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. 

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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