Grief is a sacred journey

The Joy of a Creative Writing Class

Writing teacher Ellen Schmidt and her dog Otter

Writing teacher Ellen Schmidt and her dog Otter

I sit with others at a long table, six with notebooks and one with a laptop. We’ve come together to write. Some are beginners; some have a lifetime of writing behind them. All want to explore their deepest thoughts and feelings. When I enter this space, I’m filled with a sense of belonging, the joy of creativity, and a surge of hope. I discover new words and ideas I didn’t know were within me. My life takes on new meaning as it becomes a story on a page.

At the table, there is no background noise, except for the soft clicking of computer keys, the scratch of pens, and the quiet turning of pages. After we write, we share the words that tell us what we did not know before we put them down on paper. We listen to each other and ourselves and know that we are heard. When we comment on each other’s writing, it’s easy to follow Ellen’s guidelines to be encouraging, kind, specific, and honest in order to improve our writing and communication skills. At the Writing Room Workshop table, I am enough and what I write is enough, even if there are muddled unfinished thoughts, misspellings, and punctuation catastrophes to be sorted out later.

Hibiscus on Ellen's deck

Hibiscus on Ellen’s deck

On this July night, the room is cool. The world outside the big window is green and floral. On the deck, there is one hot red hibiscus bloom and on the table a small vase of delicate pastel flowers from the garden. Scents of summer float through the open door. I faintly hear the serenade of birds, less boisterous now than a few months ago since their territories are established and the males have less to prove.

In this safe intimate container, I dare to write what matters most to me and others do, too. I hear the on-going struggles, childhood adventures, and daily events of these writer’s lives. I trust them with my inmost self, although I do not know most of their last names. And they trust me.

This class is a weekly gift I’ve given myself for over four years. I drive 40 minutes for the joy of being here. I always bring a three page essay I’ve written during the week, although it’s optional. Our teacher Ellen Schmidt reads our home pieces and responds in the margins with light pencil while we write from her prompt, or “spark” as Ellen calls it, or write whatever needs to spill out on the page. Then we read what we’ve written that night and what we’ve brought from home, although we’re never required to read out loud.

I usually arrive a little early to feed special treats to Ellen’s curly haired little dog Otter. He spins, always counterclockwise, whines in greeting, and sits for his treats. When everyone is settled, we gather ourselves in silence, these people I know so deeply without knowing where they live or work or other details of their lives. And then we write.

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Writing Room Workshops keep my writing fresh and alive. I usually write the first draft of my blogs here, and I trust a second book will emerge through time spent writing at Ellens’ table. Both men and women participate in her classes. If you are a writer, where do you receive inspiration for new ideas? If you haven’t written much, do you yearn to experiment with words in a safe encouraging atmosphere? For more about writing with Ellen Schmidt, see my post “Writing through the Rough Spots.” Who Knows? Maybe  I’ll see you at Ellen’s table.

16 Comments
  1. Elaine – you have such a way of painting a picture with your words. As I read this piece, I could see the flowers, hear the birds in the distance, and feel the quiet creative energy flowing through the room. I truly can’t wait to read your book.

    Love,
    Ann

    • Thank you, Ann. I’m deeply honored by your encouraging and kind words. A writing class is a wonderful thing. I’m ready to push that book baby out of the birth canal.
      With gratitude,
      Elaine

  2. And thank you Elaine for introducing me to Ellen’s class a number of years ago. I enjoyed our rides to and from and of course, the class itself.

    • Peggy, I miss our rides together, but now enjoy our walks together even more. Ellen’s class has become a staple of my diet and my writer’s life, so I’m grateful to her for the inspiration and new ideas that show up at her table. Thanks for reading and responding.

  3. Thanks for this piece, Elaine. It provoked lots of thoughts and feelings: longing (for like-minded people to be with and talk to about the writing process), nostalgia for teaching (I used to teach writing and led classes and dream groups for years), curiosity (about Ellen’s process), admiration for you, (your determination, perseverance, and growth), self-reflection (would I ever want to teach regular classes again?), and a bit of conflict between my introverted (thrives on solitude) and extroverted (enjoys helping and mentoring others) selves! Thanks for the “spark!”

    • Thanks for all those sparks you returned to me, Jeanie. I know I don’t want to teach a writing class. Leading bereavement groups is plenty for now. I know I need a supportive and safe space where I write what I hadn’t thought through ahead of time. It helps me keep an interest in new approaches and topics. When I write about familiar topics such as Vic’s death, as I often do, I enter the story through a new avenue that isn’t my ego’s intention. Works for me. Thanks for your continuing encouragement and kind words–and thanks for taking the time to read and respond. With great appreciation.

  4. This reminds me of a Quaker meeting for worship in a way. Truly a gift.

    • I haven’t experienced a Quaker meeting except in political protest situations, but you’re on to something. The allowing of quiet that leads to an intuition and then to words. Thank you for this insight. I appreciate your encouragement.

  5. Ellen is a really special person and I thank you for “introducing” us. Taking her writing class would be a treat. Something warm and welcoming to think about.
    Cheers!

    • Ellen’s a great help with all the creative aspects of writing. Maybe we’ll take a class together sometime. Writing class is a significant part of my new life–writing, hospice work, anti-fracking activity, and taking care of the land. Hey, Vic, just like I promised. I made a life. Just like Robin.

  6. So proud of you and proud to be your daughter-in-law! xoxo

  7. Elaine, I agree that a safe space for writing is a wonderful gift. I found that at Zee Zahava’s writing group here in Ithaca. What I wrote there was the beginning of my blogging.

    I also did some writing as part of the “Singing Grieving” group at Hospicare–another wonderfully supportive group.

    • Yes, Zee’s classes are wonderful, too. Somehow I needed the smaller number of participants, the title “Writing through the Rough Spots,” since I was in such a hard place, and the invitation to bring more polished pieces from home to Ellen’s classes. We’re lucky in Ithaca to have two excellent writing teachers and many more who offer workshops of various sorts. The Singing and Grieving group at Hospicare is great, too, and so supportive. Jayne Demakos is a wonderful teacher, and she and Kira Lallas of Hospicare are excellent writers. So inspiration is to be found in many places, and I hope my article encourages people to search. I always appreciate your comments. Thank you.

  8. Elaine, it is a pleasure to read your piece about Writing through the Rough Spots on your blog. The words glow with warmth, serenity, and enthusiasm. You are a gifted writer and a wonderful asset in any class! Your perceptive, supportive comments help others to grow in their writing as you embrace their input as well.
    I appreciate reading all the fine, thoughtful comments posted in response. Thank you to all.

    • Ellen, your class makes my week sing–even when I drive home in a flood as I did last night. Grateful for all the wonderful writers in your classes and the inspiration you provide. Thank you for providing a safe space for us to explore the rough and smooth spots of our lives. And thanks for your encouraging note.

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