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creative aromas

Use aromas as writing prompts.

Our strongest sense is our sense of smell. The aromas we encounter in our surroundings are not just a part of our environment, when we inhale them small particles get absorbed into our bloodstream. This promotes involuntary biological reactions. Sometimes these smells encourage healing, other times they foster immunity, and in the right balance – creativity.

I’ve held a handful of writing workshops in Raleigh over the past few years where we use essential oils as writing prompts. The essential oils distributor wrote a short post about our writing workshops and explains:

How do essential oils and creativity come together? Our sense of smell is a powerful stimulant of memories and thus, feelings.  When we inhale the aroma of an essential oil the molecules enter the nasal cavity and are received by thousands of olfactory nerves, they are then sent directly to the limbic system; this is the part of the brain responsible for memory…


We all have different sources of inspiration, but we share a universal connection to our environment.

essential oils

Lavender is not just helpful for sound sleep.

In our workshops we were guided by a holistic health coach who introduced various (anonymous) essential oils as writing prompts. (She kept the names of the oils private until after our writing exercise because she didn’t want their names to influence our work. This was very helpful as on many occasions, no one could correctly identify the scent and mistook lemon for orange and vice versa!) Several writers have had the stories they generated at workshops develop into novels, published in literary journals, or spark new chapters in their memoir. Our coach even researched the specific effects of each oil and developed a ‘Creativity Potion’ – a specific blend for writers that can help foster creativity. (Historians speculate that Shakespeare used essential oils in his creative writing process.)

Some essential oils and their purposes are fairly mainstream in modern products. Lavender is generally associated with sleep promotion, tea tree oil with antiseptic qualities, and rosemary for indigestion relief. Did you know these oils also treat respiratory problems, sinus infections, and increase concentration, respectively? The Telegraph reported a few years ago that a study showed how memory recall improved through the use of rosemary.

Poet and historian Diane Ackerman wrote a book all about the history behind our senses. She says:

There is no way in which to understand the world without first detecting it through the radar-net of our senses… Our senses define the edge of consciousness…

Every person reacts to essential oils differently. The memories I associate with a certain smell are not necessarily what another individual will experience. For example, poet Bartholomew Barker attended one of my “smelly workshops” (as he likes to call them) and was reminded of being in church after smelling frankincense. His father was a Quaker preacher, so Bart has a lot of childhood memories associated with church. When I smelled the frankincense though, it reminded me of my parents’ attic. Quite a different place than church!

Have you been surprised by memories that different smells evoke?

Registration closes this Saturday for ‘Scents of Creativity & Memory Workshop,’ an event I co-facilitate with holistic health coach Traci Philips on Saturday, September 26th in Pittsboro, North Carolina. (If you miss the deadline, contact me about a waiting list and last-minute possibilities.) We will spend half our time learning about how our body and health align with various aromas, and then we will use scents as writing prompts and discuss publishing opportunities. Coffee, pastries, and essential oil samples included, as well as a dessert bag to-go and a discount on lunch in town. Class is $59 and no walk-ins are permitted.