Creative Writing in the Library

Libraries are marvellous places. It’s a cliché to say it, but clichés happen to be true. With little funding at their disposal, they have evolved to become vibrant reading emporiums, where people can access not just dusty books but a whole range of facilities, including creative writing workshops.

I’ve just begun a series of three workshops in libraries in Waterford in South East Ireland. They’re for National Literacy Week and Positive Ageing Week. I delivered my first one last Thursday. It lasted three hours and aimed to give a gentle introduction to the world of creative writing.

Icebreaking Exercises

Four brave souls turned up, and I eased them into the session with a few icebreaking exercises. I showed them my highly fashionable Bavarian hat, now a feature of my creative writing workshops, and asked them to write a sentence describing it. They introduce themselves by pairing their names with the name of an animal, which shared the first letter of their name e.g. Derbhile the Dolphin. Finally, I fried their heads a little by asking them to come up with 26 words to match the 26 letters of the alphabet and writing a little story featuring their three favourite words from the list.

My magical storytelling hat, picture taken by moi.
My magical storytelling hat, picture taken by moi.

Stimulating the Senses

Now the participants were starting to loosen up, it was time for them to tap into their senses. Stimulating the senses evokes strong emotions and memories, and encourages you to come up with more vivid descriptions. The participants told the life stories of curious objects, using the look and texture of the objects to give them ideas.

Then they ate oranges, not out of any great desire to be nutritious, but because oranges work all five of your sentences. They described the experience of eating the orange, through its look, feel, sound, taste and smell. The word squishy features heavily. I then extended the exercise and had them write a powerful food memory, of oranges or any other food that came to mind.

Break

Next came arguably the most important part of the workshop – the break. I’m not being facetious. The break gives participants a chance to relax and get to know each other, and when they feel comfortable with each other, they’ll take more risks with their writing. The library once more proved its excellence when its staff provided tea and biscuits, even though they were under no obligation to do so.

Storytelling Techniques

Now the participants were fortified, it was time to get down to the serious business with storytelling. We started with characters. I talked about how characters are created and the participants created their own characters, based on a picture of a rather hideous looking old man. They then needed to create a world for that character to live in, so they wrote a travel-brochure style piece, selling an imaginary country.

No story is complete without an event, so I talked about the different kinds of plots that writers use. I then gave participants pictures from a calendar I got with a newspaper three years ago, which told the story of significant news events in pictures. I’d removed all evidence of what the events were, and asked the participants to come up with a caption for the picture. I rounded off the workshop by asking them to write about a significant news event that they remembered from their youth.

I have no idea what ultimate outcome this workshop will have. I hope it will plant the seeds of stories in the participants, and they will work on them in their own time. Certainly, it was gratifying to feel the levels of confidence and enthusiasm rising as the morning went on.

If you’re in the Waterford area, and what you’ve read has whetted your appetite, I have two workshops left in the series. Click here to find out more.

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5 thoughts on “Creative Writing in the Library

  1. Awesome. I taught a creative writing class for some homeschoolers one summer, and I loved getting the kids to involve their senses. I don’t remember if I ever had them eat anything though. We used a lot of pictures, items, and music.

      1. I would always try to find music that would evoke a strong sense of emotion. I have a list around here somewhere that I used. I think one of my favorites is “The Swan” by Saint-Saens. But if your crowd was open-minded enough, you could use all kinds of stuff to target certain emotions.

      2. I do go a bit way out. I use African jazzy soul stuff. The idea is that, unless they’re impossibly hipsterish, they won’t have heard of it, and they’ll come to the music free of misconceptions.

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