There are some moments that really make creative writing facilitation worth it.
When a child, with a complexion and braids very similar to my own daughter’s, can’t stop smiling and nodding when I give the first writing task of the day.
When a new mum on maternity leave from a high-pressure job in the charity sector says that she is using her first free afternoon to come to my workshop, even though it is pouring down with rain and others would have probably stayed home.
Or when a young woman who works with youth tells me that my workshop was on her list of “30 things to do before you’re 30” and vlogs about it (video-blogging, for those of us who are over 30).
Then there was the young kid who wanted me to take a photograph of every piece of writing she did that day; she was so proud she couldn’t sit still. The boy who stood up and confidently told the story he had written from the unique perspective of a foot, laughing at his own words. The autistic child who normally doesn’t engage and gets startled by changes, but who grinned and wrote page after page when I said that his flying protagonist could absolutely be a superhero robot.
Through this grant with the London Borough of Culture 2022, the Writing the 7 Senses methodology was offered to full year-groups in three diverse local schools, to about 150 children. There also have been three additional public sessions for adults and children at a local library.
In the schools, this meant that every child was included, whether they liked writing or not. I found some kids were so enthusiastic and really shined. A shy boy with blond hair falling into his eyes came up to me after the class and confided that he wanted to be a writer. I said he was already on his way, just encouraged him to keep going.
However, the workshops are also for those who don’t like writing, who are afraid of getting it wrong, or who are struggling with some aspects. For those children, I hope that my message of joy gets through. One of the 7 Senses is the sense of humour, after all. In my sessions, there are no worries about spelling, grammar or punctuation. I tell them that I just want to see the pencil moving on the page; I don’t mind at all what they write or how much. “You can’t really get it wrong,” I tell them, “as long as you try.”
Nearly every single child makes an effort, I’m pleased to say. In fact, of the over 100 children who have been in the workshops so far, there has been only one who wouldn’t write anything at all. On a different day, one child refused to meet my eye for the whole time and didn’t seem to write anything. Later, however, I saw that he had written a short piece about spies in a session about suspense and mystery. I had been playing music from James Bond movies to conjure up feelings about secrets hidden away, and he had responded to that, but didn’t want to let me or his teachers see.
For the adult workshops, it was really fun to adapt the methodology to a more mature audience. It felt more like a masterclass for each of the participants. There was time to hear what they wanted to get out of each session, and what their motivations were. The feedback from evaluations was very positive, although many people would have liked it to be a longer session, or a series of workshops.
If I can secure funding, that is what I’d like to offer in 2023: targeted sessions for adults to help with whatever writing project they have in mind. The Writing the 7 Senses methods are fun and adaptable, and I am working on ideas. I pulled fifteen of the best methods I know into this Writing the 7 Senses workbook, for people to get started or continue with their practice on their own time. I hope it will help to keep creativity flowing, developing and deepening people’s writing practice along the way.