In Person

Maps and journeys - the view from halfway there

We’re just over halfway through this round of Continuing the Craft, my Writing Circle for writers with a work in progress.

Six weeks ago, we started off by creating mind maps of what our projects might look like.  We allowed ourselves to dream big and invite possibility on to the page.  In order to have enough space, we used Big Paper.  Here we are, creating our maps during the first session:

 
 

Afterwards, I collected up the maps and hid them away in the back of some closet in my house.

Each Friday since, we’ve spilled a lot of ink. We’ve explored themes and archetypes, inhabited crucial moments, had coffees with our characters, and rooted our work in setting.  On non-Fridays, we’ve made and kept promises to ourselves to write. We’ve caught tiny butterflies with butterfly nets and chased ideas up trees and down the blank page.  We’re at a good pausing point.  It’s time check our bearings. Yesterday, I brought the maps back.

As the writers reacquainted themselves with their maps, I asked them what had changed, what was missing, what was no longer there. I asked them to tell me about the differences between a map and a landscape, or to meditate on the relationship between a map and a journey. I asked if anyone had moved off their maps and where they were going next.

Here is What we found:

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One person whose ideas declined being mapped during the first session arrived with a map yesterday. And in her rolled-up, slightly-crushed map (as any self-respecting map should be), she introduced the idea of a time circle, instead of a time line. There was a collective gasp of inspiration as she shared her simple graphic.  Aha!  the writers seemed to say, in recognition of a good idea.


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Another writer’s project had started off in the form of various lists. But the lists kept suggesting a hierarchy that felt like too many stacked stumbling blocks. Having made some progress, but needing a different kind of flow, she decided that it was time to invent the wheel. She recast this phase of her project accordingly, noting the roles of the hub, rim and spokes.


One person who had started with a circle many weeks ago reported that the circle is now rolling, has become a wheel. She hitched up her ideas to this engine and it’s all chugging along, exhaust clouds and all. Her map now has mile markers and signs pointing the way to the ‘Pat on the Back Café’ - recognising that progress, while not always easy and often circuitous, gets you moving towards places you want to be.

I was delighted by this preponderance of circles.

There is one  writer who has moved off her map. I recall that her original map started in the middle of the page, but the densest population of ideas floated up to the top right hand corner. Sure enough, yesterday she needed a new piece of Big Paper for a new map. We think she’ll be located somewhere to the northeast of her original map.

And several, while not changing their maps too much on the surface, have found that the two-dimensional assurance of starting out has turned into the multi-dimensional swirl of tensions between fiction and non-fiction, difficult choices about what to include and what to leave out, and ownership of story. Maps have their uses and times.  At the moment, for these writers, the maps may stay folded up in their back pockets. They’ll get them out when they need them.

When I launched this course in September, I had a map.

I still use it. But I had no idea how exciting it would be to watch these projects take shape, emerging bit by bit.  It’s been so very rewarding.  The landscape and the journey are so much more than the map ever could be. I’m enamoured of the creative processes I get to see. Each week, I aim to create a space that makes it possible for each writer to continue the craft.

 
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Soon I will be announcing Writing Circles for Winter 2017!

I’m planning and mapping and dreaming, all the while knowing that the real events will add dimensions I can’t yet imagine.

I can tell you this much, though: I’ve booked Harston Hall for Spilling the Ink on Tuesday mornings and Continuing the Craft on Friday mornings.  The online Writing Circle will span 9 weeks and with a video link every other Sunday.  Details to come in a week or so.

Writing Circles 2016 Update

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I have some news for Spilling the Ink:  Starting in January, I will be teaching physics full time in a local school. This means that the Writing Circles workshops will be on hiatus. I hope to offer a workshop in the Cambridge area during the summer months. Details to come.

In the meantime, I will be hosting a Spilling the Ink event on 26 January with What Now, What Next from 8.00 – 9.00 pm GMT (3 – 4 pm EST, 1 – 2 pm MST).  It will be an online workshop entitled Emerging Visions – the Iterative Nature of Creativity.  We'll engage in activities to help us consider how creative endeavours come in iterations.  There will be chances to write, draw, and dream.  It will be free, but spaces are limited, so sign up soon.  Registration and more information here.

I shall miss leading Writing Circles, but this teaching opportunity feels like the right choice for now.  If you’re looking for an online writing course/community in the new year, I have some recommendations.  I wholeheartedly endorse each of the programmes described below. I hope my descriptions can give you a sense of what makes each special and that you can find something that suits. Perhaps you can ask Father Christmas to give you a gift certificate for a writing course…

  • If you’re interested in journaling, I recommend one of Beverley Nolan’s creative journaling offerings.  Beverley is a wonderfully wise poet, sensitive to the interplay of words, meaning and movement.  She is a professional yoga teacher with nearly 30 years experience and a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist & Educator.  I have enjoyed working with Beverley in my Writing Circles and would encourage anyone curious about exploring creative ways to layer images, words, and colours to try out one of her online journaling workshops.  If you’d like a ‘taster’, register for Beverley’s free Solstice Reflections – 7 days of journaling prompts starting on 18 December.  During January and February, Beverley’s courses, Compass Points 2016 and Watchword 2016, are designed to give a shape to your year.
  • The next course I want to tell you about is Sue Ann Gleason’s Luscious Legacy Project. The Luscious Legacy Project is a wonderful opportunity to craft a tribute to family and tradition.  Each participant’s Luscious Legacy Project takes a different form (mine was primarily stories) and can include stories, letters, photos, art work and recipes combined in unique ways.  What they all have in common are a spirit of taking memories we hold dear and capturing them to share. Sue Ann is a gifted teacher: she taught elementary school for many years and more recently has shared her talents outside the classroom as a culinary nutritionist, nourishment counselor and marketing strategist. If you want to know what it’s like to be in one of Sue Ann’s online communities, imagine yourself in the hands of your favourite elementary school teacher who knows there is nothing small or insignificant about taking the first brave steps towards making meaning. Sue Ann’s warmth, encouragement and support make you feel heard and understood. The next round runs from 24 January – 6 March.  If you’d like a chance to have a sneak preview of a morning with Sue Ann, get in touch with me soon.  You might be able to come as my guest to an online gathering on 5 December.
  • Wild WritingLaurie Wagner’s Online Wild Writing courses bring you to the wild west of the blank page and the lawless territory of your pen, your notebook, and the stories that must somehow be told.  Where some people are famous for being ‘horse whisperers,’ I would say that Laurie is a ‘story whisperer’.  Laurie can tame stories without breaking their spirits. She creates a truly sacred space in small online video groups. The Wild Writing community is not there to critique or craft or shape your words, but to witness them and offer a tremendous power of presence.  Wild Spring starts the first week in January and there are online groups available Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Firefly Creative Writing – I love Firefly Creative Writing! The ethos, the enthusiasm, the funky website, the huge-hearted tone they take towards writers and writing! I love all of it!  Last year, I took their online course, Coming Home to Writing, and loved loved loved it! I had to get up at midnight UK time to do the course in real time, but it was worth every minute.  Chris Fraser, the founder of the company, is warm and real and funny and gets the ink flowing out of everyone.  The community she created in Coming Home to Writing was vibrant and exhilarating.  She uses a combination of video streaming and Facebook groups that give a wonderful immediacy to the group. Recommend!  If you’d like a free taste, try out one of their video writing prompts. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Toronto – go sign up for one of the in-person workshops and tell me all about it!!  The next Coming Home to Writing runs from 14 January – 3 March.

So even though I won’t be running Writing Circles during the first part of 2016, there are many opportunities to spill the ink and keep your pen moving.  I’ll check back with you in the spring to see how you’ve gotten on.

Wishing you happy holidays and all the best for 2016!

Melissa

Harvest

September is often a time of change and beginnings.  Around here, it’s the start of a new school for my son, new activities for my daughter, and a lot of travel for new projects for my husband. September is also a time of harvest. A time to gather the ripened fruits and grains of the year, savour some, store some for the winter, and collect seeds for next year’s planting. A time to look at the fields and consider which need rotation, which need rest, and which are ready for winter crops.

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This year, I find I’m more in harvest mode than new beginnings mode.

Last year was fruitful: In September, the first Writing Circle gathered and set the tone for a programme that I am both proud of and honoured to facilitate.  Spring and summer saw two more groups assemble, each time with faces both familiar and new, and each time with writing that was vibrant and so very exciting to see emerge.

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As for my own writing, I filled 8 journals with freehand musings. How many words? The calculation is interesting: approximately 8 journals x 200 pages per journal x 20 lines per page x 6 words per line = 192,000 words. Surely there must be a few lines worth keeping from that hoard.  (To compare, a typical novel is » 90,000 words, probably preceded by many thousands of others that didn’t make the cut).

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As my family all settle into their new routines (and I help them navigate those transitions), I have decided to take time to tend to the past year’s writing harvest. Time to sort, mill, mix, knead and proof those words. I’m still enough of a scientist to know that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It only changes forms, and the transformation I’m choosing is from generating raw material and excitement to working with what I have in hand. So many words. Perhaps each is a grain.

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It’s time to let the fields rest, so that come 2016, the soil will be full of nutrients for Writing Circles to come.  Because it is not the season for sowing, I have decided to postpone this autumn’s sessions of Spilling the Ink and Continuing the Craft. Please come back in a few months to see what offerings will be available in the new year.

In the meantime, what will you be harvesting this autumn?

Not Just for Writers

20150611_103704 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...

Read more at my guest blog post over at What Now, What Next! You'll also find information about a chance to join me in an online taster session of Spilling the Ink on 22 Sept.

And while you're there, take a look around. What Now, What Next is a collaborative network of women 40+ who are leveraging their experience to launch & grow new ventures. There are conversations and community about topics ranging from careers to family to creativity and much more. If you are a woman entrepreneur, you can promote your brand, business & expertise with a FREE web page in a growing community. 

Spilling the Ink

spilling the ink red border Spilling the Ink is my starting point. I don't get anything written without spilling some ink first. Once it's on the page, blots and all, I'm on my way; I have something to work from, work with.  Want to join me?  How about giving yourself time and space to write down those all those stories, memories, vignettes that you've been meaning to capture?  How about embracing a playful practice with the pen and page?  Come on, come spill some ink. You might be surprised at the creative cats you let out of the bag. 

About Spilling the Ink

We'll meet weekly for eight weeks. Each meeting will have a theme and we'll use a variety of methods to jumpstart new pieces of writing.  During the course, we will explore various genres including memoir, personal essay and short fiction. We'll also delve into the creative process, taking pieces from rough ideas to polished versions.

In addition to writing our own pieces, we will respond to others' work.  There is great value in hearing how our writing affects our readers.  Learning to respond sensitively and substantially is a skill we practice and refine together throughout Spilling the Ink.

At the conclusion of the course, we'll have a celebration with a read-around. Participants will also be invited to include a piece of their writing in an online group anthology to be published later in 2016. Curious to see what has been written?  Have a look at our previous anthologies, Circumference I (Autumn 2015), and Circumference II (Spring/Summer 2015).

Spilling the Ink is one of the Writing Circles programmes I offer. For more information about Writing Circles in general, read here.

Course Fee

  • £150.00. Full payment is required to confirm your registration, which includes a 25% non-refundable deposit. After the first session, if you feel that the programme is not a good match for you, you may request a refund minus the deposit.
  • Partial bursaries available, please inquire.

What if you've already participated in Spilling the Ink?

Previous participants are welcome to join again. Although we may be using some of the same materials, you may find new directions to take your writing.  Alternatively, consider joining me in Continuing the Craft, a Writing Circle for writers who seek community and support on specific projects.

Registration

I keep my Writing Circles small - a maximum of 8 participants - so we get a genuine sense of each others' voices and intentions. This also allows me to spend time focusing on substantial feedback for each writer. If you're looking for a writing course that offers inspiration, community, and personalised feedback, Spilling the Ink is for you!

Spilling the Ink - in person, at Harston Village Hall, Tuesday mornings, 10.00-12.00, from 24 Jan - 21 Mar (no session 14 Feb).

Spilling the Ink - online, content delivered via email to work on at your own pace, a private forum for sharing, and live video workshops on alternate Sundays, from 29 Jan - 26 Mar, 16.00-17.30 UK time.

If you'd like to get an email when registration opens and a discount code, add your name to the Early Notice List here.