Friday, 29 March 2013


Beat the Blues Writing Group ended on Saturday. For six weeks, Rosie Alexander and I spent Saturday afternoon at the Blide Trust with a group of aspiring and inspiring writers who accompanied us on the trip we took to look at ways we might use writing and reading to challenge our dark nights of the soul.

But can you write your way out of depression? Well, it's not a magic wand. But certainly we saw some light at the end of various tunnels as we went through the course.

There is research to back up the idea that we can affect our mood for the better by writing. Dr James Pennebaker, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas, has over twenty years researched the impact of writing on our general wellbeing. His findings are pretty convincing. You can get more information by clicking on his name above.

James Pennebaker
But interestingly, although our course was aimed at people wanting to use writing to make them feel better about themselves and about life, what we eventually found was that we had a group in which all except one expressed the hope that they could improve their writing skills.

Still, we stuck to our original plan to encourage the group members to write freely and not immediately censor or edit what came out of their thought processes onto the page. We wanted them to kick out what Liz Lochhead once called 'the headmaster in the head', who gives you a bollocking for using inappropriate language or 'incorrect' English. 

Liz Lochhead
Indeed, we had in our midst someone who was belted at school for speaking in Scots in the playground. The experience was uncannily similar to the one described by William McIlvanney in his novel Docherty, when Conn provokes the ire of his teacher for saying, 'Ah fell an bumped ma heid in the sheuch,' and gets six of the belt for 'insolence'.

William McIlvanney

With a combination of writing exercises and linked poems or extracts we made our way through the six weeks with everybody getting down to writing in the class. Even the most reluctant among us joined in the exercises with everybody else and were surprised at what they wrote.

A big part of the involvement was having other folk respond to what you had written - a totally new experience for some.

Most people wanted the group to continue and Rosie and I are discussing a possible follow-on course.

Meantime, some members of the group will read from their work during the Orkney Book Festival next month.

If you'd like to come along and hear them, they will be reading:

Saturday 13 April
10.30 am
Orkney Library & Archive
Junction Road

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