It was a sunny Saturday morning in Shoreditch. Thirteen of us sitting in a circle in a light filled room heads down writing.
All strangers. No introductions, no knowledge of what might connect us or divide us.
The only thing we knew for certain is that this was day 1 of a weekend Freefall Writing as Creative Therapy class.
Moments before, we had taken our seats, whispering hellos. Politeness, anxiety and curiosity hanging in the air.
We needed to leave the safety of our heads and jump
Our facilitator, Angelika Wienrich, invited us to think of her approach to writing as similar to parachuting. Sitting on the edge might be scary, but the falling could be an intense experience that moves us beyond the rational to access our emotional and physical responses.
The aim of the next two days was to break down our fears, suppressed feelings and self-imposed ideas about what “good” writing is in order to tap into our creative potential.
We needed to start viewing writing as a physical activity
Which meant taking a pen to paper and not stopping writing until we were told to do so.
So there we were thirteen people, heads down, writing – the first of many exercises where we were invited to write as freely as possible.
Sometimes we had to write about how we were in that moment – a very Gestalt principle – at others we had to imagine we were writing as someone else in the room or recalling an event from our past.
From anxiety to freedom
At the end of each “freefall” we formed trios and could share what we had written if we wanted to. At first, both the writing and the sharing felt awkward for me. An image of wearing new shoes on the first day of school after a summer of flip flops came to mind.
Angelika encouraged us to understand that as writing is learnt at an age where we have learnt inhibition we need to:
rediscover our spontaneity
unlearn what we were taught at school – there are no right and wrong ways to write
write through our self-censorship by avoiding pausing and thinking
get unstuck by repeating the last word or phrase until something new emerges on the page
let go of the search for the perfectly crafted word or phrase
Most of all, if we want to access our true creative potential, it’s not about what other people, or our own inner critic, thinks.
Writing requires us to let go
It was amazing how quickly I began to let go of my anxiety and my self-censorship. By lunchtime I must have written more than 4000 words and shared my excerpts with most of the people in the room. When asked to describe how I felt at this point I wrote:
“We seem to have been here a long time and we are getting comfortable. It’s getting lighter, gentler, warmer, kinder. Ideas are flowing. I’ve stopped feeling anxious and the clock seems to have stopped ticking. I’ve checked – it’s not. But how funny that anxiety earlier made me focus on noise, banging, jangling, ticking and now it seems/feels calm, gentler…”
Day 2 went deeper
We used the techniques from day 1 to list events from our past; again writing without stopping, censoring or consciously crafting. Angelika kept the pace up, soothing individual anxieties in the group, particularly about when we were going to get to the “crafting of words” stage.
Day 2 was heading towards poetry
Something my inner critic has told me I’m not good at, yet I began the day really looking forward to using this freefall technique to reduce the scariness of the task. It seems strange to reflect that in 24 hours I was regarding jumping out of a plane as necessary and not at all scary.
How to write a poem in 20 minutes or less
We had 15 lines or less to write about an incident from our past that needed to reference the themes of my group – love, death, betrayal, regret and hope – as well as use the imagery from postcards we had been given by others.
And none of that seemed scary any more
Freefall was a physical activity that I felt familiar with and I immediately started writing lists of words as they occurred to me. My poem was about the sudden death of my best friend fifteen years ago and I was aware of holding deep emotions alongside the fragments of words that just seemed to emerge.
This was the result:
Stormy waters drown a blue spring sky
Your death seemed such a betrayal
Of the hope we both carried.
I regret not being there
But love does go on.
My boys are nearly men
Those birch trees grown tall
What would it take to turn a different corner?
And let go.
It was an emotional and cathartic experience – much like Gestalt therapy itself
“The closest translation of Gestalt (a German word) is ‘whole’, pattern or form. It has the sense that meaning cannot be found from breaking things down into parts, but comes from appreciation of the whole, in other words, holistic.” ~ Gestalt Centre
Approaching writing in a holistic way, refusing to break it down and analyse adjectives and nouns allowed everyone in the group to tap into memories, emotions and expressions that we may never have come to if we had stayed in our heads.
As John Lee says in his book, Writing from the Body:
“The call to write is a call that’s received in the body first. If we are to answer this call, we have to feel every part of our lives…learn the grammar of the gut, the syntax of the sinews, the language of the legs. For everyone who is tired of living life in the little closet between the ears, get ready.”
Free fall creative writing will help me
I know that this experience will help me as I keep journals of my coaching work and as I write the 12,000 word inquiry into my coaching practice that forms my dissertation.
But I do a lot of other business writing – reports, white papers, training materials, assessments. All of which I think might be more human, more true, and easier to write if I can stick to Angelika’s and John Lee’s principles.
Writing helps all of us reflect and perform
Recent research from Harvard Business School shows that journal writing is good for all us. Just 15 minutes of written reflection leads to better performance.
So come on, strap on that parachute, grab that pen and jump.
I wrote this blog in June 2014 while studying for my MSc in Executive Coaching