Tag Archives: Education

A SPACE to Call Your Own

One of my projects is volunteering with Writers’ Centre Norwich for a project called SPACE. I am part of a team of volunteers who run weekly creative writing workshops for young people. It’s a lot of fun and more rewarding than can be easily described without resorting to cliches.

Here are some words I wrote about it, originally posted on the WCN website here.

SPACE…

The final frontier…

These are the voyages of–

Ahem.

OK that may not have worked as an opening gambit. Cheesy? Yup. Obvious? Check. Likely to pass some people by? Sure. Still, the first thing I learned from SPACE is that you have to dive in headfirst. Your ideas might not work out, but don’t play it safe: go for gold. I realised this a few seconds after standing in front of my first class. The group consisted of thirty disinterested young people who hadn’t expected to be there at all (their teacher had seized the opportunity to take a period off).

I came into SPACE expecting to regularly be terrified, and in that respect I was disappointed: I skipped past terror straight to fatalism.

My opening of ‘hi everyone, today we’re going to write poetry’ was not hugely successful. Following that up with a willingness to make a fool of myself was, however, much more effective.

In retrospect I recognise that feeling of ‘sod it, there’s only my self-respect at stake’ from some of my own teachers. Since my first day with SPACE I haven’t been particularly scared of anything. Except for clowns and the future and all that.

What does volunteering with SPACE involve? Step one is to identify what you can contribute.

I’m a writer, like many SPACE volunteers, and I write flash fiction. Flash fiction refers to very short stories, often under a hundred words. Part of my ‘pitch’ at my interview was that writing flash fiction would help young people overcome the difficulties I faced when trying to write at their age. These difficulties were overwriting and not finishing my stories. I found overwriting discouraging because I would write page after page without getting anywhere. With so much effort required to achieve so little, I would always give up before the end.

The flash fiction workshops we’ve run have aimed to get the young people thinking about what is essential to a story and what is superfluous. Hopefully they avoid overwriting and the pace of their story is enough to see them through to the end.

Step two works quite differently: now you know the young people you’re working with. You need to tailor the sessions to fit their needs. It’s no longer about delivering what you’re good at: it’s about finding something new outside your comfort zone that will help them best.

Next week we’re running a workshop on poetry. I never write poems and the list of poems I enjoy is quite short.

Regardless, I’m excited about this session. We’re stealing an exercise one of my friends used in their workshop. My friend got the group to cut up a ‘boring’ poem (‘The Whitsun Weddings’ by Philip Larkin) and, with copious application of Pritt Stick, rearrange it into something new. The combination of scissors (note to self: definitely safety scissors), glue and literary vandalism was a big success.

Building up a regular group at our weekly session at Gorleston library has taken a bit of work, but it has paid off with a group of really enthusiastic, talented and friendly young people. It is encouraging to see that they all have the same problems I had, so I can help them out no problem, right?

Well, it isn’t quite as easy as that. Problems I currently face when trying to write include:
Lack of confidence.
Feeling I’m not getting anywhere.
Struggling to finish stories.

Eh. All familiar obstacles, but ones I’m getting better at overcoming. Running these sessions benefits me as much as I hope it benefits our group of young people. It’s easy to be inspired to write after an afternoon with such talented young people.

Find out more about SPACE and hear from other volunteers.