Acclaimed writer and broadcaster Sian Prior has partnered with The School Of Life Melbourne for 2 events during its Autumn Term program – Writing as Therapy on Wednesday 27 May and an In Conversation event with TSOL faculty member Sarah Darmody on Saturday 2 May.
In “Writing as Therapy”, Sian (who has developed techniques to help her overcome her own anxiety) will encourage participants to dip their toes into the healing waters of therapeutic writing, using a variety of techniques and methods in a three-hour session.
In “In Conversation”, Sian and Sarah will explore the idea of shyness or social anxiety and how empowering it can be to make sense of this as an individual.
We took some time out with Sian to learn more about the notion of writing as therapy and here’s what she had to say.
You’re presenting at The School of Life next month and one of the topics will be “Writing as Therapy”. What does this entail?
In a nutshell, we usually think of therapy as something we seek out when we are in some kind of distress. When we suffer it can be hard to think straight. When we can’t think straight it is hard to find relief from our suffering. Writing requires us to try to think straight. Through writing we can find some relief from suffering.
Of course it’s not quite as simple as that – but almost. Writing can help us to find the ‘story’ within our ‘situation’ and take more control of that story. Writing helps us to gain distance from the things that cause us distress. Some people keep a daily diary as a way of gaining that distance. Others – including myself – write memoirs. Yet others transform the stories from their lives into fiction or poetry. I believe all forms of creative writing can help us to shape narrative from the chaos of daily life.
I personally find that writing helps me to relax and better organise my thoughts, especially at the end of a long day. Is there a “right time” for one to write therapeutically?
I don’t think so. Everyone has different needs, different requirements on their time, different ways of doing creative and reflective work. My advice would be to try to write as often and as regularly as possible, not just in a crisis – so that it becomes a habit. It’s like developing muscles through exercise. We can develop ‘mind muscles’ by being disciplined about reflective thinking.
What sort of challenges can writing help people deal with?
Writing can help us with any and all challenges. It can help us to understand why our relationships go wrong. It can help us clarify what is making us anxious and think of strategies for reducing our anxieties. It can help us decide whether we’re in the right job. It can help us work through grief when we have lost someone we love. Joan Didion’s memoir ’The Year of Magical Thinking’, for example, is a superb example of a highly skilled writer using writing as way of coming to grips with terrible personal loss – of avoiding falling into what she calls the ‘vortex’. I currently have a student who is writing a beautiful memoir about her experience of cancer. She is using the process to assert control over her life in the face of an illness that often robs people of a sense of control.
Do you have a specific example you can share where writing therapeutically helped you overcome a challenge?
My memoir about shyness (‘Shy’, published in 2014 by Text Publishing) has helped me to understand and control my social anxiety a bit more. It began as an investigation of the ‘facts’ about shyness but it turned into a deeply cathartic and self-revelatory exploration of ‘self’. Although writing that book didn’t ‘cure’ me of shyness, it made me feel better about myself and judging from the many emails I have received from shy readers, it is helping others to understand and control their anxieties a bit better too. It also helped me to understand why a relationship I had been in for ten years came to sudden and terrible end, and to survive the grief of that loss.
Do you have any tips for people who don’t naturally gravitate towards writing?
Try not to worry too much about the quality of your writing when you’re first getting started. Think of it as a way of thinking. After all, we don’t think in perfectly crafted literary sentences. We fumble our way through our thoughts using all sorts of different forms of language. Just put it down on the page secure in the knowledge you can come back and make more sense of it later. Worrying about what others might think about our writing can be the worst hurdle to overcome. Write for yourself. Think of it as a gift to yourself, a record of your valiant attempts to become a happier, healthier human being.
Writing as Therapy with Sian Prior
When: Wednesday 27 May 2015, 6:00pm to 9:00pm
Tickets: $90 + booking fee
Where: The School of Life, 669 Bourke St, Melbourne
In Conversation with Sarah Darmody
When: Saturday 2 May 2015, 4:00pm to 6:00pm
Tickets: $35 + booking fee
Where: Allpress Studio, 84 Rupert St, Collingwood