It feels time for a blog, so here I am and after my first effort I thought it might be an idea to put the creative writing group/sessions into context within the Doorway project. As so often happens its genesis was one of those synchronous events that make life appear less random than usual.
When I came for my induction in April 2008 I asked Margaret, who was still involved with Doorway at that time, if they had ever had creative writing sessions for the guests, because it was something I felt I’d like to get involved in. Well, the answer was no but it was one of the activities they were thinking about setting up and would I be interested in doing that. It was then I began to wonder if I should have kept my mouth shut because I wasn’t sure I was the person to do the setting up. I’ve always been a happy backroom boy, head down, beavering away in the sure and certain security of being anonymous.
But once I’d opened my mouth it did seem churlish to pretend I’d meant something else. As it was I didn’t start volunteering at Doorway until the autumn and by then Margaret had departed so no one knew about our writing group conversation except me.
I must admit once I began working regularly at Doorway I wasn’t sure how a writing group would work and I really was too scared to say anything to anybody, just in case it was thought a very silly thing to suggest. Anyway, to make this brief, I bided my time and eventually I did mention that, perhaps, it was something that could be attempted, sort of, if you don’t mind and if there wasn’t any one else more qualified than me to set it up, I could, if that was all right, you know (backing swiftly out of the limelight). That was the second time I should have kept my mouth shut because there appeared to be some enthusiasm for such a venture, at least amongst the staff. And the wonderful thing was that no one seemed to mind that I had no apparent expertise other than a desire to unlock the creative potential of a group of people who don’t normally get the chance to try.
Writing’s not the easiest of the expressive arts because it comes with an accretion of rules, education, formality and embarrassment. I find many of the guests I talk to say they can’t write because they can’t spell or don’t have neat hand writing or little grasp of punctuation and grammar, and this misperception is a real barrier to starting. What I wanted to foster was the idea that when we write creatively we can forget the rules, forget what we learnt or didn’t learn at school, forget any sense of having to conform or that writing is done in a particular way by certain people. I wanted to free writing from all of these constraints and say, as it were, “let’s see what happens.”
This was my wish but when I asked interested guests what they would like to do I was surprised that the consensus seemed to be that they’d like to study a particular writer’s work—perhaps Shakespeare or another poet. This was not my intention as I am not a teacher nor particularly interested in teaching per se. But I could understand that this might be a way of getting the group started gently and without the onus being on them as writers. It would also give it some structure but after the first couple of sessions it became obvious that I don’t do structure very well.
So it’s gone on from there and is indebted to the crossover we have with the music group, wherein guests often want to write lyrics for their music. This is a very useful starting point and I’ve been encouraged by the results (even I have come up with a couple of sets of proto-lyrics).
It would be nice to give you a taster of what has come out of our sessions so far. The pieces I have chosen are not lyrics, though, but I think show our diversity. They are by T and J, two of the group’s regulars. T’s piece was written as a set of rules to help me when the writing group was in its infancy. I have taken the liberty of restructuring it in a more poetic way and giving it a title. J’s piece was done as a flash fiction challenge/exercise to see if he could write a story in a just hundred words.
Clearly Advice for the Teacher
When writing and speech become Very Clear,
the person becomes clear.
Commas, italics, pronunciations,
Are clearly used;
read and make sense.
Clear Loud Spoken English
is better than murmured inconclusive speech to the class.
As I was taught in training:
Loud as an Order
Your spellings must be
any mis-spelt Words can be
Thirteen years of being taught English says all above.
Roe’d Kill Renegade
Pedalling frantically to the Crosskeys, fifteen minutes late for the Monday morning writing session; has read Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Orwell, but can he read traffic lights?
From the corner of one eye he glimpses literary potential as a solitary roe deer, in a neglected corner of a drystone walled estate, nibbles contentedly amongst the brushwood and early nettles. At the same moment his mouth drops open in horror as he glimpses from the corner of his other eye the sixteen ton supermarket lorry hurtling across his intended path.
Later that morning a voice calls from the kitchen, up the stairs to the writing room, “Anyone for seconds?”