‘The Writer’s Key’ – A Book Review

The following book review has very kindly been contributed by an anonymous participant at the Glasgow Women’s Library ‘Blogging for the Terrified’ workshop for women as part of the Harpies, Fechters and Quines Festival 2015.

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The Writer's KeyBook: ‘The Writer’s Key – Introducing Creative Solutions for Life

Author: Gillie Bolton

Published: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London 2014

ISBN: 9781849054751







What’s this book about?

– A type of creative writing called ‘personal’ writing. Personal writing can help us cope with challenges, for example illness, other people’s behaviour, or taking a tricky decision. Personal writing does this by:

  • bringing out thoughts we aren’t consciously aware of; and
  • giving us a more balanced view of a situation.

This book gives lots of strategies and specialist advice on personal writing. I’d describe it as a cross between a guide and a workshop-in-a-book.

3 ideas I found compelling about this book:

  • Personal writing can be self-steering. So you don’t actually know what’s going to come out when you put pen to paper. You become a creative medium.
  • Personal writing can help you deal successfully with difficulties in ways that nothing else can.
  • ‘Dialoguing’ (having imaginary conversations) with objects and people through various forms of writing. For example, the author asks a pair of tiger skins that appeared to her in a dream ‘why were you given to me?’ She then imagines what the tiger skins would say in response and proceeds to have a scripted conversation with them, like one from a play (see page 135).

10 things I found helpful about this book:

  • I enjoyed it!
  • I found the language and style accessible.
  • The structure: the content is broken down into chapters which are a manageable length. There are writing exercises at the end of each chapter so you can immediately try out what you’ve just read about.
  • It is very comprehensive without being vague or too detailed.
  • It gives a wide range of tools for personal writing.
  • It let me progress beyond the ‘gut-spewing’ type of writing to a more transformative type of writing. In other words, I now know how to use writing to change a situation rather than merely complain about it
  • It is based on the author’s extensive experience of therapeutic writing, both as a writer and facilitator. This gives me confidence in it.
  • It tells us that we are an excellent resource to ourselves: ‘When life becomes difficult […] the wisest person to turn to is often oneself’ (p17).
  • It gives clear guidance on when to share personal writing and when to keep it strictly private.
  • Writing an unsent letter to someone you’re angry with is a safe way to vent your spleen at them.

5 things that I found dyslexia-friendly about this book:

  • You don’t have to read the whole book. You can dip in and read whichever chapters interest you.
  • The chapter on metaphors (chapter 7) has let me understand metaphors, and why they can help me. This helps me manage my dyslexia in the context of communication.
  • The author illustrates her points with examples, which makes them concrete.
  • The author talks about diagrams, which are a good way for me to note ideas.
  • The author quotes from a range of literature and poetry, as well as myth. This makes it a pleasure to read her book. She also quotes from writing done by her workshop participants. This gives me the message that personal writing is something anyone can do, not just classic poets!

    My only criticism of this book:

  • There’s no index. I’d find an index helpful especially as my short-term memory is not reliable. For example, I remember tiger skins but I don’t remember which chapter they are featured in.

I recommend this book to you

– whether or not you have done personal writing before.

– if you enjoy creative writing, but aren’t sure how to use it for personal development.

– if you wish to use creative writing to reconcile yourself to past or present experiences.


Further information


(The quotations and image in this review are reproduced with permission of JESSICA KINGSLEY PUBLISHERS via PLSclear.

 ‘The Writer’s Key – Introducing Creative Solutions for Life’ by Gillie Bolton copyright Gillie Bolton 2014.  All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form (including photocopying of any pages other than those marked with a [insert tick symbol], storing it in any medium by electronic means and whether or not transiently or incidentally to some other use of this publication) without the written permission of the copyright owner except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 or under the terms of a licence issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS.  Applications for the copyright owner’s written permission to reproduce any part of this publication should be addressed to the publisher.)

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