A therapeutic approach to creative writing – and tips to hone your craft

 In How to write a book, Tips for Writers

We’re delighted to share some of the key principles of a therapeutic approach to creative writing from long-time All About Writing collaborator, psychologist Pierre Brouard (Growing Through Writing and The Character Course).  And we’re delighted to share news of his latest course too.

A therapeutic approach to creative writing

For many people, whether they are published writers, bloggers or private diarists, writing is a salvation, a way out of the morass. And for those who get to make money out of writing, especially creative writing, this is an added bonus.

It is almost a cliché to say that writing is therapeutic, but like many clichés, this one rests on an important truth. We write to process feelings and experiences, we write to order and make sense of the world, we write to find new endings, the ones we wanted but couldn’t have. There can be restoration in wielding the pen, or the keyboard.

What are some of the key principles in a therapeutic approach to creative writing?

Firstly, to acknowledge that most writing is projection. If the page is like a screen (or actually a screen!) inevitably we tend to populate it with characters that we are drawn to, or fascinated by, or that we have something in common with. This will say as much about us as the characters and stories we create.

Secondly, writing allows us to make sense of the lottery that is our genetics and upbringing. No one gets to choose their parents, their early life circumstances and their physical appearance (plastic surgery and other embellishments notwithstanding). When we write, and we create characters with complex backstories, we get to “play” with the nature/nurture tension. Working through this can be healing.

Thirdly, creative writing forces us to confront the complexities and contradictions of being human. Our life trajectories, our choices and our moral dilemmas are never linear or simple: knowing this in ourselves allows us to write in ways that embraces the messiness of the human condition.

And finally, forgiveness of frailty (both in ourselves and the people and stories we imagine) is a way to arrive at the calmer waters of acceptance and grace. Sometimes this can be as trite as forgiving ourselves for a missed deadline, at other times, a powerful reminder that imperfection and impermanence are constants.

The Characters in Me: Writing and Reading Fiction as Projection and Resolution

The Characters in Me with Pierre, and fellow psychologist Rob Hamilton is a course that falls on the cusp of literature and psychology. It aims to help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and perhaps come to some personal resolutions by examining the characters you create and the characters you are drawn to.

It also aims to help you improve your writing by learning how to create real and memorable characters that readers resonate and empathise with.

Email Trish for more information and to apply for a hugely discounted place on the pilot programme starting on 11 September.

Hone your craft with tips from our author spotlight series

We agree with Pierre that writing can be a salvation and that to reap the benefits it’s absolutely not necessary to publish.

But we continue to highlight the authors in our community who have been able to find success and publish their work. This is to celebrate them and to encourage those who have yet to finish a draft but haven’t managed to reach that goal yet (whether they want to publish or not).

In addition to this, these blogs are also designed to be a resource that provides writing tips and analysis for our community.

Here’s a sample of some of the writing tips from the latest blogs in the author spotlight series:

Tips on writing emotional scenes from Gail Gilbride’s Under the African Sun

Under the African Sun (Cactus Rain Publishing) is a coming-of-age story about love, friendships, betrayal and intrigue, all against the backdrop of South Africa’s turbulent politics, in 1976. In the scene she choose to share with us, protagonist Deborah is searching for the horse belonging to her beloved boyfriend, a political activist who has been desperately injured in an accident.

Here are our tips on writing emotional scenes:

  • Emotion underplayed, shown obliquely, is far more powerful than overblown displays.
  • Be subtle. When emotions run hot (as the saying goes), write cool.
  • Play with our expectations by drawing out the tension. Make us wait, along with your character.
Tips on writing humour from Sally Ann Carter’s Just Kidding: Life, Love and Laughter at Zeekoegat Farm

 Just Kidding (Write-On Publishingis a wonderful account of Sally Ann’s experience leaving city life for life on a farm. The extract she has chosen allows us to really get to know Sal as a character and will undoubtedly make you laugh.

Here are our tips on writing with humour:

  • Humour is all about timing. Set up our expectations: make us worry. Lead us to expect one outcome, hold us there, lay it on a bit more … then pay it off in anti-climax, by deflating the tension.
  • Recreate dialogue realistically, from your memory of the situation.
  • It doesn’t matter how anyone else might remember the scene. This is your memoir, your story. Recreate it according to your own memory of it.
book cover with a cow face
Tips on actually getting your book written and published from our Q&A with Patrick Mork

Step Back and Leap: 9 Keys to Unlock Your Life and Make Sh*t Happen (written in collaboration with Richard) uses personal stories and real-life challenges and weaves them in with the 9 indispensable “keys” Patrick used to overcome each challenge and reinvent himself. He incorporates practical tips for readers facing similar challenges.

In his Q&A with us he elaborated on how the keys he imparts in his book can be useful skills for the writing and publishing process:

  • Write something that you’re really passionate about.
  • Managing your energy is fundamental.
  • Don’t do it alone.
Tips on memoir writing from our Q&A with Jane Evans

A Path Unexpected (Jonathan Ball) describes the twist her life took when, as a young Johannesburg journalist, Jane fell in love with a farmer from the Free State and how this led her life to move in a completely new and unexpected direction. In her Q&A with us, Jane told us what it took to write this memoir.

Here are her top tips for memoir writers:

  • Write, just write it all down don’t self-edit during this process.
  • Join a writing programme and work with mentors.
  • Use the skills of fiction, like dialogue and conflict, even though you are writing non-fiction.

Join our free Partners in Crime group for tips on crime writing and to find like-minded crime enthusiasts

Our free  Partners in Crime group, led by award-winning crime writer Michele Rowe, is designed to bring fans and writers of crime together. Joining this group will give you a place to:

  • Surround yourself with others who are passionate about the genre.
  • Discuss the diverse forms that the crime genre encompasses.
  • Debate why are we so fascinated by crime stories.
  • Explore the craft and techniques that the best crime writers use.

Join our crime writing group here…

Happy writing

Jo-Anne, Richard and the All About Writing team

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