We often think of writing as a solitary activity. When we picture a writer at work, we might think of Emily Dickinson composing her poems alone in her garret, or Jo March from Little Women writing her stories in the corner of an attic, or the reclusive J.D. Salinger writing in a secluded house in rural New Hampshire. Although the stereotype of the solitary writer is deeply rooted in our culture, it, like so many stereotypes, does not always match reality. Many writers actually seek out company. They might lug their laptops to Starbucks so that they can write in the presence of others. They might meet regularly at a favorite pub like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and some of their writer friends did for many years. Or they might take writing classes and workshops together.
Charlotte area writers occasionally ask me about where they can go to meet other writers or to sign up for workshops. I always refer them to Charlotte Lit and the Charlotte Writers’ Club, both of which offer excellent writing classes and workshops. I recently learned, however, about another opportunity for area writers from Nancy Stancill, an author I featured on my Storied Charlotte blog a few weeks ago. Nancy mentioned that she took a helpful writing course from Maureen Ryan Griffin. I knew about Maureen’s poetry books, but I didn’t know about her work as a writing teacher and coach. I did a little research and discovered that Maureen is the author of a writing book titled Spinning Words into Gold: A Hands-On Guide to the Craft of Writing. She also has a business called WordPlay and her own website: https://www.wordplaynow.com/spinning-words-into-gold-guide
I decided to contact Maureen, and that’s when I found out that she is collaborating with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to offer a free Zoom workshop titled “How Writing Can Help Us Cope, and Even Thrive—Through the Pandemic and Beyond” on Wednesday, December 2nd. Well, this prompted me to send her a follow-up email in which I asked her if she could send me a few paragraphs about her approach to helping people with their writing and her ideas about the value of writing in terms of coping with our current pandemic. Here is what she sent to me:
When I decided, twenty plus years ago, to shift from being a poet and writer of personal essays who occasionally taught creative writing classes to one who had a bona fide business as a writing teacher and coach, I named my business WordPlay. My tagline was “Take your dreams seriously – play with them.” I fervently believe that we human beings learn best through play. And I seriously believe that every human being deserves the joy and fulfillment writing has to offer.
While I don’t remember learning how to read (it has always felt to me that I was born knowing, due, no doubt, to the good fortune of having a mother who read to me with great expression and delight and kept me well-stocked in library books—no small feat given the speed at which I devoured them), I have a number of specific memories of struggling to get the beautiful string of words spooling through my brain onto paper without losing their magic. So I guess it’s no wonder that my favorite question, every time I read words that transported me, through their magic, to worlds I loved dwelling in, was “How did the writer of these words do that?” I’ve spent countless hours of my life exploring answers to that question. I brought the knowledge gained paired with my education and experience teaching brilliant children with various learning disabilities to use their strengths to circumvent their weaknesses, to my own writing, and to supporting my students as they wrote. Once I began teaching creative writing to adults, I added a new question: “How can I help my students write better, with more ease, grace, and enjoyment?” The result has been to develop a number of wholistic writing tools and practices to support an array of learning styles, preferences, and temperaments. I can’t tell you what a joy it is for me to provide services—from workshops to classes to retreats to one-on-one coaching—that engage participants’ hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits and allow words to flow freely for each of them. We all have different brains, which process information in their own ways. I don’t believe in one size fits all or one writing style or method that is best for everyone.
I also don’t believe I’ve ever led a writing event that hasn’t included laughter. And I’m always grateful for the attendees who share the gifts of vulnerability and tears. Open hearts write best. And it’s an opportunity to share a bit of the wisdom of poet Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” My experience of sharing the writing tools I’ve learned, adapted, and created is that, like screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, and pliers, they have vast utilitarian power. I’ve received dozens upon dozens of thank you notes from students, sometimes years after working with them, saying what a difference the tools have made.
Along with my delight in wordplay, in the sheer fun that writing often is for me, I have always been drawn to the power words have to heal us, to allow us to craft our own beliefs and shape our own destinies. I believe I first learned that language could do this for us in high school, as I read Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and encountered these words: “The last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you become the plaything to circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity…”
I cannot tell you how much these words move and inspire me each time I read them. You’ve asked me to speak to the value of writing in terms of coping with our current pandemic. It comes down to this: Writing provides release when we are sad, stressed, scared. It allows us different, often larger perspectives on our situation. Writing allows us to name and claim the good in our lives “in any given set of circumstances,” as well as the opportunities and benefits available. Writing enables us to shape our experience into a story, and to deliberately choose this story’s power, value, and meaning, however grim our circumstances may be.
For anyone who is interested in taking Maureen’s upcoming workshop, here is the registration information:
“How Writing Can Help Us Cope, and Even Thrive – Through the Pandemic and Beyond.”
Grief, pain, and loss are a part of each of our lives, especially in this time of Covid-19. What healing benefits can writing provide – physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually? Are some writing strategies more helpful than others? In this introduction to Dr. James Pennebaker’s ground-breaking work, you’ll learn three concrete methods of using writing as a transformational tool. And, if you’re interested, you may find the genesis of new poetry, creative nonfiction, and/or fiction. Warning: Laughter likely. Inspiration guaranteed.
WHERE: Via Zoom, in the comfort of your own space
WHEN: Wednesday, December 2nd, 6:30 – 8 p.m.
TO REGISTER: Register through the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County here.
For area writers, Maureen’s upcoming workshop, like the writing workshops and classes offered by Charlotte Lit and the Charlotte Writers’ Club, can provide encouragement and helpful advice. Just as important, however, is the sense of community that the participants in such workshops and classes often experience. After all, Storied Charlotte is not just about stories—it’s also about a community of readers and writers.