Wednesday 29 April 2015


Always fascinated by our creativity and how it can be encouraged and so easily closed down,  and because I have a growing collection of books exploring the writing process, a while ago I bought a copy of a book about Proprioceptive Writing: Writing the Mind Alive by  Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon. I dipped into the theories of a process in which a writer slows down, focuses, has music playing in the background (baroque music works best, it said), lights a candle and listens to their thoughts. The book made great claims for the process - I am quoting here:

Here's what you can expect:

  • opening the floodgates of expression
  • unburdening the mind
  • resolving emotional conflict
  • liberating the imagination
  • increased capacity to focus
  • increased awareness, confidence and self-trust
  • growing sense of intelligence
  • burgeoning creativity
  • following thought flow to its source in story and emotion
and this reader, being a sceptic, leaped in, scanned, cherry-picked like crazy. "I have never been able to write with music on," I said to myself, so ditched the musical element immediately, never tried it. I lit a candle on my desk, and waited for inspiration to hit. A few minutes later I blew the candle out, felt utterly silly, and the book slipped into its place on the shelf, to be revisited in due course. As and when. Or rather, forgotten about. 

Fast forward a few years. I arrive at my lovely writers' retreat, Anam Cara, in Ireland (where I am writing this). Staying there too is a lovely woman called Ginny Keegan who has just been leading a week-long workshop on guess what... Proprioceptive Writing. You can find a description of the workshop that had just finished here, together with a link to Ginny's website:

Ginny had agreed to run an afternoon workshop for some local writers and kindly invited me to join in - so, with some trepidation, and not completely convinced but trying to keep an open mind, I did so. What follows is a description of my first experience of doing a proprioceptive 'write', together with  a snippet of the result. I ought to start by saying I'd been feeling creatively wrung out, finding it hard to fight through (as I always have to) the negative voices all writers experience, I'm sure, at one point or another - no one wants this - forget it - this is rubbish. 

Also - importantly, I don't like to write at a table with other writers - just a 'thing' of mine. I am hugely aware of the other writers, their writing/not writing movements. And I don't write to music -see above. I have always found it very intrusive. 


After a brief introduction and explanation, we all moved, in silence, to the dining table. Plain, unlined paper awaited us, and small candles were set by every place. We followed our instructions and lit the candles. No speaking, no interacting - just slowing down, calming down.
Ginny had told us she would start the music, and we should listen to our thoughts, and write them down. Every so often, she said, if a word seemed resonant, holding deeper possibilities, we should question it as we wrote: 'What do I mean by 'deeper'...' for example. And let that question take you where it would. Not to censor. Not to write for feedback, for publication, for anything other than an exploration.

The music began. Baroque music which apparently works alongside the brain's own rhythms, echoes the heartbeat, calms you.
Whatever it does, my own thoughts and connections started flowing and I duly wrote them down, with no real expectations of this being useful but still. I'd give it a good go. At no time was the music anything other than a gentle accompaniment. I was aware of it running alongside me, but that is all - no intrusion.
The process of slowing down and questioning one's choice of words was a rather potent one, utterly surprising, occasionally emotional. I was completely but completely unaware of time passing, and the 25 minutes were gone in a flash. I hadn't noticed the other writers round the table.
During the process, I found myself revisiting a scene from my early childhood that I hadn't thought about consciously for decades - and this is that snippet.

I am remembering being in our kitchen, at the table, aged three or four, with two friends, and my mother has got us drawing a house - she will tell us which house is the best house.
Mine is multi-layered, and I use ALL my crayons - there are hundreds of windows, five chimneys because I can 'do' five, and smoke rising into the sky. It covers the paper and I have to turn over to finish the house on the other side.
My friends have drawn careful houses, two chimneys, two windows for bedrooms, two windows downstairs and one front door - just like we are shown at school when they say 'Shall we draw a house?'
I see my mother looking at the drawings. I see her struggle with herself. I see her say the other houses are lovely, and what was I doing? I know how to draw proper houses, don't I?
And the others get a biscuit. 

I had revisited for the first time a formative moment when my creativity was 'not good enough', judged wanting by someone important. I had been working round a table, on 'safe' ground which turned out to be the opposite. It was absolutely astounding. 

Later, we shared our writes in a session during which there is no feedback, during which our words were listened to, acknowledged. But no comment, no critique, no feedback apart from the session leader (Ginny) who would only reflect on the process as evidenced by the write. Not a word about the content. The content, our thoughts, are ours.

It's certainly not an end in itself. But now, thanks to one session of Proprioceptive Writing, I have learned a new way of opening up - I can begin to unearth where my struggles with creativity come from, the hard work it always is to get through.  Isn't it through looking at where we've come from that we can understand where we are, and go on ahead on more solid ground?

More importantly, maybe I can point other writers towards a process that will do good things for them too. And, less importantly perhaps, I know the foundations of my dislike of working round a table...

Thank you Ginny!


  1. Brilliant post, thanks for sharing!

  2. Most interesting! Like you, my mind is bucking....baroque music? REALLY? Egad. :-) (now I have to find some....)

    1. Let me know how you got on?! Interesting isn't it....

  3. We worked around, but not around a table, today in the first of 3 workshops on wine with Ernst Molden and a vintner from the Burgenland. We're looking at wine, about it with it. No feedback, just exploring. Cause and effect. Tomorrow we go out with a blanket into the Prater. Wine this time from Hungary. We're also doing rhythm and song for the class presentation on Friday. A real kick in the creatives all this. Thanks for sharing yours, V. The Baroque I could go for, the candle I don't know. The wine, yes. But it will have shot my diet ;)

    1. Well, you lucky thing, you! Have a glass for me, of which ever is nicest! xx