Small writing groups in Cambridgeshire

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:

fullsizeoutput_345.jpeg

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.


fullsizeoutput_347

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.

 
fullsizeoutput_344.jpeg
 

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

  Writing Circles logo

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

One year later

It was a year ago today that I opened the doors and called out for writers to come together in my first Writing Circles.  Although I had been imagining how it might work since the previous April and although I had spent a lot of time planning the format and layout, when I finally put up my signs and made the website live, I didn’t know who (if anyone) would come, how it would feel to bring together people from different walks of life to write, and if it would be a one-off experiment or something that I could sustain. Originally I thought I would run two circles: one in Cambridge and one in Harlton (a village just down the road from mine).  The Cambridge one didn’t quite attract enough interest to run. But slowly and surely, the Harlton one filled: an acquaintance from my village, an artist with an incredibly beautiful website with haunting imagery and delicate haikus, someone who had written a children’s novel, a somatics and yoga teacher, people with whom I had crossed paths in our other roles, people who saw my signs in their villages.

I believe that just the right combination of writers came forward to form that first group.  The whole experience was one of exhilaration and terror. Each week I stretched and pushed myself to create something that would support our writing and thinking.  Each week they came back (they came back!) and whole-heartedly tried out my ideas, taking us in directions further and deeper than I had expected, bringing their own voices and perspectives. I loved it! And when the first round came to a close, several of them decided to carry on with a second six-week course.  It was a privilege and a challenge to continue, and I learned so very much.  In my experience of teaching, there has always been something special about the first group I’ve taught in a new setting – whether the 6th graders at the Salk School of Science in Manhattan from my student teaching days, or the 9th graders from the inner city of Columbus, Ohio, or the adults at Bellevue Community College in Washington – and this group was no different. There is something about going through a process together for the first time that marks the experience with a certain vibrancy.

After the initial Writing Circles concluded in the autumn, I knew that I had found something that I wanted to continue. With a bit more polish and focus, I conducted two more Writing Circles this spring and summer in Harston (another village down another road from mine), bringing together both new and familiar faces. As with the first group, I think the people who come forward each time are just the right combination to make us all grow. I count myself lucky to meet people whom I would have otherwise never met, to witness stories and poetry evolve from shadowy ideas to actual words on the page, and to spend my time and attention building unlikely communities.

I still get nervous before each session; preparing and imagining how it will go, whilst knowing that the unexpected is inevitable and something will come up that will take us in a different, but essential, direction.  For me, this is what teaching has become: I strive to have a solid structure to hold the space, yet I want to leave doors and windows open so that inspiration might fly in and take us away.

And after each session, as I pack up my supplies, turn off the lights, and lock the door, I leave with a buoyancy and gratitude that, once again, we have come together to write, listen, and be a little more present with all the richness of our shared and individual experiences.  This is work I love.

Registration for the Autumn 2015 Writing Circles will open soon.  See more details here and sign up for early notification and a discount code here.

writing circles logo high contrast

Autumn 2015 Writing Circles

writing-circles-logo1.jpg  

I'm so pleased to announce that I will be running two Writing Circles starting in October 2015.  They are in different locations and have slightly different emphases.  Each circle will meet weekly for 8 weeks and both will end with a writing celebration.  Read more about each below.

  • Spilling the Ink - This Writing Circle is a starting point, as we can't write anything without spilling some ink first. The course offers a playful outlet for letting our creative cats out of the bag. Each session we'll explore different ways to jumpstart writing, dip into different genres and try our hand at responding.  Suitable for writers of all levels.  THURSDAYS, 19.30-21.30, Harston Village Hall, 1 Oct - 26 Nov (no session 29 Oct). Limited to 8 participants. Fee: £150
  • Continuing the Craft - This Writing Circle is for writers who want to strengthen existing works and deepen their writing practice.  Writers will work primarily on individual projects, but we'll also take time to listen and respond to each other. Participants will have the option of booking one-to-one conferences for more in-depth feedback.  This course is ideal for a writer with a small project in mind who feels that the support and structure of a writing community will provide motivation to keep the ink flowing. FRIDAYS 9.30 - 12.00, Harlton Village Hall, 2 Oct - 27 Nov (no session 30 Oct). Limited to 6 participants. Fee: £150

More details on each of the courses to come.  Watch this space!

Registration to open in late July.  Sign up here for early notification and a discount code.

Curating a sense of time and space. ALSO - Early bird registration ends tomorrow (9 Jan)

DSC07497cbb I spent some time today going through writing from the autumn Writing Circles. We are compiling an anthology with contributions from each writer. As I thought about each piece, I tried putting it in the larger context of the collected body of work we’ll soon share. Would the poetry balance well with the stories and the personal essays? Would the voices of different writers standing next to one another create a harmony richer than the solo strains of the pieces alone? How might I best present this work?

More than just collecting a writing sample from everyone, I felt I was trying to curate a sense of our time together.  I wrote each participant a short email with suggestions or questions about their work, looking for one more way to connect before we all move on with a new year and new writing groups. My hope is that the combination of all those voices and styles will reflect the depth and breadth of the space we created in our Writing Circles last autumn.

DSC07492

The anthology will be ready in about a week!   I’m so looking forward to sharing it here. Please come back and see what we wrote.

A few updates:

  • The next Writing Circle, Spilling the Ink, starts on 6 Feb at Harston Village Hall. Note: this is one week later than originally planned.  
  • We will meet for 7 weeks on Friday mornings from 10.00 – 12.00, from 6 Feb – 27 Mar, except 20 Feb.
  • The course is filling, but a few spaces remain. Tomorrow (9 Jan) is the last day to register at the discounted rate of £87.50. After tomorrow, the fee is £105. However, if you register with a friend/writing buddy, I’ll discount both your fees by £15 (fee will be £90 for each).
  • The Melbourne programme, on Thursday mornings, has been postponed.
  • After the Harston programme, the next Writing Circle will be in June or September 2015.  This is the last one until summer - why not sign up and make 2015 the year you started to write?

Want to join us and let your creative cats out of the bag this winter? Register here.


And before I sign off, some words from one of the participants:

For anyone considering joining a writing circle…

Melissa creates a warm, encouraging and non-judgemental space to explore any genre of writing of interest to you. Every week Melissa leads the group to explore different aspects and approaches to writing using a series of prompts and resources. There were eight of us in the initial group, each of us with a different agenda, from articles, poetry and fiction to historical research and teaching. I came to the group with an interest in haiku and left wanting to combine my artwork with my interest in folklore and fairy tale.

Melissa spreads her hand woven cloth at a table that she lays with love and consideration, pulls out a chair for you take your place, creates a space for you to discover what you really want to say and takes great delight in accompanying you on the journey…    

- Nicole Hague-Andrews