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You are here: Home > Writing in Education > Writing at University > Writing in Practice > Previous Issues > Writing in Practice - Vol 1 > Blank Pages: The role(s) of the notebook in creating wellbeing during a series of creative writing workshops
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Blank Pages: The role(s) of the notebook in creating wellbeing during a series of creative writing workshops
Author: Dr Viccy Adams
Dr Viccy Adams describes a pilot study where close attention was paid to the productive use of writing notebooks by the students involved.


Abstract

With a focus on the uses and transformations of a writer’s notebook, this paper examines the experiences of ten individuals in later life (55+) during a series of ten creative writing workshops as part of the Ageing Creatively research project at Newcastle University (funded from the Research Councils UK initiative on Lifelong Health and Wellbeing, led by the Medical Research Council). By paying closer attention to the role(s) played by writing notebooks in these creative writing workshops it seeks to better understand the different forms of support needed by beginner writers in order for them not just to write, but to write well: to engage in the processes of revisiting and revising work, learning to give and receive constructive feedback, and to gain confidence in their writing abilities. Elements of the research are highlighted by verbatim poems constructed from individual post-workshop participant interviews.

Keywords: creative writing, creativity in later life, wellbeing, writing well, writing notebook, supporting the creative writer, ageing and creativity


Introduction

What are the best methods and tools for supporting student writers in their craft – both during and outside of creative writing workshops? The proliferation of research in the field of the medical humanities has led to wider recognition of the connections between a range of creative arts activities and wellbeing (Stuckey et al. 2010), and in the past decades there has been an explosion of creative writing workshops offered by Local Authorities, Community Groups, Individuals, and at all levels of education. However, little research has been done to unpick the elements of these workshops that offer the best support for writers in both the short and the long term, or to formally identify if any methods contain the potential for harm as well as enriching individual lives.

In 2012-14 the Ageing Creatively research project at Newcastle University investigated the possibility of adverse effects from taking part in creative arts activities (visual arts, literature, music), and looked for ways in which these adverse effects could be eliminated from workshop scenarios and for benefits to be enhanced. Our research highlighted that finding the creative activity that suits the individual and fits best with their life reduced any potential for harm, and that the quality of the process our co-researcher participants engaged with was key to gaining the greatest benefits (Adams et al. 2014).

For a quality experience of creative writing, Robinson (2000) highlights that this means not just writing down a first draft but also the craft of re-writing, editing and sharing work for feedback. He describes this fuller engagement with the editorial processes of creative writing as well as the initial pen-on-paper stage as "writing well". Robinson also puts forward the premise that writing well leads to the greatest benefits to wellbeing. However, before we can consider how creative writing can best contribute to society through creating, enhancing and maintaining wellbeing it is important to look more closely at what is needed in order to write well: to support writers through all the steps of creative writing from an opening word to a tenth draft. Through an examination of the role/s of the notebook in the series of creative writing workshops run as part of Ageing Creatively, this paper identifies a preliminary list of ways in which writing well can be supported. It begins with an outline of the basic methodology used in the Ageing Creatively research project as a whole and our participant profiles, goes on to lay out the different uses to which the notebooks were used in the creative writing workshops, and ends with a short discussion of the possible conclusions to be drawn and scope for further research. 

During this pilot project our research team was also questioning what methodologies were appropriate for attempting to research, capture and elicit creativity. In keeping with this, we have attempted – at all stages of the project – to represent our research in different creative formats as well as more traditional academic formats. Therefore, points raised in this paper are highlighted, where appropriate, by verbatim poems created from post-workshop interviews between participants on the project and the Research Associates. The interviews were conducted face-to-face and transcriptions made from the recordings by a professional transcription agency. All of the poems were constructed by myself in my role as Research Associate in Creative Writing and Literature by removing extraneous words/sentences from individual interviews, to create condensed versions of sections of the interviews. As such, they can be considered as experimental research works-in-progress. By presenting them alongside this case study, the intention is to better illustrate to an academic audience alternative, more creative methods of introducing elements of measure and evaluation to research projects.

Ageing Creatively

Ageing Creatively was an eighteen month (2012-14) interdisciplinary study designed by a team of researchers in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Medical Sciences, funded from the Research Councils UK initiative on Lifelong Health and Wellbeing, led by the Medical Research Council. Our project explored the relationship between participation in creative activities and subjective wellbeing in later life. Participants were all aged 55+, not in full-time employment or education, and a self-defined "absolute beginner" in their chosen activity.

The pilot study focused on three creative areas: i) literature, ii) music and iii) visual arts. There were six types of workshops with each creative area represented in two forms a) participation in an activity that leads to a final event and b) participation in an activity with no final event.

Creative art

Participation (with event)

Participant (no event)

Literature

Creative Writing

Exploring Short Stories & Poetry

Music

Singing for performance

Exploring Music

Visual Arts

Artist-in-residence

Exploring Art


Participants had two roles: i) as participants in one of the creative workshops and ii) as co-researchers who evaluated their experiences of engaging in this new creative art. These two roles were separated throughout the project to allow participants to engage fully in the workshops. A detailed methodology and project design can be accessed online as part of the Final Report (Adams et al. 2014)

Participant Profiles

This paper focuses on the experiences of the participants in the Ageing Creatively Creative Writing Workshop. There were ten participants in total, ranging in age between mid-fifties and late eighties: two men and eight women. The drop-out rate across all six workshops was low, and in the Creative Writing workshop no participants left the project, transferred in from another workshop or transferred out to another workshop. All participants had English as their mother tongue and were comfortable reading and writing without outside assistance. All ten self-identified as absolute beginners at creative writing, and had not previously belonged to a creative writing group.

She’s really completely changed
I remember when we used to read stuff out
the first few weeks
she was so negative about herself, "I can’t do this" 
"it’s shit", you know, blah de blah de blah
no esteem whatsoever. And then
in one week (well, you were probably there)
she wrote a poem
she’s completely taken off now
suddenly realized that she can do it
found her niche. I don’t think she’d be unhappy if she never
had to write another piece of prose in her life
but she can release her imagination through poetry
that’s one of the major things, “oh, I’ve got no imagination”
everyone kept saying that
anyway, she said “my life has changed
there are no longer any lonely moments”
“because I’ve always got something to do”
she said “I’m constantly thinking about a poem”
I thought that was really interesting
particularly in the context of getting old
that sort of loneliness that comes with getting old
there’s being alone and there’s loneliness
obviously, a lot of people choose to be alone
they sort of resign themselves to that
but the loneliness of growing old
perhaps not going out as much
I just thought that was what she’s saying
isn’t she, that she’s always got something to do
she doesn’t feel lonely
because it’s her
and the inside of her head
Yeah, I thought that was good


The Workshops

As Research Associate in Creative Writing and Literature, I completed semi-structured interviews with each individual participant both at the start and the finish of the 10-week workshop period, based on the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP 12) quality of life measure in older people. The post-workshop interviews were administered face-to-face and lasted around an hour on average. I then sat in on the initial taster session and the ten workshops as a silent observer, and held 30-minute group research sessions directly after each workshop in order to facilitate participant-led documentation of participants’ experiences within the workshops. Participants were also invited to record their thoughts in private journals, and view/comment on the aide-memories they had created via a private blog. In addition, I corresponded with the facilitator after each workshop to hear their thoughts, and interviewed them at length after the workshops had finished.

From the unusual position of observer during the facilitated workshops, I watched as the ten individuals who came to the workshops turned into a writing group, supporting each others’ development as writers and discussing their growing social bond. At the end of the ten weeks, these self-defined absolute beginners published an anthology of creative writing and gave a public reading of their work.

Didn't really think about the consequences
I just saw it and thought "oh, I want to do that"
sometimes, I must admit
I did feel a little bit out of my depth
you got a little look into everybody's life
by how they wrote
the difference of the way they wrote
it's possibly changed how I feel about myself
a little bit – I feel as though, well
I've actually done something
having the little book is brilliant, having something
actually printed in a book


Our project’s Final Report (Adams et al. 2014) identifies several key areas across all six workshops which participants reported as having either supported the benefits to their wellbeing or created/enlarged negative aspects of their experiences. The pilot project aimed to identify which of these areas could be easily replicated or removed for a follow-on study. Replicable good practice included access to a trained, experienced facilitator and use of an appropriate space/materials for the workshop. While many participants from the other five workshops commented on having enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on their activity by keeping a journal in a blank notebook provided as part of their research training and ongoing notation of their experience, this notebook (and this process of ongoing reflection) played a central role in the creative writing workshop activities as well as the 30-minute research and reflection sessions held afterwards.

Are you keeping the notebooks?
because I think they'd be nice to look back on
although sometimes I thought
waste of time writing this down
this is daft
what am I going to say?
but on the day we all came together
on the feedback day
some of the things you'd written down
I would've completely forgotten
it was good
it was good to look back
on some of the things that you had written down


At the beginning of the project each of the ten creative writing participants was given a blank notebook to use during the workshops and for their homework. What started out as a stack of blank A5 notebooks was physically transformed by the act of writing, while the ten people who wrote in them were also transformed from self-defined absolute beginners both into individual writers and into a writing group.

After the original series of workshops finished, all ten participants chose to continue as a writing group and set up their own support system to make this happen. Six months after the original workshops finished, nine of the original ten continued to meet as a writing group on a weekly basis, and were beginning to discuss the question of admitting new members. They identified their experiences in the workshops as adding to their subjective wellbeing as individuals, and their desire and commitment to continuing to improve their creative writing skills after the research project ended can be seen as further testament.

While the physical space of their workshops and the facilitator who leads the group have changed since the original research project ended, participants have continued to use the notebooks they were given at the start of the project. That a majority of the participants continue to use these notebooks as part of their writing process suggests that there is something about the writer’s notebook that supports the act of writing in the widest sense, including revisiting and revising initial drafts.

By outlining the different roles these particular notebooks played during the original series of creative writing workshops from September 2012 to December 2012, we began to identify the different needs which the uses of the notebook suggest, and to question which of these needs it was necessary to meet in order to “write well”.

Notebook as gift

As Cynthia Fuller (creative writing workshop facilitator) noted, it was unusual to be able to offer notebooks to participants for free rather than expecting them to provide their own materials. Fuller described it as having been “rather special” to be able to do so, and went on to comment that, “I think that was a really good plan. I mean I’ve never been on anything that ever did that before – gave lovely books to people. I think it definitely helped from the very beginning didn’t it? It sort of established the importance of that and it meant people weren’t just doing odd things on scraps of paper. Something about having that book and putting everything in it” (Fuller 2013).

You arranged everything
so very carefully, and clearly. Valued us
it was like coming somewhere we were welcomed
to make things up, that was agony
I still seem to be lacking in that department
I suppose it’s getting easier
I try and record things as descriptively as I can
a big change, realizing that words are fun
like finding a whole new world
I’m reading, loving the way you can describe things
I’ll pick up any adjective, try and put something
I’m going to send the Haiku
about my daughter in-law
I’m going to send that to her


In keeping with the overall design of this participatory project, materials were chosen to be of good quality (within the boundaries of the project budget) in order to show respect both for the participants and the process. The notebooks had plain white pages of good quality paperstock and were about half an inch thick. The notebooks were received well by the participants, who commented repeatedly in the research sessions how pleasant the attention to detail was, and that they felt cared for by the provision of the notebooks: “it was just amazing that we had this lovely room, and we had free tea, and coffee on tap, and we had lovely stationery” (WRITE P7).

Notebook as shared starting point

When the participants accepted the gift of the notebook in the taster session, they knew they were being treated equally – they could see that they were being given the same selection to choose from. It also meant that they were able to see that everyone was starting at the beginning: on the first page of the notebooks as well as the first step of the journey. Participants spoke at length, after the series of workshops had finished, about the importance of knowing that they were in a group of absolute beginners:

There was a sense that we were all in it together and you could tell that people were beginners and were feeling their way in the same way that they could tell with me. So, yeah, you wouldn't like to join an A-level maths class when you'd just knew basic arithmetic, so no, it was really important. (WRITE P5)

The emptiness of the notebook was symbolic that, whatever their potential talent might be, they were not expected to have experience: the workshop was designed for them as blank pages themselves.

It was billed as being for novice writers
you knew when you started
or you hoped
nobody was going to be really good
or lots of people weren’t going to be really good
so you weren’t going to be at the bottom
that might change as time went on
but at least you’re all at the same starting point
so you dare to start
it was surprisingly good
I always wanted to join something about writing
but only have done it if it had been new people 
maybe people of my sort of era
it was much more enjoyable than I thought
much more fun. I would walk out of them feeling good 
thinking "that was a nice two hour slot"
I’d feel quite good about it; I would look forward to going
probably more than some of the other things I do
I go to two choirs and I always go but
I don’t think I look forward to them
in quite the same positive way
because I think we talk together more
did something together
talking to each other properly
or talking to each other more
there is a sort of trust there that matters
there’s a lot of you in a choir
if you can’t sing a bit you don’t sing it
or you sing it wrong and it doesn’t sort of matter
you’re not exposing yourself
in quite the same way
but there’s had to be this trust with the group
you feel that there’s a group of people who know who you are
and you’re still ok as part of it
it would only appeal to a certain sort of person
because it is quite an effort


Notebook as individual starting point

While the participants were all self-defined absolute beginners, with creative writing it is difficult to know where that boundary lies. All of the participants were comfortably literate and English was their native tongue. Most of them had written extensively in their professional lives, in the form of reports and funding applications. Some of them had kept personal diaries since they were children, others had written creatively as teenagers. One had begun writing a novel the year before. However, none of them had participated in a writing workshop before, or kept a writing notebook. In the taster workshop participants were invited to choose a notebook from the selection available (while they all had the same plain brown cover, the endpapers were different colours and patterns). They were also invited to choose from a selection of different pens and pencils, and coloured A5 folders; the intention was to recognize the importance of individuality within the group situation. Two participants requested another style of free-flow ink pen, which was provided for them the following week. One participant requested a lined notebook, but when the rationale behind the blank pages was explained as part of a different conversation between the facilitator and another participant, the request was withdrawn.
 

Notebook as tool

In order to take part in the workshops, participants needed something to write on and something to write with; basic tools. As tools for creative writing, it was important that these notebooks were fit for purpose. A5 pages were selected as being usefully large enough for participants to use for writing exercises while still being small enough to fit into a standard handbag without being folded in half. By having bound together pages rather than individual sheets of paper, it was easy for participants to carry their work from home to workshop week by week. The quantity of pages meant that there was no worry of running out of space to write during the series of ten workshops. It also meant that the notebook was sturdy and less likely to become damaged or raggedy-looking. The choice of blank rather than lined pages was a deliberate part of the participatory design of the project, and also fitted with the facilitator’s aim of moving away from associations with the schoolroom and “trying to encourage people to feel that there aren't fixed rules and regulations” (Fuller 2013).

Notebook as portable workshop

As the notebooks were used to make notes of assigned tasks during the workshop and also of the homework tasks to be completed during the week, they took on the role of portable workshop. As a written record of their experiences in the workshop on a weekly basis, they encapsulated the workshop experience, containing practical notes from the workshop exercises that could be referred to in a time and place of each individual’s choosing. They also contained initial drafts of work created during the workshop, which could be refined and edited in their own time.


I write differently
I used to do it on a laptop
now I do it handwritten first
that wouldn’t have happened
unless I’d come to the workshop
I do longhand first
transfer it to computer
start doing all the editing and tidying up
that’s been a major thing for me
the flow is what it’s about
you’ve got to get the flow going
this new process I’ve got
I think that’s something

Notebook as security blanket

During the project participants always met in the same space – a well lit, comfortable room on the top floor of the Newcastle City Library – and the workshops were led by an experienced facilitator. However, they were also expected to complete homework between sessions, and were not given access to either the room or the facilitator outside of the workshop sessions. The importance of both of these elements can be seen in the participants’ many, warm comments at the end of the project about the facilitator’s attitude and manner in which they anecdotally mentioned visiting the top floor of the library during the week when stuck on a writing task, or hearing Fuller’s encouraging voice in their head when experiencing doubt about their ability outside of the workshops.


She’ll never let you be under-pressure
if somebody said, “I think I’ve got this wrong...”
she’d say, “there’s no such thing as wrong
if that’s what you want to write, write it”
and there’s been no trouble between people
know what I mean. And she finishes spot-on time
this course has been a boon for me
divorced from everything else I do
it’s being an island, you know?
like the big island’s there, and then there’s been this
this is good
you can switch off from all of that
start thinking about this
do you know why? I’m in charge, of what I write
I’ve got her words
in me ears, “everything’s all right
nothing can be wrong – just write it”
and, I can just go phew...
I would never have thought I could

Like the physical space of the workshops and the guidance from the facilitator, the notebooks acted as "security blankets". They contained transcriptions of Fuller’s words and instructions that could act as a trigger for memories of comfort and encouragement. As well as acting as a portable, tangible reminder of the supportive atmosphere in the workshop, the words written inside them also acted as physical proof of each individual’s ability to write and to progress, to be referred to when they doubted their ability to produce anything at all.

When I got to about three weeks in, and I thought "well, you know, I’m enjoying this but I see... You know, I feel a bit of a fraud because I’m not going to be able to produce anything," and I’ve kind of realized that my first thought about not being one of these naturally creative people has probably been reinforced. But, I’m not one to give up easily, and obviously I was enjoying the whole experience of the group so I kept going, and then I changed my view about that. And thought, you know, "I can produce stuff that is ok, and yes I’d like to build on this, and you know I’d like to do a bit more, and see what else I can do" (WRITE P7).


Notebook as archive:

As the weeks of the project progressed and the notebooks began to fill up with participants’ writing, they became a container of their individual experience. This allowed them to measure (by eye) the amount of work they had done, and view the remaining pages as sites of potential.


When I'm out now, I'm watching
listening and writing things down
it's made me more aware
of what's going on around me, you know?
kind of stimulated my brain. I observe people
spend a lot of time in coffee shops
and I observe people. I wrote a little bit about a couple
sharing a teacake in Marks and Spencer's
it makes my life a bit richer
bringing more things into my life
just being more observant and sort of widening horizons
seeing things differently

The notebooks contained everything they’d written during the workshops, which could be referred back to at any time. They also contained everything they had chosen to write in them outside the workshops, which could also be referred back to at any time. This gave them a wealth of material to edit, to read for themselves, and to share if they so wish.

When I have written [in the past], I've written for myself with absolutely no intention ever needing to or wanting to show somebody else. It's quite different when you actually know that you're going to share it and not only that but you have to... you don't have to please other people, but you do have to accept that you want it to be enjoyable sort of. […] if I write for myself it's usually because there's something not too good and I'm expressing it for myself, whereas this was not just for myself but with others in mind and that was sort of liberating (WRITE P5).

Notebook as prompt

The notebook becomes a material object that reminds the participant that the workshop series exists and that they are participating in it. It also contained reminders of homework yet to be completed.


I felt that we are a very close group
comfortable as a group, all aware
if everybody is either there or not
that we feel comfortable
with everybody else in the group
I don’t know whether that’s a consequence of what we’re doing
if any group would have worked or
whether we’ve been lucky. We’ve just got on
as a group. At the beginning
you’re just sitting round this table
then as time goes on you enjoy listening
you have to do your bit. Later you realize
everybody’s actually important in the group because
if people started opting out it wouldn’t work
at the beginning the group is important to you
you sort of feed on it
later you begin to realize
“actually I’m probably quite important to the group too”
in that everybody’s important

During the workshops, it also acts as a prompt for them to read from when sharing work with the group.

That started things off, I think, and then ever since then it's been because you've listened to what other people are doing quite closely, and every person has become unique and has a style of their own and a way of expressing themselves and doing this. And you tend to appreciate that  and you learn from that. […] it's interesting, you hear these different techniques that have come out and you think "my goodness, that's absolutely fantastic", you know. And I'd love to be able to do that. You know, be... I suppose you develop your own style, don't you? (WRITE P2). 

Through listening to each others’ work and both giving and gaining feedback as part of this process, the notebook facilitates their ability to move forward with editing and examining their work.

Notebook as practice space

The notebook is a space dedicated to trying things out, starting ideas and seeing where they go rather than the presentation of a final piece. As a site of potential, they can then choose whether or not to read a certain piece out to the class, type it up to share with other, or to have it included in the final anthology. This initial version, in the notebook, is a place to make and correct mistakes without judgment.


If you go to a lecture, you're just listening
by the time you get home you've forgotten
what was said, at least I have
a waste of time. I enjoyed having the discipline
producing something every week. Enjoyed the people
everybody has a different slant on things
reveals bits about the people themselves
what they've done in the past
their jobs and their life and their families
brings back memories
mostly good. Gives you something to talk about
what you've been doing in the workshop
people are interested

I'm more observant
overhear people on the bus
because I'm thinking
about what I've been given for next week
how I can fit in what I see and hear


Notebook as personal

When the facilitator was asked if she thought having the same notebook as each other had had any effect she said that she did, "because it took on a special meaning", and noted that during a follow-on session with the group after the original series of ten sessions had finished the participants had just received their notebooks back from the research team and were very happy to have them again (Fuller, 2013). These comments were backed up by emails received by the research team from participants, which described how pleased they were to have them back, including one where the participant described it as "like an old friend" (WRITE P6, email 23/02/2013).

Some participants chose to decorate the blank covers of their notebooks, and there were a couple of anecdotally reported occasions when participants from across the six workshops recognized someone as taking part in the wider project because they spotted them carrying the distinctive notebook and struck up a conversation to confirm it. In the creative writing workshop, as the sessions went on they augmented the A5 notebooks with other notebooks, each participant starting to discover which size and form suited them best through experimentation. This included using smaller/larger notebooks depending on the size of bag being carried, or because they found the cover of a new notebook particularly appealing.

It also gave them a private space to write in, which was important as several pieces of writing produced were of a highly personal nature.


Wasn’t sure I would be able to read it out
without being upset. But, actually
felt I was quite calm when I read it out
didn’t get upset. But, in a way it doesn’t matter
if you get upset, does it? But, we all think it does
people in the group were moved as well
gave me that feedback. It was a lovely thing to do
encapsulated what that was about, held it
so it’s there for me now, if you know what I mean
in a way it wouldn’t have been
if I hadn’t written that piece


Notebook as magician’s assistant

And, I’d kind of sat and thought about these things, and went into my little study where I do more formal stuff, and I was a bit stuck. But, I still kind of had a vague structure, and vague ideas in the back of my head about what I wanted to do. And then, I kind of woke up this morning, and it was kind of buzzing – a bit like when you’ve had a dream and you want to quickly right down the dream before it disappears. And, I found that I kind of wrote it in my head, and it almost wrote me. And then, when I got up I was able to catch chunks of it, and then I could kind of fill it in later in the day. And, I just thought that was an amazing experience, and while I’ve been doing—from September ‘til December in those ten weeks, I found that happened to me on a couple of occasions. And, I thought that was, I don’t know how to explain it, I thought that was an almost magical experience where you were kind of transported almost to another plane. (WRITE P7)

The transformative aspect of the creative writing process – its ability to seemingly transport one to another place, or to bend time – was frequently touched on in conversation between participants or during the group research sessions. The notebook acts as both a reminder that these experiences have happened and also as a tool through which they can be facilitated. As in all these cases, the notebook works alongside other aspects of the process including the person, the pen, the setting, the facilitator, and so on and so forth.


At first it was a bit of a challenge
I had a mind blank
but she did it. She had the postcards – 
remember the postcards?
she’s got a collection of postcards next to nowt
you had to pick which one you wanted. I took it home
thought, "Now what can I say about this?" 
I thought, “oh come off it, you know that’s the White Tower
and you know that’s Big Ben, and...”
one thing and another, “and you know the Bridge
you know Lambeth Palace is over there
this is obviously eighteen something or other
there’s the woman standing by the river
she doesn’t look like she’s gonnae jump in
and there’s a carriage passing, that’s out—
the sun’s going down on Parliament
it’s silent now...”
and all that came out
“you’re right, you can write about it.” I had a ball
I would’ve just seen that as a postcard
once upon a time, wouldn’t have read the half of that
in to it. Makes you dissect things, doesn’t it?
makes you look into things

Conclusion

In the post-workshop interviews, the creative writing participants did not focus on the notebooks. Nor did they talk about the lighting in the room the workshops were held in, how comfortable the chairs were, or if they’d had enough space on the table. This was in direct contrast to the participants in the other workshops where the spaces provided were on occasion less than optimum. When needs were being well met, they were not commented on: they came to the participants’ attention when they interfered with their ability to engage in their creative processes. The mute presence of the notebooks – and their continued presence on the table of the creative writing group as they continued to meet, weekly, under their own steam – suggests that they were a key element in allowing them to engage with their creativity and to move forward with it.

Having something to write in was a basic necessity at these workshops, as was adequate lighting to see the page, and something to write on. But without these basic needs being met, more complex needs are not able to develop. Without the basic need of a place to keep writing that can be returned to, repeatedly, being met, the writer cannot develop in their craft, a point already well known to Western writing communities through Woolf’s essay "A Room of One’s Own" (1929). Without a deepening understanding of and confidence in their ability, they are unable to consider the act of writing as something that can become a support to them, if and when necessary.


I can be a worrier
I’ll give an example
something was lost
a treasured possession
– is lost, has gone –
I was getting quite upset
beyond upset
it was on my mind all the time
what I decided to do was just write it
write about the situation
not a long piece
less than a page really
and, it was kind of hard to let that go
what could I do other than churning it over
and over, and over. So, writing about it
just sort of letting it go in that way
was very helpful
that might be something that I can use, if you like
the workshop, it might have given me
a tool to use for other things in the future
that may happen
and will happen obviously
as our lives are touched
with stresses of all sorts

The very blankness of a notebook holds the potential to become a site of meaning making. Its size – compared to a single piece of paper, for example – allows for engagement across time. The changing state of the notebook can become a visual reference point for the effort put in by the writer, and the freedom to scribble afforded by handwriting compared to typing allows it to become an artefact in a way that digital word processing does not, with the delete function and the visually emotionally detached homogeneity of typeface.

In these creative writing workshops paper and pen were essential tools and central to the creative process, although this is not necessarily the case in all creative writing workshops as facilitators' styles and participants' abilities and needs differ. As the group's facilitator, Cynthia Fuller commented, "it is very personal isn't it, how you run a group" (Fuller 2013). It would be interesting to compare, in a future study, how the points raised in this paper in relation to the personal creative writing notebook are added to or challenged when the personal notebook is replaced with a shared notebook, loose pages, keyboard, scribe, or similar. If “writing well” is indeed supported by the writer’s notebook, then it would be interesting to see what processes could be used to identify which type of notebook works best for each individual.



References

Adams, V. & Thomas, H. ‘Ageing Creatively Final Report’, https://research.ncl.ac.uk/ageingcreatively/aboutourproject/ (last accessed 07/07/2014)

Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) http://www.casp-uk.net/ (last accessed 19/12/2013)

Fuller, C. (2013) Interview by Viccy Adams. Audio recording. Newcastle upon Tyne, 27 February.

Robinson, M. (2000) Writing Well: health and the power to make images. Med Humanities (26), 79-84.

Stuckey, H & Nobel, J. (2010) The Connection between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. Am J Public Health. (100:2), 254–263.

WRITE P1, P2, P3, P4, P5, P7, P9 anonymized post-workshop interviews by Viccy Adams. Audio recordings. Newcastle upon Tyne, February–April 2013.



Viccy Adams completed her AHRC-funded creative writing PhD at Newcastle University in 2011 and was the 2011–12 Leverhulme Trust writer-in-residence at the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh. Since then she has worked as a creative writing researcher on a number of projects, including investigating the effects of engaging in new creative activities on wellbeing in later life as part of Ageing Creatively, funded by the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Cross-Council Programme.

As a writer she has published a number of short stories, was selected to be one of the UK literature representatives at World Event Young Artist in 2012, and subsequently awarded an International Artist Development Grant by Arts Council England joint with the British Council. She is currently working on a transatlantic cross-platform collaboration with an American photographer under the name two.5, supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. For further information about her writing please visit www.vsadams.co.uk




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