The Power of the Pen: Developing a Creative Writing Practice Can Be Transformative for Coaches and Clients
Posted on October 19, 2022
Developing a creative writing practice can be a powerful tool for your personal growth as a coach or client. As coaches, we are committed to our client’s growth as well as our own. We are constantly on the lookout for models, skills, and tools to apply to both ourselves and our clients that will accelerate self-awareness, confidence, empathy, creativity, and courage.
The simple yet surprisingly challenging act of creative writing can radically increase your (and your client’s) learning and growth.
So, What Is Creative Writing?
In a nutshell, creative writing is considered any writing that goes outside the bounds of normal professional, journalistic, academic, or technical forms of literature.
Most of us were taught in school and work to use writing as a structured tool to write persuasively, as an effective influencing technique. We were primarily taught to use and rewarded for using the kind of language needed to provide evidence, to analyze, and to be clear, concise, and, yes, persuasive.
Persuasive writing is a type of writing that is extremely useful and has its power, time, and place. (In fact, I’m engaging in persuasive writing right now as I write this blog post!). As Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote in 1839, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Of course, writing can be a more effective means than violence to affect social or political change. We know that, and we need that! And writing can be used for so much more.
Creative writing for self-growth can also…
…Make unconscious patterns conscious
…Be cathartic in expressing and relieving worry, stress, and anxiety
…Help us create the future we want
…Make us feel less lonely
…Help us become more open-minded
…Help calm our nervous system
…Move us from confusion to clarity
…Help us express emotions through words
…Help reveal our deepest desires, our strengths, and our passions
…Give us a place to process our grief
…Slow down the mind and help think things through
…Help develop our creativity
…Help express what we can’t out loud (build vulnerability and honesty)
…Create more patience and compassion for ourselves
…Reframe dissonant perspectives
…Help us to better understand and appreciate ourselves, our relationships, and our situations
Incorporating Creative Writing Into Coaching
Sound like a great tool to pair with coaching? Yup, in fact, creative writing is an efficient way to specifically engage the four cornerstones of Co-Active coaching for both coach and client.
Naturally Creative, Resourceful, and Whole
In creative writing, we are automatically engaging in a growth mindset — listening to ourselves as we reveal our innermost thoughts, wishes, and fears. When we write, we are not broken, but wildly resourceful and creative beings who are learning, growing, and expanding — not in spite of but sometimes because of our shortcomings, traumas, and perceived “failures.” Through creative writing, we experience compassion, courage, and commitment. When we write, we come face to face with ourselves. We have access to the answers within. We can become curious about our creativity and resourcefulness. Through writing creatively, we can become our own teachers.
Focus on the Whole Person
Creative writing connects us to all aspects of ourselves. As American journalist Krista Tippett writes, “The act of writing things down just helps. … It can be a tool to survive in hard times or to anchor our days, but also to get into a more gracious community with ourselves — or rather, with all of the selves that live on in each of us at any given moment: the ‘child self, your older self, your confused self, your self that makes a lot of mistakes.’” Accepting ourselves as a whole requires exploring and learning from all of the voices inside of us, about all dimensions of our lives — professionally and personally. Writing is a wonderful medium for the authentic voice to emerge.
When we write, we call ourselves forward. Self-authorship is about seeing yourself as the author of your own life, without relying on external authorities to define your beliefs and values. We are literally writing ourselves into being, creating powerful distinctions where there previously were none, and actively authoring the changes in our own lives.
Dance in This Moment
At any moment that we are engaged in creative writing, we can turn the pen in a totally different direction. We can follow our unconscious thoughts through free writing or brainstorming. By following the simplest prompt (like an inquiry, an idea, a theme, or even a single word that the client repeats), who knows what will emerge?
Developing a Creative Writing Practice
I was lucky. I was given permission to develop the creative writing discipline early on. I began to develop the discipline of creative writing as a teenager. My favorite teacher in middle and high school was Mrs. Thwing. She was a lithe, sharp-dressing woman with crackling hazelnut eyes and platinum pixie hair. She looked like Audrey Hepburn’s older sister. Mrs. Thwing’s English classroom was at the very south end of the school, the end of the school’s one shining wooden hallway. The room smelled of lemon tea and plant fertilizer. Mrs. Thwing would begin every English class with a free-write. We were to enter silently (no small feat for rowdy high schoolers), take our assigned worn wooden chairs around the outside of the U-shaped tables, and free-write for 10 minutes. This writing was for us, she said. No one was going to read it, and we would never have to share it. Ten minutes of pen scratching on paper, ten minutes of classical music rising from the ancient crackling record player, ten minutes of dust motes hanging suspended in the beams of sun that slanted in.
Nervous at first, I tried to write things that I thought sounded “good” (I was in high school, after all), writing words meant to impress others. After months of this practice every day, I grew tired of working for no praise. In the void of feedback from others, I quietly realized what it meant to write for myself.
During those 10 minutes, I got to explore anywhere my pen wanted to take me — sometimes it was exploring high school relationship dynamics (sigh!). Other times, I followed a story idea, dreamed up my future life after high school, delved into wider existential questions, or worked on lines from poems, learning slowly to give myself permission to express, explore, and eventually trust any ideas or thoughts that were floating in my mind.
I began to look forward to those 10 minutes more than any other time of the day as a time that I got to find out what was really going on inside myself.
It was my time. Time for my expression to take the wheel and drive, and time for my critical voice to take the back seat. This might have been the most important lesson I learned in secondary — how to give myself permission to write freely and to receive and learn from my own creations.
As I said, I was lucky — many of us were not taught to chase or lead our thoughts with our pens. If you or your clients were not encouraged to write creatively, or have simply fallen out of the practice of it, it can be challenging as adults to re-engage your capacity and appetite for it.
Tips to Get Into Creative Writing
If you never felt comfortable with creative writing, or somewhere along the line lost connection with it, don’t despair. It’s not too late to ignite your creative writing mojo!
First, give yourself permission: One way to do this is to write yourself a permission slip to read before you pick up the pen. Give yourself assurance that you are writing to express and to understand yourself better, not to impress anyone or have good spelling or punctuation.
Stop trying to be a good writer, and just start being a writer! Perfectionism kills creativity. Give yourself permission to find out what YOU think and feel. And encourage your clients to do the same!
Write by hand: Various studies over the past couple of decades have demonstrated that writing by hand makes use of large regions of the brain involved in language, thinking, and working memory. So if your brain is getting more of a workout when you use your pen, it’s more likely your creative juices are flowing more generously as well.
Keep your hand moving: Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, a book that revolutionized the way many people write, suggests that no matter how tense the situation gets, keep your hand moving (even if you are writing the same word over and over again!). This advice stems from Natalie’s belief that the two hands of a human are depictive of the creator and the editor. Don’t let the editor overpower the creator — keep writing!
Begin small: As James Clear writes in his book Atomic Habits, “All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” So to build the habit of creative writing, set a timer to write for five minutes. Pretty soon you will not want to stop!
Write into things instead of about them: Try to let go of the idea that we need to know. By writing into something instead of trying to describe it from the outside, we hold it up to the light. We learn something. We explore, we discover. We may simply gain a greater understanding of ourselves or our situations, or we may change at some very deep level within ourselves as we write. For example, when I wrote about my father when he died, I was still bitter about the way he had treated me and my brother. I gave myself permission to write anything from the prompt, “My Father Is…”. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I came back to the prompt for over a week and kept writing everything that came to mind. It didn’t have to make sense. I never had to show it to anyone. It just had to be true for me. By the time I had exhausted this prompt, all of the paradoxes of my father as a man, a father, a son, a musician, an activist, and a teacher came to light. By the time I got to the end of this exercise, I understood that I might not have had the closeness I wanted with my father, but I had known a man who was extraordinary in the wholeness of his life. All of those aspects about him contributed to the person I have become. My bitterness slowly began to transform into gratitude. Practicing creative writing was the key.
Stick with it: Developing a creative writing habit is like anything — it takes discipline. As we know, the word “discipline” is from the Latin word disciplina, meaning “instruction and training.” It is derived from the root word discere, meaning “to learn.” Be patient. Learning (something new) takes time.
Creating accountability: As we know as coaches, having accountability increases the likelihood of a goal happening. In a study on accountability done by the American Society of Training and Development, researchers found that individuals having a specific accountability appointment with someone they had committed to increased the likelihood of it happening by 95%! This is where our relationships as coaches and clients can really make a difference in developing a creative writing habit.
I experienced this first-hand. A week before the COVID lockdown hit in March 2020, I accepted a coaching challenge to write and share a new poem every day for a month. One month became two, and before I knew it, I had a year’s body of work to submit to a national poetry contest. The rest, as they say, is history. My book, Walk Deep, was released in 2022. Because I had specific accountability to follow through on my writing, I now have a daily creative writing habit and a book!
As coaches, we must continue to seek out the space and permission to summon great tenderness and curiosity toward ourselves, our clients, and the world.
Developing a creative writing practice is a wonderful tool to help coaches and clients on their journeys of transformation.
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on” ~ Louis L’Amour
How about you? Do you enjoy creative writing? How can you apply this discipline to improve your coaching skills?
You may also wanna check out Walk Deep and be inspired to walk, feel, and create in your own life.