How One Man Turned A Creative Writing Workshop Into Publishing Success

A few days ago, I received an email that made my day. Robert Thompson, who had attended one of my creative writing workshops, wrote to tell me he had self-published a book. It’s always delightful to see someone’s idea come to fruition, but this news was especially sweet to hear because in an unexpected way, I had achieved an ambition of my own.

Writing Workshops

For three years between 2014 and 2017, on and off, I gave various creative writing workshops at the National Council for the Blind in Dublin. They were in fiction, journalism and memoir and they were very successful and well attended, with the memoir workshops striking a particular chord. Being partially sighted myself, these workshops were very dear to my heart.

Robert Thompson came to one of the memoir workshops, where he produced a piece of writing that was so perfectly crafted that I could think of nothing further to add as feedback. It was a funny, warm piece that delighted everyone who heard it. It was writing of this quality that made me want to take the workshops further. I wanted published work to come out of the workshops, Writing that would give participants the chance to show the world that they are more than their disability, writing that would help them give shape their experience and help readers see the world as they saw it.

Barriers to Publishing Success

For a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen. The funding available for such projects tended to be for group collaborations led by an artist, in which the artist would create the work in conjunction with a community group. But I feel that if the participants really wanted to show the world what they were made of, they needed to be given a chance to create their own work, to let their unique voices be heard. I also had to recognise that what I wanted wasn’t necessarily what the participants wanted. The workshops began to lose momentum and fizzled out. That’s the nature of these things.

Robert’s Publishing Quest

Robert Thompson came to the workshops at around the time they started to fizzle out, and he booked a couple of workshops that didn’t happen due to lack of numbers. I felt sorry that he in particular wasn’t going to have the chance to be part of a bigger writing project with the participants. But Robert took matters into his own hands and finished a book called Insights from an Unsighted World, in which he shares his own stories of sight loss and raises awareness of the needs of visually impaired people in gentle ways.

Robert was kind enough to say that my workshop was the spark that led to the book. I’m just happy to know that the workshops did achieve the outcome I hoped for in the end, that published work came out of it. I’m delighted that Robert was able to share his story, and in the process, move beyond the confines of his disability. He has produced an elegant book written in the concise, lyrical, humorous style that I encountered in the workshop, and now the world will have a chance to experience it.

I hope you buy this book. I hope you don’t buy it out of pity. And I hope you buy it even if you have no connection to anyone with sight loss. If you enjoy stories that give you a glimpse into other people’s worlds, or you want to get an insight into how people cope with life’s hurdles, you’ll find it an interesting read. Even if you have no interest in the subject matter, you will get a warm glow from knowing that you are supporting two very worthwhile charities. Robert is selflessly donating the proceeds of the book to Irish Guide Dogs and the National Council for the Blind.

If I’ve managed to entice you to buy Robert’s book, you can order it at Irish Guide Dogs.

Create Powerful Stories From Your Own Life

A couple of years ago, I gave a series of one-day memoir writing workshops, which gave people a chance to write about their lives. The workshops were a success, so I decided to revive them.

I was delighted to discover that interest in memoir writing was still as strong as ever, and the workshop soon filled up. On a Sunday morning, ten women gathered in a beautiful, sunny room to begin unlocking their memories and turning those memories into stories.

This writing workshop aimed to show the participants that their daily lives contained all the material they needed for stories. It would also show them that they only needed to record their lives with one small story at a time, event by event. This would take away that sense of drowning in story that often paralyses people and stops them from writing.

Building Stories

We began with the building blocks of story, which I’ve discussed in previous blog posts. After warm-ups, we did one exercise to cover each of the three building blocks: plot, character and setting. For plot, the participants recorded a small but significant injustice that happened to them when they were young. Everyone has a story like this – a time when they were promised a prize that wasn’t delivered, or when they were left out of a family occasion. Small incidents that sear themselves into your memory. Recording them makes for vivid stories.

Then we moved to character, and the participants did a character sketch, a sort of portrait in words of someone significant in their lives. They wrote CV type details like their name, age and address, described their appearance, and gave more personal details, like their hobbies, jobs, and family circumstances. The most important part of the sketch was the character’s secret past, a detail about them that was unusual or wasn’t known to the general public. This detail often forms the basis for rich stories.

Finally, we discussed setting, the time and the place where a story happens, and the characters wrote about rooms in their houses that meant a lot to them. I asked them to write about their bedrooms, as people often have a strong relationship with their bedroom, but they could write about any room that they were attached to. They wrote about what the room looked like, sounded like and smelled like, and most importantly, how it made them feel.

Journey Through the Senses

After lunch, it was time for a journey through the senses. With memories of good food still in their minds, the participants captured the taste of oranges, which can be a challenging fruit, and recorded a memory of a meal which was either horrible or delicious.

Oranges work all of a writer’s senses.

Then they told the life stories of unusual objects. I gave each of them an object from my collection of weird treasures, and they imagined where it came from, what adventures it had had and how it came to be here. This exercise was the hit of the day, producing vivid stories packed with event and emotion.

Finally, we travelled through soundscapes, recording the sounds we loved and despised, and listening to a piece of music which produced mixed reactions. The participants were asked to pick five words that came to mind when they heard the music. I deliberately pick pieces of music that aren’t easy on the ear, based on the fact that uncomfortable sensations produce writing that is just as eloquent as that produced by beautiful sensations.

If you feel you’d like to record your own memories through story and you’d like to be included in an upcoming memoir workshop, send me an email on and I’ll add you to my newsletter mailing list. 00

How to Write A White Paper That People Can Trust

I’ve just completed an interesting writing challenge, which involved writing a type of document I had never written before – a white paper. Most people associate white papers with government legislation, but white papers are also increasingly being used in the business world, by companies who want to put forward a case for a particular technology or ways of working.

I was approached by a company who wanted to produce a white paper that would showcase the benefits of smart working. This is the umbrella term used for any worker who works away from the company’s main office. The white paper would prove that smart working could work for companies, and in the process, this would build trust among the company’s customers that their products would help them harness the benefits of smart working.

Process of Producing White Paper

Writing the white paper was a lengthy but stimulating process. I had lots of input from the company to help me get started, with several videoconferences  and a face to face meeting, where I gathered valuable information that I could use as the foundation for the white paper. The most important thing to find out was why the company wanted the white paper in the first place. Everything else flows from that. It was good to know what expectations the company had, so that I could meet them.

Then it was time to get down to research. I have to confess, I went a bit mad on the research, because I wanted to make sure I could prove the benefits of smart working. I formulated questions that I entered into Google as a starting point, so I wouldn’t drown in information. I formed questions about general trends that influenced smart working, such as how many people commuted in Ireland. I also wanted to find out what role smart working played in worker wellbeing. The audience for this white paper is interested in the bottom line, and I unearthed some interesting statistics about savings companies could make.

The Finished Product

I divided the white paper into sections, exploring the contexts of smart working, the benefits of it and how to overcome barriers. I also did two case studies to show how smart working operated in practice, with a freelance employee and a CEO. After four weeks, I was finished and I sent it off to the clients.

Initial feedback was very positive, and I was delighted. They also took the time to give me more detailed feedback about ways to condense the white paper. In my quest to achieve an authoritative tone, I had overloaded the while paper with statistics.  

There are so many questions to answer in a white paper. Image sourced by Finola Howard.

I was glad of the opportunity to fine-tune it and to arrange the statistics in a way that would make it easier for people to absorb. While I wasn’t in charge of designing the white paper, the client asked me for input in terms of opportunities for infographics that would illuminate the findings even further. I also had to identify quotes from contributors that would make good pullout quotes. I did this in my final edit, and I also suggested that the designers darken the font to make it easier to read.

The white paper is now on a landing page and is due to go live as we speak. I am very proud to have written it. It is the most substantial piece of research I have done since I left college and I’m delighted that it made the grade. While I was writing it, I found it challenging, as I worked neglected brain muscles. But I rose to the challenge of writing in a factual style, rather than my usual creative style, and I’m now keen to rise to the challenge again, with further white papers.

Here’s a link to the white paper I’ve just done. If you like what you read and you want to produce a white paper that will help build trust in your brand and what you have to offer, drop me an email on and I’ll put in place a plan for  your white paper.