Playing with Frames in Frodsham

Outside, the sound of children playing; downstairs, a clatter of coffee-cups and the steamy roar of a cappuccino machine, but in the room, no noise beyond the rustle of paper and an occasional sigh: Saturday morning’s Write for Growth workshop was fully engrossed in our first activity, a free-writing exercise.

We sat round a large table in Frodsham’s beautiful Castle Park Arts Centre. Sunlight streamed in through two windows, wide enough to brighten the room without dazzling us. The writers were more conscious of time-frames than window-frames, as they pressed on for 5 minutes continuous writing of whatever and wherever their words would take them.

Free-writing throws out the net as wide as possible, permitting the pen to trawl together all our surface pre-occupations and even draw up insights from the deep. It’s an exercise where, as the author Ann Loomis puts it, the aim is to ’free your writing, not freeze it.’ Such an invitation to openness can open up rich seams of realisation. It amazes me how there is always something personally significant to notice when we re-read our words afterwards, allowing the page to talk back. ‘It doesn’t seem to matter what prompt you start with when you free-write,’ one writer noted, ‘you always end up going where the writing needs to take you.’

We went on to explore writing within a tighter frame, this time one of form. Haiku is a poetic form deriving from Classical Japanese tradition. It comprises 3 lines, the first and third each having 5 syllables, and the middle line having 7. Typically, its subject matter is drawn from Nature.

So we IMG_0476ventured out to the walled garden, with its symmetrical paths and boundaried flower-beds arranged round a central fountain. Here we wrote Haiku on subjects ranging from flowers to water-drops, clouds to grass, using the process to enhance our powers of observation and being present to the here and now.’ During these quiet moments, we found how a constraint of form challenged our creativity. Words had to be thoughtfully selected, with each precious one having to earn its place in the poem.

An Art Gallery is a wonderful setting for a writing workshop. After coffee we wandered among the paintings, choosing one that particularly attracted our attention. We wrote about what we saw within the frame, imagining ourselves as the artist, and then walked with words into the picture itself. I gave step by step prompts to move the writing forward in an imaginative journey of discovery that took us beyond the limits of the artist’s frame.

Structure and space were mixed, witheach prompt both a constraint and springboard for the next section of writing. One writer found the activity more interesting the more freedom there was to wander outside the frame. Another found herself wanting to know the overall plan, but having to engage with the unknown of directions revealed bit by bit.

This interplay of frames and freedom is not limited to creative writing exercises. Life brings challenges to find resourceful ways round givens in our path, as well as opportunities to create unique new patterns. In a culture that prizes the freedom to choose, we may overlook how a constraint might draw out creativity in a different way. Too much freedom can be paralysing. Constraint, like a rock channeling water in an unanticipated direction, can help maintain the creative current’s momentum. As one writer from another workshop observed about a similarly structured exercise,  ‘It felt great to have the yawning abyss of infinite choice taken away for a while!’

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  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

    Read more about Julia
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