It’s been a busy few months for me but I am at last recharging my batteries on holiday in the very lovely Bath. The photo is from my last holiday – London in July – which seems a very long time ago now.
Writing exercise: use the photograph of the horse statue (taken at Minster Court, London) as inspiration for some writing. Write whatever you feel like writing, even if it has nothing to do with horses or statues. You might write about: London, horses, a memory of a particular horse, an account of someone absorbed in creating something such as a sculpture, a pot, a wood carving or a painting. Write memory, description or fiction – whatever you feel like writing.
Often it doesn’t matter what I bring to a writing group in the way of writing inspiration, so long as my explanation of what to write has the appropriate degree of flexibility to inspire group members to write what they want – or need – to write. For example, a selection of objects might inspire one person to do some Mindful Descriptive writing (a detailed description of one or more objects), someone else might write about a memory inspired by an object, while a third person might write the start of a story that connects several of the objects.
In the last few weeks I have been writing with Phyllis in an older adult mental health ward. Phyllis is 80 years old and has Alzheimer’s. For our first session together I brought along coloured Plasticine as writing inspiration. My suggestion was first for us to write a description using as many of our senses as possible, and then make a shape with the Plasticine and do some more writing inspired either by the shape, or the experience of playing with the Plasticine. Phyllis wrote about a happy childhood memory of playing with her brother, who died many years ago. I could tell that Phyllis enjoyed doing the writing and remembering her brother so I was pleased when Phyllis told me that she would like to write about more of her childhood memories, especially memories of her favourite brother.
The next time I saw Phyllis I brought a little of Autumn into the ward – conkers, colourful leaves, an acorn and a wild mushroom. Again Phyllis wrote a happy memory of her brother. On our third meeting, I brought a small box of old buttons. Again Phyllis wrote a childhood memory, but this time she wrote about herself dancing in a ballet dress to the song Buttons and Bows.
Positive writing like this, whether about the past, present or future, can help our wellbeing. For example, writing about happy memories can be a reminder for us of times when things have gone well at a time when life appears full of problems.
By coincidence, the two men I wrote with last week – Danny in the adult mental health ward and George in psychiatric intensive care (PICU) – also chose to write about positive memories. Both men are homeless. George doesn’t have a mental health diagnosis – he was brought in because of his behaviour when he was very drunk. Danny has a mental health problem and a drug habit.
In the session with Danny, the exercise was to write about a place you would like to visit. Danny asked if he could write about somewhere that doesn’t exist any more, and also if he could stay there once he got there – I said yes he could write whatever he wanted. Danny wrote a description of a house where he used to live when he was a child, somewhere he felt safe and relatively happy (but which was demolished years ago).
George wrote about a photograph of a landscape with rolling hills, trees and mist, that reminded him of growing up in Cumbria. He produced a very positive piece of writing about his childhood, his parents and a little about the history of Carlisle. It was lovely to hear him read this writing – partly because it was so obvious that it had lifted his mood to write the memories and read them to me, and partly because the piece was very interesting to me because I live near Carlisle. By my reckoning it was a near perfect session to happen in the PICU. The PICU is not really the place for transformational writing because the individuals are so acutely unwell. It is far better to encourage writing that will bring calm and improve mental focus. Mindful descriptive writing and positive writing are excellent techniques to use in PICU and other acute mental health wards.
Being in Bath this week I have no ward writing groups of course. Instead I hope to write more for myself – this blog post and hopefully a story or two (I have started writing short fiction again since finishing my book chapter) – I should have no shortage of writing inspiration in this lovely city.