As I write, I am still on a high from my first Expressive Writing session with the Edinburgh Headway Group. Thanks to an unexpected record attendance, there was a genuine buzz and a fantastic energy which the group channelled into their poetry. Lots of laughter and sharing – plus a good choice of poem – allowed the creativity to flow. More on that soon… for now, I thought I’d bring myself back down to Earth by talking about the darker, grittier side of my profession…
Yes, that’s right… Funding.
I certainly didn’t take the most direct route to securing funding for this post – quite the opposite – I provided my services for free for 7 months. However, those 7 months allowed me to draw out some of the benefits of Expressive Writing – ideal fodder for a robust funding application. Here are my top 5:
For those who have undergone a serious and unwanted life event, such as a brain-injury, there can be a strong sense of lost identity. Creative writing allows individuals to define themselves in whichever way they choose; whether this is as they live now, or in terms of their past careers and experiences.
Group members are encouraged to write in their own voices, which is often an escape from the language of medicine and disability. This is not only empowering, but also validating, as their stories are acknowledged and accepted by the group.
- Positivity and mindfulness
Many of the creative writing exercises offered to the group were designed to emphasise positive or enjoyable aspects of day-to-day life, from good food to hot showers. This is a means of shifting focus from the more negative challenges of day-to-day life, and offering an alternative perspective.
This often involved engaging with all of the senses, to encourage a connection with the surrounding world and focus on the present moment. For some group members, this was a welcome relief from ongoing concerns and difficulties.
- Connecting and sharing
The group-work aspect of writing sessions was perhaps the most beneficial to members’ wellbeing. Members and staff alike were able to find out more about each other, through writing together and sharing stories. Writing exercises generated topics of conversation which may not otherwise have been explored, and connections made which may otherwise have remained unknown. This is useful not only for forging social ties, but also for staff to learn more about members and how best to support them. Poems or stories written as a group also generated a sense of belonging and shared achievement.
Creative writing provides an important outlet for members who are naturally more reticent and may not easily engage with other activities. Writing allows time for members to process their thoughts, and importantly it is each individual’s choice whether they share their writing with the group.
Creative writing is also inclusive in terms of ability. Many members who are physically unable to write contributed to the group vocally, and worked with a carer or staff member. Indeed – these collaborations were often enjoyable and productive for both.
- Confidence boosting
The process of writing a poem or short story can bring a valuable sense of achievement, which is enhanced by reading to the group or hearing it read out loud. Many group members produced inventive, witty and interesting pieces of writing in a very short space of time. Part of the facilitator’s role was to encourage and praise this work, but the group members also supported each other with appropriate responses such as laughter and even applause.
Ultimately, the funding was assigned by the centre staff, who witnessed and recognised the value of the writing group – as a sole-trader, it would have been extremely difficult for me to secure the funding myself. I’d strongly advise anyone starting out as an Expressive Writing Practitioner to forge these kinds of partnerships, even if it means working for free in the short-term. Find out what the organisation’s priorities are, and take good notes on how your services support these. That way, when the time comes to assign funding pots, you’ll be able to prove that you’re a good investment.