Our Stories, Our Voices: A Creative Writing Workshop Full of Life

Iran, Syria, Sudan, Ukraine, Spain, Afghanistan. All of these places are represented in one room by a group of people sitting around a table in the Mitchell Library, ready to learn about creative writing.

By Olivia Sykes, Refugee Festival Scotland volunteer

Julie, a creative writing tutor and former screenwriter, welcomes everyone to introduce themselves. They are timid at first, but Julie then says something which brightens up the room: “Today is about fun.”

Slowly each person takes a breath and loosens up, smiles creeping on their faces. You can tell this workshop is going to be something joyous.

Today’s event has been organised by Glasgow Life as part of their English for Speakers of Other Languages programme. I spoke with ESOL officers, Carol and Shaun, who told me this creative writing workshop is a way to engage with Upper and Intermediate ESOL Learners and work on their written English through teaching creative concepts.

Shaun said it was important to “challenge but do not overwhelm” those attending, and that everyone felt comfortable. The workshop is about providing opportunities for people to uplift themselves. “Hope is a celebration”, and writing is a tool which allows you to do just that.

Julie introduces the first exercise, an acrostic poem, with the first letter of each line spelling out the word HOPE.  To help everyone feel more creatively energized, she asks each person to pick a colour that means hope for them.

A flurry of answers follow:

“Green, it means calm like nature and the world”

“White, it means peace”

“Blue, when you need help you can look at the sky and it gives you the energy to keep going”

After a brief period of silence, cookies, and a dash of tea, the participants share their poems with us. I am taken aback. Every single poem is so thoughtful and introspective. Some are very short, others formed of long, winding sentences, but all are full of light.

One person’s opening sentence “hello my old good friend” in particular sticks with me. This atmosphere in this workshop feels like an intimate meeting between friends instead of strangers.

The second exercise is to share stories inspired by magazine images and the five senses. ESOL teachers Sharon and Brendan encourage everyone to express a story by visualizing what hope means for them.

Every story is individual, but interestingly, all of them are centred around nature, a common thread of human experience which connects us all.

I want to be in every story and experience every word. There is a feeling of joy and a contagious energy coming from each of them. I couldn’t stop, smiling even if I want to (which I certainly don’t!).

When everyone is done, I look around the room. Everyone seems so at ease compared to when the workshop first began. Jules Scheele, a live scribe, has come along to capture the workshop in visual form. Her finished illustration is such a special gift and nearly every participant wants their photo taken with the drawing.

This tiny glimpse into creative writing reminds me how often we forget that simple things can give us so much confidence and hope. Even if we don’t all know the same words, or have the same paths, everyone can contribute something meaningful if we just have the opportunity to share our ideas.

Writing does not have to be perfect, in fact it is often better when it is not, and it usually will surprise you. What a thoughtful way to spend a morning.