I want to finish my novel and develop short stories, maybe even – gasp – poetry. However, I was starting to feel that my creative writing skills were limited not by imagination, but by techniques for expressing my ideas. Oh, and writer’s block. We don’t like writer’s block. Boo, hiss!

For any writer the best place to start, to protect the gently-blossoming and delicate ego, is a group workshop which offers no feedback, encourages you to be productive, and gets you used to your own voice. This is where Creative Writes comes in.

I got put on to this through attending the Urban Writers Retreats in London and considering I’d never attended a writer’s group, circle, anything, I can honestly say I’ve landed on my feet. Here’s why. First: Nichola Charalambou, the facilitator, is lovely. She’s supportive, kind and approachable. Second: The groups are small, and we’re encouraged not to give any feedback. Third: We’re encouraged (but not obliged) to share, to read out our work – anything from the products of 10-minute free flows, to short story exercises and poems.

You might think ‘what’s the point of not having feedback?’ and ‘won’t reading your work out loud make you nervous and affect what you write?’. The point of not having feedback is to create a safe space, free of explicit approval or disapproval, thus freeing you up to write whatever comes into your head. This is very much a good thing; you’re not expected to perform for an audience, and Teh Fearz you get – ‘OMG, everyone’s going to hate it’ – is removed.

You feel you’re in a safe space, and you tend to find everyone picks up on the nurturing, positive vibe. You can always say ‘no’ to reading your work, if you’ve tapped into something painful while doing a free-flow exercise. That’s OK. For me, knowing my work might be read out was scary at first – even though I’ve been shouting into the internet for years – but it’s become exciting now. I look forward to it, and it’s stood me in good stead for more in-your-face (but no less rigorous) workshops.

Here’s the ‘unicorns and kittens’ bit

I believe that creating art is about releasing your precious creation go into the world; letting your imagination stagger unaided, blinking, into the cold light of day. So what if it’s unfinished? So what if it’s crap? What matters in your development as a writer, an artist, is getting your work out there and getting it heard, learning to feel confident in your own words, your own voice.  When I read aloud I suddenly become six years old again, reading stories to my parents, doing the character voices (shout out to fellow Story Teller fans…), inhabiting the little world I’ve created in 10 minutes flat. And then we move on to the next exercise. You’re in the moment, it passes, and another one comes along.

That process is really important – think, create, share, move on. You forget you haven’t written in ages and find yourself with 2 or 3 pieces of work, so it’s productive; instant self-esteem boost! You don’t get any feedback but you can sense that people are tuning in to what you’re saying, and you might even get a reaction – bingo! – I love making people feel something. That’s also what creating is about. You learn to own your work and stand up in it, plus you create things you didn’t think your brain would let you, in the 10 minutes you’re given to write something down.

Occasionally, things happen…

I was given a photo of two young boys and asked to write a story about the photo. The two boys became a disabled boy, and his older brother, who was in his early teens. The older boy spoke of his mix of feelings: love, pride, sense of duty, frustration and occasional shame, at having a disabled brother. But the reaction of a fellow workshopper was that it had hit pretty close to home: it turned out that she had 2 sons. The younger of them had a disability. The older was in his early teens. I’d somehow tapped into some kind of energy that let me channel his thoughts and feelings with painful honesty. I didn’t know this before I wrote the story; I don’t know where it came from.

If you’re looking to nurture and explore your writing talent without judgement, and learn to silence your grumpy inner editor (who has nothing to edit because you’re too scared of it to write. No wonder it’s such a pain in the arse), this is the place to do it.

I’m in the thick of my third block of sessions, and I have a tool kit of invaluable techniques which have helped improve my writing, and got me writing more regularly. I don’t tend to sit around with an idea in my head for too long, and I’m less afraid of chucking something down on paper, worrying about how it looks. Writing is like throwing clay: you need to have a raw lump of it before you can shape it into something beautiful. With writing, though, you need to magick that lump out of thin air first. Once you learn how to do that, you can kick writer’s block in the balls.

Oh, and there’s tea and biscuits. As any writer knows, this is essential brain food! Last night we were served up those Digestives with the caramel… oh, sweet, crack-laced, biscuity joy.

Top Tip: Feeling stuck? Crack open the notebook and write, at the top of the page: ‘I feel/I don’t feel/I am/I am not/I am lying in bed/I am <INSERT ACTION HERE>’ or any variation you can think of on that theme. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Write as fast as you can think. Don’t stop to order your thoughts, just get them down. There. You’ve written something. You’re welcome.

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