How Does Your Garden Grow?

Our metaphors matter

I believe our metaphors matter. They are the ways we can explore our work from different angles, they provide outlets and inlets that we might not find if we only looked at writing as a work of pen and paper, screens and word counts.

The metaphors I avoid are ones that narrow my focus - I tend to raise a sceptical eyebrow at the language of targets, goals and finely-tuned machines. Those metaphors feel constricting, too slick, too focused, not open for accident and wayward inspiration.

When I look for a metaphor, I search for one with the potential go wildly astray. In the past, we've had good luck with journeys, maps, forests and landscapes. This January, we started Continuing the Craft with the metaphor of gardening.

How does your garden grow?

I'm not much of a gardener. In fact, I find it completely mysterious that things grow from the ground. That from small seeds in dark deep earth, green hope arises. It seems to me that mystery is a good starting point for metaphor. At our first meeting, I asked the writers in the group about their writing gardens, and what they needed for their writing gardens to grow. What would be the soil, the sun, the seeds, the water? What about tools, weeds, fruit and flowers?

A peek at some of the Gardens

You can have a little look at what they did. You'll see that some took the metaphor to heart and others wanted to draw pictures of cake. That's fine. Mavericks keep me on my toes. A rogue rose is always welcome to bloom in my garden. If you click on an image, you can see an enlarged version.

 

Now we are 5 weeks in. We are tending our settings and characters. We have thought about crucial moments like big storms. Each week, the plot that holds our stories changes just a little bit, grows a bit more. Here's what word gardening looks like:

Today, one of the writers brought us all a little something to keep us going: small spider plants and house leeks, ready for potting up. Perfectly timed! I tried to take a photo of the plants at the Writing Circle - if you look carefully in the photos up there, you might catch a blur of green. It's tricky to get a good action shot of a growing plant. 

When I got home, I put mine in pots and hope to give them the light, water, and space they need to thrive. Perhaps I'll even read my stories aloud to them. 

Spring Writing Circle plans are sprouting. Subscribe to Inkblots for early notification and a discount coupon for when registration opens. Courses to run from late April - mid July.

Brave New World - Planning for Online Spilling the Ink

The year is young and I’m having a pleasant week planning the online Spilling the Ink course scheduled to start at the end of January. I’m especially excited because enough people have signed up so that I definitely can run it! Through the summer and fall, I ran a pilot programme and hosted many one-off taster workshops, but now my early adopters have signed up and we’re getting ready to write. 

There is something special about the people who sign up for the first round of a new idea.They tend to be adventurers and risk-takers. They bring a willing suspension of knowing and a playfulness that work together to invite the accidental, the unexpected, and the innovative.This was true of my in person Writing Circles and I’m feeling that same sense of big heartedness and wide horizons in the first online group. 

I’m feeling more than just a bit giddy because we are in the position of exploring new creative territory. As I plan, my driving question is this: How will I cultivate an online community that fosters a similar spirit of creative collaboration to that in the Writing Circles I facilitate locally?

Cultivating community and connection is very much at the heart of Spilling the Ink. It matters to me so much that I get to know each individual who comes to my writing table. Each person who walks through the door brings stories, perspectives and wisdom that only they can offer. It is my great joy and privilege to learn what those stories are. This is one of the reasons I keep my groups small: we need to share a table where each of us can see and hear one another. All voices are welcome and cherished at my tables.

 

How will I establish this celebration of each individual in my online group? Many successful online courses have pre-recorded video or one-way live streaming of the instructor to students. Many use group phone calls with large numbers of people on the call. Many suggest having all content available at all times to maximise the ease with which the user can access the materials. Many work primarily via a combination of email-delivered content and vibrant facebook groups. I’ve participated in many of these courses and found great value in all these approaches. 

Photos for website - 30.jpg

But for my Writing Circles, none of those options were quite right. I wanted to see and hear my participants. Every single one. Even more, I wanted all of us to see and hear each other. When designing the course, I looked for a platform that would reliably support video for up to 8, spread out across the globe. When I found one, I was thrilled! I've had people joining me from India, Spain, the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Germany. It is so much fun! Equally important, connections can start to grow. We hear each other, see each other, and write from wildly different perspectives. In doing so, we make the faraway feel a bit more nearby. 

The writing that emerges during a live workshop has a wonderful immediacy and heartbeat. It can feel a little like jazz improvisation. If we are lucky, when we say goodbye and log off, we leave excited about the ideas that have just been born and we want to develop them more. After the initial high of inspiration, we come down to a more considered realm of craft. How do we shape the piece whose outlines we have just captured? What shades of nuance and complexity do we want to deepen? Which whirls of fancy do we leave on the workshop floor? And when we have revised and redrafted our ideas, how can we bring them again to the community? 

To support all those questions and to seed further writing, we come together in the online forum (a password-protected area of my website). During the time between live workshops, I post three times a week on the forum. The posts (also delivered via email) are short and designed to open discussion in the comments. Some will be follow-up questions from the video meeting. Some offer new prompts to generate more writing. Others invite musings on the writing life. I send them out to keep the conversations going and the ink flowing.

The online forum has another key function: It provides a place to share evolving drafts. Whereas the video connection brings us together in creating raw material and giving verbal responses, the online forum offers a space for written feedback. When writers share a piece, we can take the time to linger longer over the implications of words and ideas. We can let a piece sink in more deeply. And because we’ll see each other again in a live meeting, we can let our responses become a conversation more than a critique. Through discussion and reflection, we have the opportunity to develop the creative space around a piece of writing so that the writing itself has strong foundation from which to branch out and explore.

I’m really looking forward to the first round of online Spilling the Ink. I feel ready to create this community together. It is one of my deepest beliefs that when are invested in one another, we not only develop better pieces of writing, but we also become better writers and better people. Would you like to join us?  We start on 29 January. A few spaces are still available. It would be a delight to welcome you along. Details and registration here.

 

I loved the Writing Circles, they relit my enthusiasm for writing and to just write! Melissa is very encouraging and gives insightful and thought provoking feedback.
— Nic Williams

Who will come?

When I first started my Writing Circles, this was one of the biggest questions in my mind. Who would want to participate in a writing community where we would be sharing fledgling words, witnessing each others’ growth, and learning together as we went along?

As I put adverts in local village magazines and stuck posters up on notice boards and telephone poles, I felt like I was calling out, “Welcome!  Please join me, whoever you are, wherever you are!  You know who you are, even if I don’t.” 

Slowly and surely, names and registrations started trickling in.  Who were these people? A scientist, a nurse, a yoga teacher, a children’s author, a journalist, a physician, a social worker, parents, artists, teachers.  The mix was wide and wonderful.  Not everyone was a professional, published writer, although some were.  Not everyone had a degree in creative writing, although some did.  Some had left school at 16 and had learned to love reading, writing and storytelling outside a formal structure.  Some had written and edited reports as a part of their jobs but were thirsty to explore the realm of open creativity.  What everyone had in common was a desire to write and share their words.  

 

Each time I’ve run a writing circle, I’ve found that the different backgrounds of the participants add interest and layers of perspective unique to that combination of writers. I love that I get to cross paths with people whom I might not have otherwise met. One of the biggest sources of joy for me from my Writing Circles has been that so many different kinds of people have come forward.

When I describe my role in the Writing Circles, I consciously call myself a facilitator, not leader or teacher. It’s not that I teach people how or what to write, it’s more that I look for ways to let the stories we already carry within emerge onto paper. I spend my energy thinking about how to create a container for varied creative processes. My aim is to shape the time so that people leave with words falling out of their minds and into their notebooks. My expertise is in finding ways of ‘opening doors and windows’ as one recent participant put it. The participants, the writers, are the bringers of content and desire. I facilitate bringing that content into being. Perhaps I am practicing a midwifery of words.  

Writing Circles are not just for established writers. We welcome and thrive on contributions from participants at all levels from all types of professions. You don’t have to be a published author with several books and by-lines to claim your own words. You just have to show up, sit down, and write. Doing so in the company of others who have walked wildly different paths from yours to arrive at the same table is both eye-opening and inspiring.

So, if you have a pocketful of stories and an itch to put pen to paper, join us. We’d be delighted to hear what you have to say. Registration now open for courses starting January 2017. 

This post first appeared as a guest post titled, 'Not Just for Writers' at What Now, What Next, an international collaborative network for women entrepreneurs.