From the archive: Writer's Block and The Beetle

As he was crawling round the kitchen this week, my eleven month-old nephew found a beetle.

With its scarab shape, hooked legs and black casing, it looked like a relic from Egyptian times. He poked it once with a podgy hand, and then steered a straight course directly over it, one knee steam-rollering the poor thing into the lino. It lay there motionless, legs splayed flat under the shell. I was about to sweep the corpse outside, when, in miraculous fashion, it hoiked itself back on to its legs and began plodding away, as if nothing had happened. I remembered that, of course, if a wild creature cannot flee, and cannot fight, its last ditch effort to save its own life is to play dead, in the hope that the attacker will eventually give up and go away. This immobility response is always time- limited in animals, and does not result in any lasting damage.  This is not the case with human beings.

When something comes into our writing environment and threatens our creative process- for example the telephone ringing interrupts us mid-flow- what happens?

Ideally, we freeze momentarily in the shock of the interruption, before taking one of two equally good, pro-active measures. Either, we move to answer it, inform the caller that we’re busy, and go back to work, or, we choose not to answer it and keep working.

But instead, something else often happens- our complex rational mind kicks in and tries to second-guess our way out of danger. Should I answer it? I wonder who it is? If I answer it I might be stuck on the phone with my mother, but if I don’t answer it, Sheila next door might think I’m rude… Repetitive, anxious thoughts cause our fear levels to rise and the flexible, appropriate immobility response becomes a semi-permanent paralysis. Our writing ceases up, sabotaged by our mind. This is the infamous ‘writers’ block’.

The way out of writers’ block is to reconnect with a way of being that is more instinctual, to act more often from an embodied place than from the rational mind. Our body knows what to do. It knows the story we are trying to tell, and how to tell it. We need to trust it.  We need to get out of our own way, to stop tripping over our own feet. This is wild writing.

A Writing Prompt

Look out for examples of animals coming in and out of the immobility response- a cat freezing in headlights, a fly staying still on a wall as the shadow of your hand passes over it…

Then when you’re next writing, notice any times that your body tenses or freezes, and try and ease it back into flow. Visualise the wild animals in your mind- how easily they enter and exit immobility.

This article was first published on August 9th 2013

Writing The First Draft

Out on the trail. New terrain opens up in every moment and the wild words explore it. They are precise, vivid, awake. They flow, unfurling and expanding as they go. There are no stilted or jerky expressions- there are dramatic pauses and sharp sentences purposefully placed to affect the reader in certain ways. When the words are in short tight form, they are channeled faster and must be contained more strongly. When a longer form is chosen the words have time to meander and weave. Here they must be held from dispersing over too large an area.

Tracking The Wild Words

You have an idea. You know it's the story you need to tell. Now it's time to write it. 

The below points will guide you as you go out into the wilds with your project. They will show you how to tell the story you need to tell. You also have a template here that can be used for any future project of any length or genre.  

The Writing Environment

-Create a private writing space for yourself where you will be undisturbed.

As you prepare to write the first draft, the first thing to do is to set up your writing environment. Build your writing nest, tree house, den, or dray. Take care of this space. Decorate it with flowers, or pictures, or quotes from storytellers, whatever will remind and inspire you. Explain to those you live with the purpose of the space, and what you need from them to sustain it. Remember that anyone who sits down at his or her desk for a period, regularly, and makes the commitment to go into that place of imagination and research, deserves to be called a storyteller or writer, and to be supported by others in that role.

-Make a timetable

Remember the importance of choosing a project length that fits with the time you have available to write. As long as it’s realistic, in a way it doesn’t really matter what your timescale is. A timescale focuses the mind, and provides a sense of containment for the work. When you’ve decided on a do-able timeframe, pin it above your desk, or on the wall in your tree house.

-Find a regular slot for your writing

Decide how much time you can give to your writing. It’s helpful to have a regular slot in your life, be that a couple of hours a week, or full time.  Again it’s very important that you’re realistic. This will give you a rhythm, and allow your instinctual self to work unconsciously between writing sessions. Some writers prefer to write only spontaneously, when they feel inspired. There is nothing wrong with that if you wish your writing to be an occasional pastime. If you want to complete a novel or full-length autobiography, only writing when you feel like it probably won’t be sufficient.  In my opinion, the major downside of writing only when the inspiration grabs you is that you will often avoid facing fears. Often the most satisfying experiences of the writing process arrive on the days when we have to drag ourselves to the desk and write through fear, anger or jealousy. When we stay steady in the face of those feared emotions, we come out into the light strengthened and empowered by that process.

-Once you’ve decided to commit that time to writing, just do it. Don’t beat yourself up that you can’t do more. Let your only expectation of the process be that you will fulfill your promise to yourself and sit down at your desk, on your tree stump, (or wherever you’ve chosen your dedicated writing space to be), for those hours. If you don’t feel creative, sit there anyway until the time is up, even if you don’t write (I’ve done this many times and always ended up writing something!)

On some days, the journey of the writer is to try and find a form and containment for fictional characters and a world that seem uncontainable. At other times, when our fictional world refuses to come alive at all in the way that we would wish, our job is just to keep plodding on and not give up.  What ever the day brings, you will cope. More than that, you will thrive. You were built to do so!

Tips For The Writing Process

-Chunk the process down

It’s not uncommon that even just the idea of sitting down and writing that autobiography, novel, short story, poem, screenplay, or article, can immediately send us into overwhelm- characterised by an inability to think clearly, and to sit down to the task in hand. So, go step by step, with bite-size pieces, so that you feel confident and in control of the process.

-Use your structure

You’ve got a setting, hero, objective, opponent and disaster. You’ve given consideration to a premise. You know how many pages, or words, approximately, you can envisage your story running to.  You know, give or take a few pages, where the end of act 1 will fall.  You have good idea of what the event will be that sets your hero off on her or his journey to achieve their goal for the rest of the story (acts 2 and 3).  You understand what will enable the high point of tension. And you know what will lead to the fall in tension, and fortunes of your hero. Perhaps you even have an inkling as to what will happens at the end (although that’s not something you necessarily need to know yet).

-Then just write it

Once those structural markers are in place, write from instinct, trust your natural storyteller, and tell the story without consciously using writing techniques or tools. Make occasional reference to your markers to see if you are on course. Focus on connecting with your passion for the story. And just write. And just love the story, unashamedly, obsessively.  

-Look out for those voices, or ‘people’ inside you who may try to sabotage your work. You can spot them by the messages they keep repeating, which are designed to subdue or belittle you. 

-Turn your opinionated thinking mind off, completely. Despite your valiant attempts it may still try to get in your way, hurling out undermining messages.

If that happens, do the following:

1. Thank the voice for trying to help you.

2. Tell it very firmly but non-aggressively to go away and leave you alone.

3. Reassure it that you will be open to hearing, at length, what it has to say when you come to the second draft 

4. Come back to your experience of your body in your writing space. Look around. Engage your senses, Can you feel your bottom on the chair. What colour are the walls? How does the room smell? How do you experience the texture and temperature of the writing materials?

-Recognise that not all of the first draft writing process involves physically writing.

One of the most difficult things as a writer is to know when to take breaks. How can we tell when we’re semi, or unconsciously trying to run from fear, and would therefore benefit from staying with it? Conversely, how can we judge when a break is a positive move on the part of our organism to resource us, or restore equilibrium? The truth is, we can’t always know. But each of these monthly newsletters includes an experiment to help you to have increasingly greater awareness around this, to be more intuitive.

It can be helpful to move from your writing space at intervals to give your unconscious space to work. Hold a question in your head, for example ‘where would that character go today?’ then do manual tasks. Try washing up, or walking. It’s very important however, that you don’t start mentally doing something else e.g. thinking about what’s for dinner. Remember, you are still writing. Hold the mental space clear for answers to rise up. (If you cage a bird it might stop singing, but when you let it go free it may well come back and sing at your window. It’s a bit like this.)

-Set yourself up for the next day

Before you leave your desk at the end of a writing period, decide on your task for the next session e.g. to ‘write from the high point in act 2 to the end of the act’. When you come to your writing space again, do the assigned task. Nothing more. Nothing less.

-Remember. There is nothing to ‘get right’.  And there’s nothing you can do wrong.

The point of the first draft is to get the fundamentals approximately in the right place. Always make sure your first draft is about the right length, otherwise you’ll find it hard to gauge if the plot points are in the right place. Also, try in the first draft also to get the sense of the dialogue in, and to make sure the right people are talking to the right other people. If you’re feeling tired one morning and just can’t think of a good piece of speech you might just put in,

Rod tells Tim the story of how he was attacked.

Don’t beat yourself up about the fact you couldn’t think of something better. You can replace it in the second draft.

You Are Not Alone



Remember, you are not alone when you sit down at that desk. Many thousands of others have taken the same journey before you. Many others are doing it right now (you’ll find some of them in the Facebook group). And yet more will come after you, walking in your footsteps, grateful for the path you’ve laid. I’d like to share with you the words of Hannah Kent, from her book Burial Rites. Her willingness to lay bare her vulnerability within the storytelling process can help us to feel less alone.

Finally in possession of the facts I had yearned after for two years, I no longer had any excuse not to write my book. Even as I write this article, my hands grow sweaty in remembrance of the trepidation and terror I felt. People speak of the fear of the blank canvas as though it is a temporary hesitation, a trembling moment of self-doubt. For me it was more like being abducted from my bed like a clown, thrust into a circus arena with a wicker chair, and told to tame a pissed-off lion in front of an expectant crowd.  Sure, I had written short stories before. But that, to me, was no consolation: just because I was a cat-person did not mean I knew how to conquer a beast.
…Publication certainly hasn’t extinguished my fears about writing. But these fears have by now become so familiar, that, rather than inducing creative paralysis, they light a fire under me. It is writing, after all, which keeps me burning. Yes, it terrifies me, and it vexes me, and there are many days when I will actively sabotage my own practice. Some days writing is no more than a repeated chorus of muttered expletives, and a hammering of the ‘delete’ button. Yes, there are days when I am able to somehow sever myself loose from the temporal world and fully enter the lives of the characters. Sometimes I do feel that I am putting the best words I can think of in the best order possible, and there are moments when the writing comes swift and thick and pure. I am grateful for these times. But most days fear is my shadow. It drives my writing as much as my love for it does. Perhaps it’s supposed to be this way. Perhaps the only fiction worth reading-the writing that ensnares you wholly, that lays siege to your heart-is that which is born of love and terror, slick with the blood of it’s creator.

The writing process is terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure. The bad news is that my experience is the same as Hannah’s, that the terror does not get less the more you write. The good news is that neither does the exhilaration! Increasingly we understand what happens in the brain during the creative process. I’ll leave it to James Zull to explain…

…Dopamine is released in the newest region of cortex, the part that we use to create ideas, make decisions and plan our action Thus, we feel rewarded when we create new objects or actions. And since creativity is based on the decisions made by the creator, the reward system kicks in when we are in control and inventing things that we have thought of ourselves. Freedom and ownership are part and parcel of the neurochemistry of the arts.

-James E Zull‘Arts, Neuroscience and Learning’

The Balance of Structure and Content

Having pinned down a basic structure before you started writing, it’s important to know that it is still ok if things change. The structural markers we’ve put in place are friendly guides to point the way. They are there to nudge us back into the flow of the creative stream if we get beached on the bank. They are there to re-orient us when we lose our way. When, however, they become points that are so fixed that nothing will shift them, we’ve got a problem. If that happens, we’re no longer going into the unknown. Then our story dies on the page. 

So, despite the narrative arc you’ve carefully constructed, stay open to the idea that things may change. Information may end up being revealed in a slightly different way, or at another time to that which you’d envisioned.  Act 3 may be longer, or shorter than that one-fifth ratio. You may have told your lead character to go one way, only to find that they choose their own route as the story unfolds, and you are required to follow. 

Stick to the structure, but don’t stick to it- I’m not making things very easy am I?!  It’s a balance, and we can only learn it by practicing it. If you find, in a first draft of a project, that you become a little inflexible and your supportive container (that flower pot brimming over with fragrant sweet peas), becomes a cage with iron bars, just learn from it. Say never mind and resolve to do it a little differently next time. Conversely, if the pot of sweet peas gets out of control and you trip in the tangled stems, or if you are lost in the sheer rampaging abundance of it all, and almost faint from the overpowering fragrance, again, forgive yourself and adjust the balance in favour of a bit of strong fencing.  Make pro-active choices with each new piece of information that comes in. Never beat yourself up, about anything. It’s utterly counter-productive.

You are an animal, and nothing if not flexible, adaptable and able to learn. It will be different next time, and the time after, and the time after that.

And if the idea of having to carry on writing and writing and writing in order to learn, seems too much, or uninteresting, perhaps it’s time to re-consider your life path as a storyteller. Whereas, if the idea of taking the material that is words, and shaping it, appeals to you, well, this storytelling lark is most definitely for you. Do it for the sheer love of the materials in your hands, and the joy of the surprise of every new form that emerges.

All good wishes for the writing of the first draft. Trust that the animal that is your wild words knows who it is. It knows its territory. Don’t think it’s either all your responsibility, or all your fault. Neither are true. You’re just along for the ride. Hold on tight.

Why not post a victorious photo of yourself in the Facebook group, clutching it in your hand! 


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What Are Your Wild Words?

Wild words are the words that want to be heard and seen - as opposed to the ones that you want to write.

They are the ones you keep caged in the depths of your soul. They are the ones that you sometimes hear crying, or, even worse, which have forgotten how to cry. They are the words which leak out, or which sabotage your life, in so many realised and unrealised ways. They are as often words of joy, and peace, as they are words of sorrow or anger. The wild words are the one story that needs to be told, the answering call to the yearning of your heart and soul. There are as many kinds of wild words as there as creatures on this earth. They vary as much in looks as the elephant and the mouse, and behave in as many different ways. Wild words are not necessarily big and loud and emotional. They might cause a stampede when they arrive. But it’s equally likely that they’ll slide in quietly, flutter their way on to your page, or jostle at your elbow.

Wild words are fiction and non-fiction and transcend the two. They are poetry and prose and transcend the two.

Wild words can be, but are not necessarily, profound. Sometimes they prefer to be shallow, fickle and superficial.

They do not take any account of ‘the market’ (but then the greatest novelists never did either). They do not necessarily use the writing tools that you’ve been taught. Nor do they necessarily follow ‘good’ writing practice (although strangely they often end up as ‘great writing’ without all those supports). Sometimes it is agonising and exhausting to give birth to them, but equally often it is a joyful experience as they slip out almost unaided.

The one thing you can be quite sure of is that they won’t be what you expect. What you expect is what your thinking mind is encouraging you to write. The thinking mind likes tame words because they are no threat. They allow us to stay well within our comfort zone. Writing truly wild words involves facing fears. What the thinking mind fears, it won’t support you to conceptualise. That means we have to find a new approach.

For now, the only thing we can know for sure is that to undertake a mission to meet and reclaim the wild words is to go on a journey into the unknown, with all the associated hopes and fears.

The Weekly Prompt

Think about what you expect your wild words to be like. What would be the opposite of those expectations? Allow the answers to find you, rather than hunt them down.

This article was first published on July 18th 2013

All About Character

The characters described in wild words are multi-layered. They have emotional, and psychological depth. Unique and believable, they skitter across the page, and leap off the tongue. The listener or reader identifies with those things that make us all human- common emotions, hopes and fears. They are intrigued by how the characters differ from themselves. The cast of characters work together like an orchestra, each taking a necessary and distinctive role in the plot.  Their voices, language, appearance, posture and mannerisms are symbols, conveying in solid and show-able ways, their inner worlds.

When wild words speak, they do so directly, rather than their words being reported. To report what someone has said in the past, rather than hearing it straight from their own mouth, is almost always weaker.  Characters’ voices are as varied as the species of animals on earth. Their emotional words and habit patterns are revealed through how and when they speak.  

Tracking The Wild Words

So, what is character…? Answer this question for yourself, before reading on.

I’m sure there are many valid answers out there. Here are the most relevant and useful answers for our purposes:

-Character is habit. Don’t try and stuff individuality into every appearance of your character. Instead, focus on setting up small habits that are repeated. This will give the listener or reader a sense of the character without overloading the story.

-Character is what creates plot. The hero gives us the backbone of our plot. Their actions carry us through.

-Character is the first place to turn if you’re stuck. Stuck in a story corner? Go back to your lead character in the scene, and re-find a sense of them. What would they do next?

-Character is the answer to everything. Go there if you have a plot problem, if you want to add surprise, or if you want change the atmosphere.

How To Work With Your Characters

The image of an iceberg is very appropriate here. Did you know that two thirds of an iceberg is under the water and cannot be seen? The same is true of people. We often reveal very little of our internal world to others. The job of a storyteller is to get under the water. Screenwriter Lew Hunter, in his book Screenwriting 404, offers the image of the ‘mind worm’. We want to burrow ever deeper inside the head of our character. By the end of the story her or his emotional world should have been emptied out. The listener or reader should have seen all their bravery, fear, anger, and hope. At the risk of overloading this unit with metaphors… it’s a little like peeling an onion. We’re removing the layers one by one, revealing them to the listener or reader.

The listener or reader doesn’t have to like the hero. In fact, nice is boring. Don’t make your hero nice, just make sure the audience understand what motivates her or him. That is all that’s necessary to get your audience caring about what happens to them. A good way of making a seemingly not-so-nice hero sympathetic is to give them a weakness or vulnerability. By all means make your hero a serial killer, but have them like animals and be really kind to their cat :-) 

Once you’ve decided on your hero they must to survive until the end of the story. You’re coercing the listener or reader into identifying with them. Therefore, to kill them off before the end is like killing the reader. That’s a pretty nasty thing to do! However, there are exceptions to this guideline. A notable one is in the horror genre. Here, we want to unnerve and destabilise our reader. They’ll be disappointed if we don’t. Killing off the character through whose eyes they have been seeing, achieves that marvellously.

Start with your lead character, and grow the story with them.

Remember page 17? At the end of act one something happens that forces your hero to undertake a journey. Every step of the way, see the created world through their eyes, and only have them take action when they are ready to do so.

Character is revealed in conflict.

Set up your characters in conflict rather than conversation. Through conflict change and growth are enabled. There should be no ‘static’ conflict; it must be attack to counter attack. The protagonist’s decision leads to the antagonist’s decision and vice versa at every stage. Compromise in either the hero or antagonist must be impossible unless there is ‘death’ of some dominant quality in one of characters, almost always at the end. If the strength of your two central characters is not retained through the story there can be no tension.

The cast of characters in your story need to behave like an orchestra. They should be well defined, uncompromising, and as different as possible. They should each have a unique voice and purpose as regards the plot. Double check: are all your characters necessary?

Show Not Tell

I mentioned that just as two thirds of an iceberg is under water, there is much about each individual that is hidden from others. This includes our emotions, hopes, fears, expectations, value systems, thoughts, and ideas.

Show not tell is an oft-quoted saying in creative writing. What it means is that it is nearly always stronger to use solid, showable, visual events that convey a character’s inner life, than to try to describe, straight off the bat, that inner life in abstract terms.

For example: we could say ‘he was feeling sad’. However, it would be much stronger in storytelling terms to say ‘he crawled down the street, pulling resistant feet, shoulders slumped’. It’s stronger because we’re showing not telling.

This relates back to how we function as human animals. We construct our worlds using conceptual metaphor. We use the most solid terms to convey the more abstract. Solid terms include sensory impressions- for example the taste of food, as well as physical sensations. However, all you really need to know is that wherever possible we need to use symbols and metaphor to convey character’s emotional worlds. The smallest object, gesture, mannerism, behaviour, the colour of their hat on a certain day, or the fact that they choose that hat at all on that day… these things can convey a wealth of information about your characters' inner, less graspable worlds.

Melissa Bruder, in A Practical Handbook for the Actor calls these symbols ‘externals’.

An external is a physical adjustment made by the actor that… aids in the telling of the story.

For our purposes, it’s also for the storyteller or writer to pin down these externals on the page. Examples include:

1. Bodily adjustments-for example, posture, voice or speech alterations, and physical handicaps.

2. Ornaments- for example costumes and make-up.

3. Physical states-for example, drunkenness, exhaustion, feeling hot or cold or illness

The point made is that these externals must be made ‘as habitual as the lines of the play’ to the actor. And to the storyteller or writer.


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Photograph courtesy of Peter Reid.

From the archive: Snowed In

 On Monday this week, I awoke and looked out of the window. There was nothing but white. I saw only the inconvenience. I would never get a car down the mountain track with that much snow. S***! That was the end of the meeting that I had booked with an animal-tracking expert for later that day. Now I would never know his secrets.

On my second look out of the window, I saw the beauty. The fresh snowfall was casting a silent spell over the land. There might be no formal tracking lesson that day, but conditions were ripe for exploration.

The snow was still falling fast, presenting me with a time capsule- a record of the few animals that had dared to leave their sheltered places in the previous half-hour. One brave deer had taken a route down the edge of the track, where the snow was lightest. There was also the hopping pencil-line print of a robin, searching for food. And cutting purposefully straight across the track- the crawling, claw-toed prints of the badger, his stomach dragging on the ground. The entrance to his sett was just there, cut into the clay soil of the mountain.

And it wasn’t only animals. At the bottom of the hill, engraved on the blank canvas of the builders’ yard car park, the swirling tracks of a van. Evidence of the driver’s difficulty, with sleep still in his eyes, of fitting himself into a narrow parking space. And the valiant post-woman had been there too, her determined prints weaving in and out of every domain.

Turning, I re-traced my own solitary path, my autobiography printed on the snow. At the places where the distance between my tracks closed sharply, I read the history of my excitement. Arriving back at the house, I saw where I’d dragged my heavy feet away from its shelter at dawn, disappointment weighing on me. Now, an hour later, I was forward on my toes, a lighter touch on the ground. I wouldn’t swap anyone else’s secrets for those I discovered myself that day. 

The Weekly Prompt : Tracks

Go for a walk. Look for the tracks of animals, birds and people. When you find a set of prints, make an educated guess as to the owner. Then, observe:

-How light, or heavy are the prints? Are there any changes in weight?

-How evenly or irregularly spaced are the prints? Are there any changes in spacing?

Use this information to write a short piece about how the bird/animal/human being is feeling. Also talk about where they are going, and why. The piece will necessarily be fictional, but will be based on your real-life observations.

First published February 8th 2013

Photograph courtesy of Peter Reid.

Why Do We Tell Stories?

So, why is it that we are ‘natural storytellers’? Recent scientific evidence backs up what we, as writers, know in our guts. Telling stories is not a luxury for human beings, it is vital to our survival and flourishing. If the wild animal has senses, bodily sensation, emotion, action and most probably some powers of imagining and ‘thinking’, to keep it alive, we have all this plus a more developed rational mind, and the ability to tell stories. 

There are stories everywhere around us, in films, on TV, and in books. Adverts tell us stories to persuade us to buy their products. Televised sports are also stories. Our heroes face the opponents, with a clear aim, and battle it out to the bitter end. Stories rescue human beings when life is too harsh, too fast, too heavy. We default into daydreaming whenever we are not involved in an immediate, absorbing task.  Stories provide rest and relief. They calm our body and mind.

I see the extreme of storytelling as a life-saving strategy in my work as a psychotherapist. Many people who experience traumatic or abusive situations, use storytelling to survive emotionally, when contact with ‘reality’ would be overwhelming for body and mind. Indeed, the state of ‘dissociation’, of feeling detached from a situation that would otherwise be unbearable, often involves elements of storytelling. Below is the account of an abuse survivor.

I could see the window from where I lay. When it was happening, I would look out of the window at the birds flying. I would imagine I too was flying, and that I could go anywhere, do anything. I would visit beautiful places and talk to kind people who reassured me that I would survive. I believe this is what stopped me from going crazy, or from killing myself.

In recent studies of dreams it has been found that 80 percent are about ‘a problem that needs to be solved’. So, it may be that the primary evolutionary role of stories is as, psychologist and novelist Keith Oatley puts it, to be...

…the flight simulators of human social life.

Writing, telling, reading, or listening to stories, activates the same biological process as living out the actions would do. The same neurons fire, and neural pathways are strengthened when we think about performing an action, as when we perform it for real. That’s the reason that professional sports people use visualisation as a key part of their training. Stories allow us to encounter various life obstacles in symbolic guise and to practice ways of solving them, without endangering ourselves. Stories train us for life.

Certainly, stories also play other crucial roles in our lives: They allow us to process emotions. They allow us to feel in control of, and gain perspective on our lives. They can lead to public recognition and (sometimes) money. Autobiographical work can pass information on to future generations, and provide closure to our lives. Stories entertain. They inspire and they motivate.

As I wrote as part of the content for a University of Exeter creative writing course,

When we tell our stories details unfold like flowers, clues become moments of epiphany, feelings are processed, and stuck energy is discharged. We begin to notice the patterns that repeat through our lives, called ‘Repetition Compulsion’ by Sigmund Freud. We see which of those serve us, and which don’t. We can bring closure to the unfinished aspects of our lives. We can grieve and move on. We can find or create our self in the writing.

Storytelling, on the very physical level of our nervous systems, discharges energy. This energy, if it remains trapped, can disable our effective functioning in the world, as well as lead to ill health.

Above all, writing is a fabulous thing to do, because, as poet John Keats so clearly elucidated, the great beauty of the art and craft of it is that ‘it makes everything interesting’.

What I’d like you to take away this month, is the following:

Your job- that of being a wordsmith- is sacred, because without it, the human species cannot survive.

What we need to do as storytellers is to rest in the knowledge that not everything has to come from the rational mind. If we can trust our innate ability to tell stories, to allow our organic movement towards health, then we have truly set out on the trail to re-finding our wild words. So, as the unanswered emails pile up, and as your partner, parents, and children tug relentlessly on your sleeve, remember this: you’re doing war-work. Writing saves lives.

Now how are your mind and body feeling? Would you know how to put the strength of your embodied experience into words?

Onward and upward!

To see the Writing Prompt that accompanies this article, you'll need to sign up on the Wild Words website homepage to receive the Monthly Newsletter, or join the Wild Words Facebook group

From the archive: Blog Written With A Terrible Cold

I’ve got a terrible cold. Having come out the other side of the sore throat>sneezing>coughing thing, I spent a wonderful day in the woods, writing words with autumn leaves. The day after that, the sore throat returned and now, well, round I go again.

Meanwhile, I’m extending my ideas on re-wilding: our self, and our words. As my cold is so central to my world at the moment, perhaps it’s no surprise that that has crept in to my writing. To get a flavour of the writing, and to understand the human cold a little better, here’s an extract.

‘…If fear was the real problem, then all those things that I’d been told were wrong with my writing must surely just be symptoms of that deeper issue. To use a metaphor, they were the sneeze and the cough, but they weren’t the cold virus itself. With a cold, the sneeze and the cough are your body’s efforts to get rid of the virus. They are symptoms, but they are also strategies, an action plan that your body embarks on when threatened. Perhaps my caged writing was the same. The restriction, the words that didn’t work, might be my body and mind’s strategy for avoiding what it feared. The strategies had been put into operation unconsciously. But that wasn’t so surprising. Only 7% of what happens is conscious, the remaining 93% is unconscious. If the issues on the page were strategies, then surely they were keeping me safe. They were a cage that although it restricted me, also protected me. Given that vital role, it was no wonder they were hard to address…’


This article was first published on December 7th 2012

Photograph courtesy of Peter Reid.