Writing for Health & Wellbeing in the Kibble Palace, Glasgow Botanic Gardens
by Larry Butler
This tool was commissioned as part of the Words Work Well for All project (2018-2019) funded by Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership via the Wellbeing for Longer in Glasgow Fund.
Many people find using journals, poems and words helps them to understand and find new ways of coping with stress and illness. Lapidus Scotland offers writing workshops which are open to all abilities. They are mostly about ‘getting things down on paper’ and not worrying too much about spelling and grammar.
A useful way into writing can be through keeping a journal, as it can provide a private place to express thoughts and feelings. In Writing for Health and Wellbeing we explore the ways in which words and writing can inspire and help us through difficult times and beyond.
There are no more than twelve people attending each block of six writing workshops, meeting once a week for six weeks, each workshop lasting 2 hours: 12:30 to 2:30pm. Nibbles are often brought to share. Once the group has started, it is closed to new members for the six weeks. Kibble Scribblers has been meeting for two years across the four seasons. It can be cold in the Kibble in the Winter, and too hot in the Summer. If someone misses a session, the facilitator sends him or her an outline of what happened: the writing prompts and activities such as “find a plant to fall in love with”.
The content of each workshop varies with the season and the weather. Although the programme can vary, it usually has three sections beginning with a short seven minutes free writing using these guidelines from Gillie Bolton’s book the Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing.
Whatever you write is right
You can’t write the wrong thing!
It doesn’t have to be in proper English nor Scottish
This writing is only for you to read, at first.
You might want to reread it later, share it
with a relative, friend, someone in this group;
even tear it up or burn it!
It may seem odd at first, writing like this.
Write when and where you feel like it: day
or night, in bed, in a café (difficult on a bike)
Write only two lines, or lots – in a notebook
on scraps of paper, perhaps in a folder.
Scribble whatever comes into your head for 7 minutes
don’t stop to think!
It might be a list. Or odd words or phrases
Spelling and proper sentences don’t matter!
The facilitator invites people share their writing – reading aloud – sometimes in pairs or groups of three, sometimes in the whole group – popcorn fashion (you only pop if you want to!). And each person is invited to share something of their own writing from the previous week or simply tell the group about something they read, something that inspired them in the week.
For the middle section, everyone goes for a wander – outside or through the glass houses with notebooks and a suggestion from the facilitator – always a suggestion with the proviso that “whatever you write is right. . . .”. Here’s an example of one such wandering-writing suggestion:
O B J E CT L E S S O N
Find an object – ideally outside. Sit with it for a time and let it look at you! Then ask the following questions: How heavy is it? What shape is it? What does it feel like? What colour is it? What does it sound like, smell like? What is its name? What is inside it? What use is it? How old is it? Where did it used to belong? What does it dream about? How does it relate to your childhood? How does it relate to the future?
The mind is so hospitable that thoughts and feelings
are coming and going incessantly
bringing in their wake incremental changes.
The wander-writing usually lasts for about 30 minutes and includes a comfort break (there are no toilets in the Kibble Palace). When everyone returns, there is another round of sharing aloud (popcorn fashion) with no pressure to speak. Silence is encouraged as well as attentive listening.
The workshop ends with an invitation to continue writing at home, and the facilitator usually offers a suggestion to try such as:
L a n d s c a p e A w a r e n e s s: u s i n g a l l t h e s e n s e s
(adapted from Patrick Whitefield – Permaculture: A Teacher’s Manual)
First choose a small piece of land – a place you don’t know, ideally a place where you’ve never been before.
Then allow at least 10 minutes for each of the following:
Intuitive: first impression (unrepeatable); walk the boundary of your chosen land as far as you can in the time, and observe the relationships with neighbouring land. Make notes or drawings
Reflective: imagine how the place was before humans ever started to influence it, and how it would change if we stopped influencing it now. Freewrite – make it up.
Feelings: go to whichever part of the site your body feels drawn to (not always the most pleasant part). If you feel moved to, sing, write a poem or story, dance, make a sculpture or whatever else you feel comfortable with.
Objective: rational approach. Different aspects of the site are analysed systematically eg soil, microclimate, water, light, wind. For this time-limited exercise attempt to record all the plants in the area (if you don’t know their names – invent them, describe them).
Do this alone, in silence (except when you are singing!). Choose whether or not to take notes throughout. Bring whatever you discovered to our next session.
Note that in permaculture practice this would be done over a much longer period, ideally on and off for a whole year at the least.
This is not asking: “What can I do with this land?” but “What is this land saying to me?” It’s about the needs of the land, not of the people.
By offering a suggestion for home-writing, this bridges the gap between workshops, adds an extra level of challenge and commitment, as well as increasing the chances that the Scribblers with establish an ongoing writing habit.
After the six weeks, when there is funding for another six week block of workshops, priority is given to new people or people on the waiting list. There is usually a break of a month or two before a new group starts. Many of the Scribblers continue meeting and writing informally between times. Here’s what two participants said about the last bunch of scribbles:
The programme provides a structured space for writing. The two timed exercises were helpful in cutting through the paralysis of deciding what to write on the one hand and being too precious about how it turns out on the other. I was very nervous about engaging with other writers I did not know, but the open, welcoming structure allowed me to relax into the group after a few sessions. The optional exercises outside of class encouraged us to keep writing on our own. Becoming aware of other writers, groups and anthologies has opened me to other opportunities in Glasgow.
I have got so much from these workshops. We have shed tears and laughed till our sides hurt. We have shared stories and learned from one another & supported one another. We have discovered new writers, new pieces of writing and new ways of writing our own words. We have been inspired to write about things we might never have considered, inspired by the venue itself. . . .It has been a safe place allowing us to try stuff out without judgement or criticism. It is a place of respect and growth and healing.
Room to Write by Bonni Goldberg (Penguinputnam 2016) ISBN 0-87477-825-5
Writing Your Way by Manjusvara/David Keefe 2005 (Windhorse Publications)
ISBN 978 1 899579 67 9
The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing by Gillie Bolton 1999 (Jessica Kingsley) ISBN 1 85302 599 2