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Putting Pen to Paper
Creative writing for well-being: a short exercise
Last week I wrote that by ‘putting pen to paper you find a friend who will listen without judgement. Who won’t interrupt. Who will hold the space and hear you out. Who is unexpectedly wise.’ This week I thought those of you who haven’t yet tried creative writing for well-being might be in interested in a short exercise to tap into this unexpected source of wisdom. The instructions below are based on free-writing, and you can use them as the basis for a more regular writing or journaling practice—the deceptively simple process that Natalie Goldberg calls writing down the bones.1
The author of Writing Without Teachers,2 Peter Elbow, provides an online resource for would-be-freewriters. He suggests that in a short free-writing session you should ‘Write whatever comes to mind’. And describes the page as being ‘a space for exploring the mind and language’, while remaining aware that ‘it must be also be a space for triviality, nonsense, garbage.’ My most emphasised instruction in workshops, when I am trying to reassure people about to try free-writing for the first time, is that you can’t do it wrong!
Let me know if you have any questions and how you get on.
Creative writing for well-being: a short exercise…
First, find something to write with (if possible writing by hand with pen or pencil on paper is best). You will also need a timer of some kind. If you use your phone, set it to Do Not Disturb before you begin.
Next, sit quietly, close your eyes, and take 5 slow, deep breaths, giving yourself the time to fully inhale and exhale.
Then, opening your eyes, take in the space around you; what can you see, hear, smell, and reach out to touch.
Now, set your timer and write for 6 minutes, freely and associatively. Start by describing what you can see hear, smell and touch. Ground yourself in your surroundings. Write fast, and follow your thoughts without attempting to control or make sense of them. Try to write without stopping to edit your writing, or make corrections. Without stopping to think! Be playful, and enjoy yourself. You can’t do this exercise wrong. Embark on your writing with curiosity, explore your inner world for a few minutes, and trust yourself. Let your pen or pencil act as your guide!
When you’ve finished, put your writing away somewhere safe. And in a couple of days time, take it out and read through what you wrote. You might just surprise yourself, and that’s ok.
Natalie Goldberg. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. 1986.
Peter Elbow. Writing Without Teachers. 1973.