members and successes on this blog.
Souvenirs Writing and Home (April 2013)
Dear Jade, a letter to Jade Amoli-Jackson, author of Moving a Country (September 2013)
Souvenirs (May 2016)
Lost and Found in Exile (September 2016)
6 Things I learned from my Freedom from Torture Challenge, a project to raise awareness about refugees and literature and to raise money (September 2017)
Wellbeing, Writing and the Writing Festival
My enthusiasm for encouraging people to better mental health and wellbeing through writing is loud and clear as I try to encourage people to join our festival WRITE NOW TOTNES! in three weeks’ time. Give it a try!