Rediscovering Creativity in Quarantine

Rediscovering creativity in quarantine

How long have we been rushing from event to event, flexing our social butterfly muscles like never before? Probably too long.

If the Covid-19 lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that our lifestyle as of February 2020 was untenable and just plain stressful. So what better way to get back in touch with our inner selves than a little writing? Writing has been known to hold healing qualities, be it for recreation or to help process trauma. So, let’s face it, there’s no better time for some self-reflection.

We know writing doesn’t always come easy – otherwise writer’s block wouldn’t be a thing. That’s why we’ve asked our friend and writer, Miriam Calleja, to give us some insight on her creative writing workshops and their new home online. Miriam has been giving creative writing workshops since 2016 and she hasn’t let social distancing stop her. This could be the inspiration you’ve been looking for!

Write here, right now

Poets and writers aren’t magical creatures with voices in their heads telling them what to write (terms and conditions apply). I cannot remember a time when I was not attracted to, and enthusiastic about, writing. As time went by I had to admit to myself that I needed to give my writing the priority it was demanding.

As a creative writing workshop leader, earlier this year I found myself having to be creative in a whole new way. Social distancing rules meant that I had to change the way I held my workshops.

Ordinary world

At first (almost 4 years ago now) forming the group for my creative writing workshops was a little difficult. Not everyone understood what went on during these events. Even when the concept of workshops became more popular, people were sometimes apprehensive and intimidated by the thought of writing with a bunch of strangers. During my workshops, I like to set a number of relatively short exercises in the form of prompts. These prompts act as restrictions that help you write. It is much like having a deadline, when the approaching deadline is your motivation to get things done… in a fun way!

I started tentatively organising the workshops in my living room. I took care of everything myself, from PR to making coffee, to preparing and giving the lesson itself, of course. And for most part I still do everything myself except when there are larger events. I designed them in such a way that they created the environment of the kind of workshops I would have liked to attend myself – a place to spark off ideas, build know-how, and write plenty of first drafts.

Call to adventure

I began 2020 with a series or workshops intended to take the participants through a number of aspects of writing. The first two workshops laid out a few exercises that one could incorporate into their writing practice. I speak of a practice rather than telling people they ‘should’ write for a certain amount of time a day. I don’t like to be prescriptive in my workshops because I appreciate that everyone has their own way of working. With experience I’ve learned what works to nudge people into a more creative space. And this is part of what I try to teach in the workshops too.

As this series of workshops went along we looked at narrative and the structure of a story, then went on to editing and critiquing; and finally we spoke about what it takes to submit pieces to journals. I’ve repeated some of the sessions as they were quite popular. That validation went a long way in encouraging me to continue.

Meeting the mentor

One-to-one mentoring sessions allow the participant to work on a particular project they have in mind, which isn’t always possible when working in a group. I feel privileged to be a part of people’s path of ‘one day I’ll write a book’ and of working towards making that a reality.

What keeps being made apparent to me is that as writers we all have the same problems and doubts. And this is exactly why I thought having creative writing workshops was important. I get people from all walks of life attending, from journalists to teachers to IT specialists. Some are interested in writing as a hobby, while others have a burning desire to make their writing the best it could be. Even the more accomplished writers will have imposter syndrome; even the most practised ones will have days and weeks at a time when writing feels impossible. People come to writing for various reasons – it may be an outlet for creativity, a way to meet people, or an exercise in introspection and catharsis.

Preparing for these workshops means I am on a constant search for new techniques and approaches in writing. It keeps me on my toes with my own writing, too. This is because it isn’t simply about turning up with a plan for the time we’re going to be together. The plan is there, but it is often accompanied by a low-key plan B, and some of it is improvised. I have my senses tuned in to the room, listening for change. What do I mean? Each session has its own dynamics. Even if the same people turn up, our energy, where the exercises take us, how in sync we are with the flow of ‘work’ is going to make a difference in the way the session proceeds.

Seizing the sword

When I had to take the lessons online into a virtual space because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was afraid that I would be less able to read this dynamic, or that people would not follow me there. I discovered that it is still possible, just different, and that the participants trusted me to recreate the same atmosphere.

In the virtual classroom, I like the fact that I can see everyone’s face at once. It is easy to share resources and show the participants my screen. Participants can watch my edits live. Virtual meetings tend to be quite tiring because it feels like a constant performance, and that includes using your voice in a different way. Focus and concentration are as important during in-person meetings as they are on virtual platforms, so I try hard to maintain that too. I enjoy the fact that conducting my workshops online means that they are accessible to anyone in the world.

When someone new turns up and feels apprehensive I always like to say: everyone can write. The most important is that you want to – so if you turn up, you must write.

Miriam holds Creative Writing Workshops periodically and more information can be found on her Facebook page

And see the rest of her work on miriamcalleja.com