I seem to have known instinctively that creative writing was linked to wellbeing. I began writing poetry when I was 10, fiction earlier still. And even then, when something upset me, when a friend and I would have a fight, I’d turn it into a story or poem. Something about putting those negative experiences on the page just felt good. I understand now that the process of writing made the situation clearer, gave me a bit of distance from the issue and also gave me a sense of control.
In my twenties, I began to imagine leading a writing workshop for women where sharing stories would bridge gaps between generations, cultures and other differences. I found a master’s degree at the University of Sussex that combined creative writing and facilitating groups. It was the perfect fit for what I wanted to do.
I began volunteering at the Maida Duncan Drop-In Centre in fall of 2013, with the hopes of starting such a writing group. Teresa, the volunteer co-ordinator, suggested that I get to know the clients and the way the centre operated before getting started. It was a great idea. Through talking to clients and other volunteers, I found out which women might be interested in a writing group, and how other groups were organized. The writing group would have to be open and flexible, with exercises completed within each session as different clients would probably come and go. I met two other volunteers who were interested in similar workshops and we worked together to launch the Women’s Writing and Communications Workshop in late March.
The first session was amazing. There was already a sense of connection sitting in that little room with other women who liked to write. I had brought in some poetry exercises and worked with two women while another volunteer worked with a client on her novel. When I left the room to make photocopies, I heard the two women begin to talk about what they liked to write. One said she wrote mostly about nature, and the other said she’d written songs when she was younger. My heart felt so full. This was exactly what I’d imagined.
The best part of that first session was when one of the women pulled a few small squares of paper out of her jacket pocket. They were poems – one’s she’d written and carried around with her. The paper had been wet and dried and the ink was difficult to make out in some places. She shared them with us and then rewrote them on fresh paper; folded them up again. It was very humbling.
Of course, some weeks, no one is interested in writing. This has been humbling as well. The women have other things on their mind or just aren’t in the mood. And that’s fine – it’s part of the flexibility of the group. What’s important is that a space had been created for the clients to express themselves through creative writing when they want to. And I love being a part of that.