The Words for Wellbeing Organisation

Lapidus International Conference Newcastle

Earlier this year, committee members, Mairi Murphy and Catherine Eunson attended the Lapidus conference in Newcastle on ‘The Writing Experience’.

Sat 23rd March

1. Keynote speaker, Debbie Taylor, Editorial Director of Mslexia

2. Creative Writing Safely

3. Writing workshop with Anna Woodford

4. Open mike session

Sun 24th March

1. Research consultation with Professor Tony Wall

2. Workshop with Dr Sophie Nicholls

3. Plenary with Simon Poole

Here, first is what Mairi had to say:

The Conference was beneficial in terms of Best Practise as regards therapeutic writing, and beneficial in terms of being writers, and how we protect ourselves. If every ‘writing group’ has its vulnerabilities – in terms of rejection, criticism and feedback – then how much more care must be taken with those who are writing for healing or dealing with long-term conditions.

Workshops catered for experienced practitioners, those who were interested in learning about/ becoming practitioners, or those who, through their own writing were trying to achieve some sort of equilibrium as regards experience of life itself. I found myself firmly in the latter category and was given invaluable advice from Clare Williamson – to enable me to write about a situation, then to come back to the present safely, and to feel confident in sharing/writing that experience.

We all censor ourselves – the key is to find a balance between what we experience and what we decide to share – how we edit ourselves safely without losing our voice. In our workshop Clare gave us ‘Top 15 Tips for Writing Safely’ which will be a great tool to use in my own writing.

Poet Anna Woodford asked us to share an important memory with a partner in her workshop. We were to listen to each other, then tell our partner’s story altering one significant detail. This was a fascinating task – as well as being trusted with a memory, the changing of it became very precious. My partner and I had a great discussion (we were very careful with each other’s story – changing it for the better!) and it dawned on us we could go back – alter our story – feel differently about ourselves, how we language ourselves, move into an alternative future.

Day One ended with an ‘Open Mike’ – great variety of poetry and extremely moving.

Day Two was about research and wellbeing – what constitutes research and how to move forward. Writing as process? Prioritising logical over intuitive thinking? Methodologies? In this I have to agree with Joan Didion, ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking’!

We were consulted on 18 questions regarding the Lapidus International Research Consultation: Developing a Creative Wellbeing Framework, with Richard Axtell. This was a lively discussion on the provision of Best Practice.

These few days were thought provoking and informative: well worth going to.

And here are some thoughts from Catherine:

The first speaker, Debbie Taylor from Mslexia really surprised me by throwing out lots of interesting statistics. It turns out that for 5 years the Mslexia magazine issued quarterly questionnaires to their readers on various topics related to writing, and kept very good records of the results. All the people questioned were readers of Mslexia, and therefore a mostly female group who are involved with writing in some way or other. Because this is a common pattern, and in general writing groups tend to attract a predominance of women however, these Mslexia results are of general interest.

She therefore had evidence to back up her call for a training protocol for writing tutors, and told us that Mslexia will soon be offering some such training themselves. (Hopefully some of the Newcastle group will come to Whatton Lodge for the Lapidus Scotland facilitators’ training event in August.)

Sometimes people put things into words which you appreciate so much! At the following session, entitled Creative Writing Safely, I was told something which made a lot of sense. We had been discussing how the use of the word therapeutic can be problematic, as it raises expectations that people should feel better afterwards, or that they will be looked after as one is in a health care setting. However, my new friend said, her husband had told her that it was the creativity of sessions that he had found therapeutic. So perhaps we don’t need to label our groups therapeutic, but can be confident that good writing Groups are, in themselves, therapeutic – as good mentally as exercise is good physically.

As if to illustrate this point we then had an excellent workshop led by Anna Woodford. She followed the familiar pattern of introductory activity, main activity and finisher. She also used objects as prompts, which made me think about what that entails. The objects were wrapped up like Christmas or birthday presents. Through the paper the group described what might be inside. Thus everybody in the group was included, valued and engaged in a unthreatening way. (Bags rather than wrapping paper could have been used.) Then group members described both what they thought the object might be, and also what they discovered it really was, once opened. In that way the group were introduced to each other, given something intriguing to describe and practised taking it in turns to talk to the group about their experiences. The leader responded in an encouraging way to each contribution, whilst valuing their different contributions and ideas.

When activities like this are well and simply done then groups really come alive, and people become engaged in creative writing activities and part of a lively group.

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