Writing For Wellness: “How I Learned To Harness The Healing Power Of Words”
Language is like clothing: it can be tried on, altered or discarded; it can invoke power and performance. It can also heal, and it is this quality that has been foregrounded by a series of seminal writers, from Audre Lorde and Octavia E. Butler to bell hooks. If creative fulfilment equals personal fulfilment, why shouldn’t we incorporate it as we would any other wellness ritual? Enter The Compost Library’s six-week course, Writing for Wellness.
The Compost Library is a London-based open-access social enterprise propagating the “personal/social/political/everything benefits of reading and writing”. Founded by Clem Macleod and Pierce Eldridge of Worms – a literary magazine and publisher celebrating underrepresented writer culture – the course aims to help develop a writing practice for mental wellbeing and creative fulfilment.
At the first session of the Writing for Wellness course, we begin by discussing a series of affirmations – prepared by Macleod and Eldridge – which will underline each participant’s work and our interactions with others’. For example: ‘I provide mutual aid’ or ‘I advocate for all marginalised people’. Macleod tells me that the motivation behind the course was to “realise the power of books, reading, writing, expressing yourself, and feeling the worth of your story”.
The group is made up of those who largely consider themselves non-writers, ranging from data scientists to healthcare professionals. We are taught to confront ourselves through our words; for me, years spent being told not to ‘overthink’ mean that this is an activity laced with the guilt of self-indulgence. But, as Macleod explains, “Self-indulgence is where the best literature comes from. Without self-indulgence, people wouldn’t read stories and identify with them.”
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The only non-negotiable of Macleod and Eldridge’s writing routine is the ‘morning pages’, a ritual invented by the creativity guru Julia Cameron, in which you write three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness text each morning. The practice has gained popularity in recent years – the #morningpages tag has almost 45 million hits on TikTok, and Bella Hadid has even been photographed clutching her copy of Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. After a few mornings of extended to-do lists and journalling, I find it noticeably easier to focus on various tasks (even those unrelated to creativity) throughout the day. My own ‘pages’ gradually take on more abstract, poetic forms, spanning outwards from dreams and observations, and I find various threads to expand on in my wider writing practice.
The course’s other sessions cover topics ranging from imagining alternative futures (as taught by Octavia E. Butler), to writing as a way to process the world (influenced by Susan Sontag). For me, the most revolutionary workshop is one inspired by the teachings of poet CAConrad and therapist/researcher Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, whose practices are built on the integration of somatics and language. ‘Somatics’ is defined as a field of bodywork emphasising the ‘mind-body connection’, which Bainbridge Cohen says is “about our relationship to ourselves, others, the Earth and the universe”. It feels liberating to be reminded that outside of formal education and intellectualism, there is a wealth of inspiration to be found in my own body. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to work through this PDF of CAConrad’s fabulous (soma)tic writing exercises.
At the core of Writing For Wellness is the notion of writing not to serve the page, but to serve the soul. As bell hooks writes in Remembered Rapture, “With words we experience our deepest understandings of what it means to be intimate. We communicate to connect, to know community,” Wellness relies on connection, and connection relies on community. Plus, it’s easier to form new habits alongside others. Macleod continues: “We all have stories, and they can be universal, and so healing for each other to hear and feel”.
At the end of the course, some of the group share finished poems or prose, whilst others (myself included) have journals of rough drafts and half-formed poems. But the aim was never to craft the next bestseller. I leave these six weeks with a renewed understanding of the various ways in which writing can heal.
Clem Macleod’s 5 Essential Reads If You Want To Try Writing For Wellbeing
1. Remembered Rapture by bell hooks – “An amazing insight and philosophy of the spiritual and healing power of reading and writing.”
2. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – “A 12-week-course on healing your inner artistic child! I’ve done it about three times now.”
3. Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde – “This book articulates the power of poetry as a tool for resistance.”
4. Ecodeviance by CAConrad – “Our body and nature are the greatest sources for our writing – this is CAConrad’s greatest principle.”
5. Regarding The Pain Of Others by Susan Sontag – “Sontag’s theory is that writing about difficult subjects and immersing ourselves in difficult situations brings us closer to reality. She has been one of my greatest teachers in writing but also in my everyday experience.”
Ella Slater is an art and culture writer based in London