Ten years ago I began facilitating a writing group for the blind community in Brisbane. All members are vision impaired, or ‘legally blind.’ All except me and three volunteer scribes, who write for people who dictate their stories, and then read them afterwards to the group. The members named their group ‘Writing With A Vision.’
We meet once a month and write from prompts. No one is bothered much by writers block. From the very first time I met them, they took to writing like those ‘ducks to water.’ Indeed, it was a process as natural as ducks to water because we human beings have language and we speak our stories all our lives.
At our first meeting a decade ago, I felt like a novice, knowing nothing about blind people. I’d read that some were high functioning in society, whereas others had been marginalised by their disability. I knew that each person at the meeting would have their own practical method of writing. Some would need a scribe, some could still write by hand but were unable to read, others used laptops, or Braille machines. I was there to help them discover their writing voices.
I told them they did not need to fear the mighty pedestal of the ‘writer’ with expectations of perfection. Each one of us has an inner critic that tries to stop us from being creative. It’s the voice that tells us we’re not good enough, that what we’ve created is stupid. ‘Who do you think you are, competing with all the greats out there?’
I asked them to acknowledge their inner critic because it would be useful much later on when they needed to edit a finished piece. What we were about to do in the workshop was to create. It was no place for negativity. We silently asked our inner critic to take a back seat and zip the lip!
The results were beyond my expectations. The group had fun and some even expressed surprise at what they had written about. The prompt I had given them to trigger their writing was a basket of everyday objects. Each person felt inside the basket and chose one thing, and then they wrote from first thoughts, memories, imagination. I asked them to trust their first thoughts and flow with them. “Don’t stop because you think it’s stupid. Write everything down.” I said. “You can always say ‘Pass’ if you don’t want it read to the group afterwards.”
Everyone wrote and 14 out of 15 people agreed to let me read their story afterwards. A retired scientist said dryly that she never thought she’d write about a plastic funnel, but it had reminded her of an incident. A man said he never thought he would have written about a woman’s necklace, but it had reminded him of his mother and off he went.
It was a joyful and stimulating exercise, and everyone’s comments on each story afterwards were ONLY positive. This was writing straight from the heart, it was new-born. I explained to them that we don’t beat-up on a new-born piece of writing any more than we do on a new-born baby . Instead, we comment on what we like, what is memorable in the writing, what stays with us. Then the writer goes away feeling inspired to write more, knowing what worked, what people liked. Considered criticism comes later, when a piece of writing is presented to the group for critique after several drafts.
This is a method of writing created by Pat Schneider, Founder/Director emerita of Amherst Writers & Artists, http://www.amherstwriters.com, which offers trainings in her method. Her wonderful book Writing Alone & With Others, and companion DVD, explains the method and gives numerous writing exercises. (The basket of everyday objects is one of them). It is an inspirational book for writers, as the title suggests. I belonged to an AWA writing group when I was in Northampton, Massachusetts for 6 months. Years later, when I was invited to meet the blind writers in Brisbane, I felt it would be perfect for them. It is a method suited to both beginner and experienced writers.
Like Pat Schneider, I believe writing belongs to everyone.
Wendy’s writing prompt for January 2017: Write a letter to God. Call him Charlie.
Wendy Dartnall’s memoir A Wind from the East is available from http://www.wendydartnall.com, http://www.amazon.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com, http://www.bookdepository.com, and independent book stores.