Is Haiku your Cup of Tea?
(An exploration of ‘creative pedagogy’ and its implications for inclusive online writer development).
These field notes contain snippets of conversations held between Bambo Soyinka (Bath Spa University, Paper Nations) and Amanda White (The Daily Haiku Project) regarding ‘support’ and ‘ease of connection’ when facilitating online creative writing projects. These are the second in a set of two accessible introductions to the research underlying ‘I Even Dream in Haiku’, which culminates five years of creative investigation led by Professor Bambo Soyinka into methodologies and pedagogies for ‘writer development’.
‘Come and have a cuppa…’
Many of us enjoy a good cup of tea! We love to gather, chat, share, listen, connect and reflect over hot beverages. What if haiku writing was that hot beverage? Gatherings create community, and meeting people face-to-face to share writing helps us to connect to others. But, when movement is restricted how can we rebuild systems for community and support within online writing groups?
2020 plunged us into a new and potentially unfamiliar way of being together. We discovered, through our work on The Great Margin’ and ‘I Even Dream in Haiku’, that writing online can be an easier way to connect than you may think. But, online environments are not always accessible and come with challenges that may prevent people from engaging. Can writing facilitators make these challenges easier through the conscious use of strategies that create an ‘ease of connection’, and through the use of creative pedagogy as an underlying ethos for our online writing groups? :
The Great Margin meets the The Daily Haiku Project
What is The Great Margin?
The Great Margin project has been active since the beginning of Lockdown, providing a creative space and framework for supporting isolated and marginalised writers. Against the backdrop of increased and widespread social need for connection and dialogue, The Great Margin joined forces with other organisations in early 2020 to run a series of flash events and initiatives to combat loneliness and provide spaces for writing. The Daily Haiku Project is one of our partners.
What is the Daily Haiku Project?
The Daily Haiku Project is a creative writing project initiated by Amanda White at the start of UK Lockdown in March 2020. She wanted to set up an accessible, engaging and fun creative activity with wellbeing benefits that used haiku and also visual imagery, offering contributors the chance to support their writing with photography, artwork and video. It sprang from Amanda’s creative practitioner work within education, healthcare, corporate and community settings, encouraging people to connect through creativity using an interdisciplinary ‘writing’ approach that incorporates visual, sensory and oral practices that are welcoming, playful and inclusive.
How Does the Partnership Work?
Throughout 2020, Bambo and Amanda have been meeting via Zoom and Google Hangouts to discuss The Writer’s Cycle and the creative pedagogy of writing facilitation. The focus of their discussion has typically been on the theme of ‘connection’ and support for isolated writers within online community groups. Amanda also participated in a workshop on inclusivity led by Bambo in collaboration with NAWE. Towards the end of 2020, Bambo created ‘I Only Dream In Haiku’ using haikus and crowd-sourced footage submitted by members of Amanda’s Daily Haiku group. ‘I Only Dream In Haiku’ focuses on a day in the life of a writer and examines inspirations and touchstones for creativity. Collectively, these films present many individual voices simultaneously in order to create a diverse call from the depths of the pandemic.
FAQ and arising definitions
(If you are just here for the conversation between Amanda and Bambo, then skip the FAQ and scroll down to the Sun video)
Bambo explains ...
What is pedagogy?
The original pedagogues were ancient Greeks whose role was to accompany children to school. Today, we use the term pedagogy to describe approaches to facilitating education. The term can be used to refer to both childhood and adult learning environments, and it is often used to describe ‘lifelong’ approaches to learning.
There are many different types of pedagogy. I am drawn to ‘creative pedagogies’ that nurture educators and learners alike, and that recognise learning as an end in itself. I am also drawn to approaches that emphasise the importance of being ‘alongside’ learners.
Sounds great, but is there a more accessible language for talking about this?
When I talk about pedagogy, I use the term ‘development’ (instead of ‘education’ or ‘learning’) to highlight my interest in sustainable and community-based approaches to growth. Instead of talking about ‘pedagogues’, I say ‘facilitators’. A facilitator is anyone who supports community based development – perhaps a teacher, tutor, educator, community worker, arts practitioner, editor, agent, publisher or a producer.
Finally, I tend to talk about ‘cultures’ or ‘ecologies’, rather than ‘pedagogical spaces’. I believe that development should be a sustainable, fulfilling and inclusive process through which individuals and whole communities can flourish and grow.
How do you conduct research into cultures of writer development? And, while we are here, can you explain what research is as I have never fully understood this?
Research is ‘a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared’ (2). I conduct ‘Creative Practice as Research’, which often entails collaboration with communities to co-produce insights about the development of inclusive cultures. It also involves an attempt to ask deeper questions about the meaning and purpose of art in culture and an element of self-analysis. In my work, the creative act is an experiment (whether or not the work itself is deemed ‘experimental’).
For the past five years, I’ve been leading a programme of creative research into inclusive cultures of writer development. I was responding to a lack of ‘shareable models’ identified by Arts Council England (ACE) in provision of creative writing services for young writers. To address this gap in knowledge, they established the Strategic Creative Writing in Schools Fund (CWIS). I applied for the CWIS funding, and my proposal was one of two projects to win the award.
In the first phase of the research, I ran action research projects with organisations in the south-west, and a wider national ‘call for evidence’ which was run online and through national conferences and workshops. In the initial stages of the project (2015-18), I consulted with over 700 individuals and organisations. In the second phase of the research (starting in 2018), I applied the same approach to the study of writer development within adult community settings, as there was evidence that there were similar challenges and gaps in knowledge.
So are you a facilitator yourself, or do you just conduct research into facilitators?
I am both. Apart from a small handful of PhD students, I don’t work directly with writers anymore. Instead, as a researcher, I tend to ‘accompany’ writer facilitators (who are often, but not always, writers themselves). So, I am a researcher, a writer, a facilitator and a creative practitioner. However, I see this as a process, not as four separate roles.
So what did your research produce? And how did you go about sharing it?
The Writer’s Cycle is the model for writer development that has emerged from my research. It is an empirically-based cyclical model describing contexts through which writers practise lifelong habits of writing and exploring. The four key contexts or ‘themes’ are Discovery, Connection, Craft and Transformation. Our research reveals that educators (consciously or unconsciously) build systems of support for writers around these themes. The idea is to distil this knowledge in order to make these ‘intuitive’ processes more explicit, tangible and thus more accessible.
The Writer’s Cycle lays out a series of adaptable and therefore widely applicable and transferable maps. The Cycle recognises the writer as an author of transformation, and values writing as an artistic process that can bring about personal, cultural and societal shifts. It also highlights the role that creative writing plays in re-envisaging cultural life and points towards innovative approaches that may open up ways to develop writing ecologies that are truly ‘for all’.
As a ‘pedagogy’, The Writer’s Cycle is a useful resource to share with facilitators at the start of a developmental process. Crucially, I’ve also used The Writer’s Cycle to inform and reflect on further iterations of my own research. I used it to design the second phase of my research, and it’s become a key starting point for discussion when I want to collaborate. For example, the ideas in The Writer’s Cycle informed my approach to The Great Margin, which I conceived as a dynamic ‘writing ecology’ (a ‘pedagogical space’) through which writer facilitators could come together to rapidly respond to the support needs of isolated writers during lockdown.
So, The Writer’s Cycle is more than just a product of your research and a new pedagogy. It’s also a process, and a methodology for collaborative creative writing practice?
Absolutely! Before I launched The Great Margin, I took The Writer’s Cycle on tour to generate discussion around the concept of ‘Writing for All’ which underpinned The Great Margin, and these discussions helped me to find new partners, and build engagement in the project. Since 2018, we’ve used The Writer’s Cycle as a methodology for co-developing new frameworks and ecologies, and through this process we have engaged with over 30,000 individuals. (2)
This process is still ongoing. All of the facilitators that I work alongside help me to refine and improve future iterations of The Writer’s Cycle. My conversation with Amanda about The Writer’s Cycle, and with other groundbreaking facilitators like her, is a part of my process of investigation.
Bambo sips tea …
I’ve already introduced my creative practice and my role, but I’m keen to know more about you. How would you describe yourself, and your relationship to the Writer’s Cycle?’
‘I see myself within The Writer’s Cycle as a practitioner. The Writer’s Cycle has encouraged me to reflect on my practice as a facilitator, and the ethos behind it.’
‘For me, The Writer’s Cycle and our conversations have encouraged me to think about the process behind my approach. For me it’s all about format: how to allow people to explore, to discover, to get into something deeper, and to approach it on different levels.’
Questions on Practice and Inclusivity
‘Bambo Sips Tea’
‘Thinking about our previous conversations, what strikes me is that your own pedagogy is all about connection.’
‘Amanda Dunks biscuit’
‘Definitely, yes. It’s about “ease of connection”. So when I looked at the (my) habits, and then drilled down further, I found myself asking:
“How easy is that going to be for people to access the group? Will it be something they understand before they get involved in it?”I ask these questions before I think formally about writing.’
‘The Daily Haiku is a collective of writers, or perhaps a collective of potential writers who are swimming around in that orbit. The aim is to be as open to as many people as possible, so my approach is all about attracting people to get involved.
From the initial format of wanting to offer a “daily” haiku writing opportunity, supported if participants wanted to with visual material, the group began to evolve from within the community itself through discussion and by setting polls to decide on daily themes, but later weekly ones, impromptu themes, favourite poets, favourite themes… By asking the community what they want has created a very democratic and inclusive space that firmly establishes my role as a facilitator and administrator responding to needs rather than dictating them. Very quickly into the group’s development new threads emerged that also sprang from members’ discussions eg, asking to set up a renga on a Friday which involves members responding to each other sequentially taking the last line of the previous haiku and carrying it on. Our record has been 795 haiku. This thread also then prompted some other members asking for a slower renga where everyone votes on a first line that is used throughout the evening to enable people to delve into ideas in a deeper and more considered way within initially specific time periods for posting. Two weekend threads have been initiated, one run by Sébastien Revon, who, bi-weekly, produces a famous haiku discussion and in between a haiga takes place where members respond to an image (again voted on) and write haiku that relates to that image, ideally incorporating the image or producing a new one. The combination of voting and discussion with the solid format of a daily and weekly theme has established high engagement and a diverse membership not only from around the world but in terms of established writers, those new to writing and others returning to creativity. The visual element has been key in widening accessibility to the writing process. The group is currently 3700+ members. COVID was both an impetus for starting the group and also a driver for its delivery being online. It continues to thrive in response to the needs of the community.’
‘Coffee or herbal tea?’... Is writing for everyone?'
‘Amanda stirs teaspoon…’
‘For some people, if you say writing, they will immediately say, “Oh, that's not for me.” But it could be for them. So I try to put it in a different way, as a space where people can explore, connect, and find other ways to participate.
If you talk too much about writing when you're trying to appeal to as many people as possible, and indeed when you are trying to appeal to people who might never have written before, then it’s going to be a struggle to get people engaged at the beginning of any project. The aim is to attract as many people as possible, and not to put people off.’
Creative writing is cited by many writers as an isolated activity – disconnected from other cultural/arts activities. But, what if we looked at writing differently - i.e. as a cultural activity that needs structured networks of support in order to thrive? Support for writers is frequently discussed, acknowledged as a good thing, yet poorly understood. How can we create cultures of support that enable people to connect?
‘I’m especially keen to learn about structures of support for people who might have tried writing in the past, but who've been put off it, perhaps at school, or perhaps by being told they can't write or draw or whatever. It’s about helping people to discover the skills and find the tools and creativity that works for them. Maybe by writing through art or video or film.
It just shows the extent to which the Writer's Cycle is not a linear process. Some people start The Writer’s Cycle with the tools, the notebook. But what I like about your approach is that it begins with the connection theme.
Your practice is about developing a form at that makes connection as easy as possible.’
So for me the key question is:
How can writing groups such as the Daily Haiku support people to connect?
‘Amanda sips tea…’
‘Definitely, yes connection, because connection is about giving people a chance to be valued as themselves. So when, it’s allowing people to connect, but it's also about being able to connect back because it's about relationships.
When you set up a group it’s about creating that sense, not just an exciting space but nurturing a safe space where people are relating to each other. Once the connection is there, the content starts to emerge.’
‘So what we are saying is that there are different ways to connect. For example, feeling connected to a community, connecting to your emotions, or feeling connected to nature.’
‘Yes, so somebody might make comments on someone else’s haiku, perhaps about how it relates to their own experience. And through that comment, someone else will respond, “Oh, I've been through that too.” Or, “That reminds me of when I used to …” It’s about slowly getting to know someone so that you can understand their point of view. And through the process of engaging they start to understand things that they’re interested in writing about.’
Everyone is invited…
‘I see The Writer’s Cycle (and associated frameworks such as Dare to Write? and The Great Margin) as an invitation to explore the art of writing. My core focus is on approaches to writing that are inclusive, playful and exploratory. The notion of writing as ‘an invitation’ is important to this ethos. But, as an immersive story developer, I’m also interested in how we structure experiences in order to create an atmosphere of inclusivity of support. Invitations, in this respect, have a dramaturgical function (i.e. they are a design feature of the experience).
Can you tell us a little bit more about how The Daily Haiku is structured as an invitational experience?’
‘So, yes it’s not just about making a cup of tea. It’s about the invitation as well. You want people to show up, the format has always got to be welcoming.
The way I do it is by asking lots of questions. In the group I get people voting for the themes every day and I try to get people involved in an ongoing conversation.
When you ask someone a question, they’re pleased to have been asked. People want to be listened to. It’s an interaction and, as you say, a pattern of question and answer. It builds confidence in people and encourages them to express themselves.
For example, if someone says, “Wow, I've never seen it like that,” I find that really interesting. Let’s explore that further. Then, other people in the group chip in and it becomes an organic process.
I'm always thinking about the person who is in the virtual room, especially the one who is the least confident. It's a bit like being a teacher. My philosophy is, don’t select the kids you think are the brightest. They're going to engage in creative writing. I want everyone to engage. I always say whenever I go to school, I'm not doing just a few kids. It's got to be everyone or no one.’
Connection in an Online Community vs Online Competitions – Ready, set, … ‘DRINK TEA’
‘I want to delve a little deeper into the concept of ‘invitation’’ as central to your approach. There’s a big trend at the minute online of setting ‘challenges’ – for example, ‘Write a book in a Month’ or write 1000 words in 5 days. I’m not against this approach – there are times when we have framed some of our activities as a ‘challenge’ and we have partnered with people who have run writing challenges. But an invitation is subtly different from a challenge. How would you describe that difference?’
‘Well, an invitation is, by nature, more inclusive, it's a soft power term. You're inviting someone to get involved, and you're also giving them the chance to say, No,it's fine. Then it becomes a conversation.
I feel like a challenge is very hierarchical, in the sense that maybe people would feel they've already got to have some skills to meet the challenge. There is an inbuilt set of connotations with a challenge, it’s competitive. So there's a sort of judgment.’
‘With an invitation you're not going to judge something’
‘If it was a challenge to come and have a cup of tea, they might feel like they had to have 10 cups and drink them as fast as possible!
Instead, the cup of tea is an invitation. Yes, if we think of it like a tea party and an invitation to come around to tea. Hopefully to think, that sounds like I'm going to meet some people. I might not like those people, but it's definitely not a competitive thing is it? If the tea party was a challenge, it'd be more like a Bake Off! Or drink the biggest cup of tea ever!
Challenges have their place. Again, if somebody indicates or if a group indicated they wanted to have a challenge, that's a whole different ball game. If you established a supportive space, and people are starting to feel comfortable enough to take on something new such as a challenge, then that’s great!
Sometimes in the group we have a pick and mix day, where we allow people to choose, say, any of the themes or even a new one of their own. The only proviso is that they've only got 10 minutes to write. The idea is to get away from overthinking. Like speed dating. We mix up creative approaches to encourage people who might want to do something quite quickly. This works for some people, whereas there might be people who are students or retired who have more time, may want to go deeper into it.
So it's about showing different approaches, and challenges have their place but if the overall group was billed as a challenge, they would worry about that. I think that any creative activity, even for experienced writers, comes with a lot of doubt. We all ask ourselves questions about the quality of what we’ve written, even if it’s just a post. There’s a lot of anxiety associated with being a writer. It’s not always fun. There are lots of highs and lows.’
‘Bambo chooses a biscuit…’
‘I think you're absolutely right, the best way to encourage inclusivity is to start with an invitation to foster a sense of welcome, support and community. Then, if some people in that community want to try something different, such a challenge, that’s fine.
So, to conclude what we are saying here - if your intention is to create an inclusive space, then start with the invitation. But, if somebody in the group asks to do a challenge, then that's, that's different. A lot of this comes down to personality. I’ve always hated exams and I’m not big on awards, but some people find the extra pressure that comes with challenges motivational and that’s OK.
The Writer’s Cycle is not about presenting writer facilitators with hard and fast rules. If a group leader is running a project to help people meet deadlines (for example, if the group is about working towards a publication) then it makes sense to start with a challenge. But, if the purpose is to foster a culture of ease then it can be counterproductive to start to start with a challenge.’
On the Role of Writing Facilitators …
The Writer’s Cycle emphasises the importance of contributions made by ‘writer facilitators’ who are often authors themselves. Writer facilitators often operate independently and outside of traditional institutional contexts. Through an emphasis on the ever-shifting perspectives and life circumstances of writers, the aim of The Writer’s Cycle is to stimulate innovations in the design and delivery of creative writing provision for participants usually excluded from the creative arts. Writer facilitators are key to this innovation. So, our shared goal is to co-develop new knowledge about how to shift practices from formal education settings (for example, schools, colleges and universities) to community settings.
‘The Writer’s Cycle is about the process of writing but it is also about the process of being a writer facilitator. Can you say a bit more about your approach?
For example, how do you facilitate the right atmosphere that’s conducive to connection and a supportive space?’
‘The Writer’s Cycle is about the process of writing but it is also about the process of being a writer facilitator. Can you say a bit more about your approach?
For example, how do you facilitate the right atmosphere that's conducive to connection and a supportive space?’
‘I think it's about listening and especially in terms of the dynamic membership that we have, because we've got members joining the Haiku Project every day.
I have a set blurb that I give members as a rundown, and then once we've got the core, writing a haiku every day becomes like a workout if you like, if that's what you want.
That's a bit like the writer cycle, I guess all these different strands relate. The daily haiku would be the centre of our writing activity, and then the weekly haiku with a theme, but then the different orbits that we've created at points in the process, people can visit. So we've got our famous haiku craft in strand.
We’ve also set up a Facebook page linked to our group that lists resources posted from other groups, I'm sharing wider knowledge for those people who want to tap into it, but it's not being thrust on people, it's there for people to access, and I will signpost people to it. But it's not seen as if you don't do this, you're not a fully paid up member kind of approach.
Having something to work towards as well is important. This can give validation and a chance for authorship, if people want it. It’s a chance to see yes, you are a writer, or an artist and to know your work is valued, and you are valued.
It goes hand in hand with feeling confident to put thoughts into either a video or record yourself or writing more formally.
So when I asked for people to submit to the film, it was a chance for those people who wanted to and of course, not everybody did, to think, wow. And again, it's very invitational, isn't it?
The group also provides space for feedback, and a sense of community.
The film is a celebration of this..
It’s a very simple idea, really, I just wanted to give people the opportunity to hear each other. And there’s lots of internal conversations developing during that process, which I think really solidified quite a core group of people. They enjoyed that interaction between sending in the work. And in that process, the whole thing when it was a really great, great project. And when the final sort of film came out that was just a lovely thing that brought people together. But then the day to day work still carries on.’
An Online Writing World
‘Zoom Tea for two?
Through one screen,
‘In 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I had to rapidly rethink my approach to The Great Margin in order to meet the needs of people facing a loss of access to cultural provision during the global crisis. My reworked project placed a greater emphasis on creating new knowledge and practices for shifting support from in-person writing groups to initiatives that could be conducted online, with the aim of informing writing facilitators who were navigating the challenges of providing support for people constrained and displaced by social distancing.
Can you tell me a little bit more about how you found that first shift into the online environment? From a pedagogic point of view, what did you gain and what and what did you lose?’
‘For me, the online world has opened up a whole new area of possibilities. It opens up different ways into writing and gives more room for the exploratory phase. For example, through visual means because a lot of people are visual thinkers.
We have a few visual artists and thinkers on the Daily Haiku. They connect with people by taking a photograph or doing a painting. They can get involved with writing through that, and it isn't quite so scary.
We're living in a time where the notion that all writers need to use a pen and paper is shifting. As you say in The Writer’s Cycle, there are all sorts of tools through which you can ‘write’. It's shifting in an exciting way, which I think means that things are becoming more engaging.’
‘What about Facebook? Did that pose any particular challenges?’
‘Bear in mind, I didn't know anything about Facebook until the beginning of lockdown. I had Facebook but didn’t really use it, only to keep in touch with a few friends living abroad and I was pretty negative about the whole experience of Facebook.
One of the first problems that we had was with something called badges, which Facebook added automatically. I eventually switched these off. And so it was really interesting, because, again, one of the members said, What are these badges? And I don't like them. We had this whole discussion in the group that “Yeah, they're a bit weird, aren't they,” you know, things that are competitions, doctrine, you know, Star contributors, and all of these kinds of things. And of course, Facebook do it so that there's more engagement, or there's an incentivizing element to it.
I realised, again, that if you judge or make it a challenge, you know, it's meant to be a conversation starter, or it’s supposed to motivate people to want to get more badges. It actually was having the opposite effect. Because people don't really want to be judged like that, they want a much more genuine and personal conversation about someone, maybe engaging in the way that involves discussing how they chose their haiku or image or both? Not by imposing a corporate identity, you know?
So we were able to switch badges off and it was fantastic. I'm just really interested in some of the practicalities behind it.
For me, it’s all about setting up the atmosphere of the group. So
always trusting the group to moderate that themselves, or either trusting or facilitating the group to respond to that.
I'm definitely learning as I go along.
I hadn't realised when I first set up the group, that most groups have really strict guidelines printed up about how to be on the group, and how to respond. And also, when people have a request to join you, ways to answer.
Often, I mean, they're just kind of tick-box questions like, why do you want to join. Again, it's a bit prescriptive. I didn’t set this up because I didn’t know that you were supposed to. But it was a good thing that I didn’t as it gave the group a chance to organically create their own guidelines - like not wanting to be elitist. I would always say, ”This is why I set up the group with this ethos behind it” and then people would say ”Yes, that's what we love about it.”
But again, it was in a sense of me not being a top-down thing, it was a collaborative approach that people understand. And that was really interesting. Lots of people have said, this is such a friendly, supportive group and that's really important to me.
So part of that whole invitational, welcoming aspect - I've done some coaching, mentoring classes, and I know a little bit about that. So I've got some formal qualifications, but it is quite a challenging area. As a facilitator, you are often dealing with people who've been through a lot. And that's definitely something that comes up when people start opening up about their feelings in their writing.”
Becoming a writer/ author- ‘To drink or not to drink’.
‘My research aims to identify the implicit processes of writing so as to make them more visible, and thus accessible.
One thing that I’ve noticed through this research is that some people feel very confident about calling themselves “authors”; whilst others are shy about calling themselves even “writers”.
There are, also, some gatekeepers in the industry that feel that you have to earn your right to become an “author”.
The Writer’s Cycle recognises the multiple identities and habits of new and emerging writers. Some people engage with writing simply to develop their wellbeing and to connect. Other people have an explicit goal – for example, they may want to become a published author.
Through this research, I’ve come to believe that you can be a “writer” or “author” even if you don’t want to “get a book deal” or “get published”.
It’s no different to someone saying that they are a “runner” even if they have no desire to compete in the Olympics.
That said, I do think that there is a subtle difference between being a writer and an author. It’s something to do with a sense of confidence when speaking and presenting your words to others. What is your take on what The Writer’s Cycle has to say about this …?’
‘It's philosophical; “I think, therefore I am”.
So while I am writing, I am a writer…
or while I am sharing in some kind of way, even if it's speaking it to a friend or showing it to someone you know.
There's an authorship.
I am an author.
So it's sort of joining up those dots of realising that it's all part of the process.
Yes , one of the findings of our research is that writing is performative. One of the early findings of our research was that the approaches described in The Writer’s Cycle increased participants’ confidence. This is hugely significant especially in the light of another early finding – that when people start to feel confident they are more likely to keep on writing and say that they are a writer. So, confidence builds resilience and identity.
Crucially – this research is not about the ‘psychology’ of writing and being a writer; it’s about the social structures that support writing habits and identities. The research provides a counterpoint to the neo-liberal view that confidence is something that is purely the responsibility of the individual; and it calls into question the commonly held assumption that confidence is the product of an innate ‘talent’ or ‘ability’. Instead, the research suggests that confidence and resilience are social outcomes of a supportive and connected community.
This is important because it means that being a facilitator is not just about helping people to craft beautiful words. This is why we call it a Writer Development Cycle; and not a Writing Development Cycle.
Do you know, for me, it's very much about getting people experiencing and doing something.
And it's through doing, it's through the drinking of the tea, that you realise what you're doing.
One of the things that I like about The Writer’s Cycle is that you can take off the labels and just look at it almost like a mind floating into the sea, and then you can put your own labels on it.’
We do often share The Writer’s Cycle without labels to emphasise the fact that there are many different ways to start writing and be a writer. To me writing is simply a way of recording ideas and observations, so that you can come back to them at a later time and reshape them into something new. For centuries the easiest way to do that was with pen and paper; but today there are many other accessible ways to capture perceptions and rearrange them.
‘Which leads us nicely onto the other themes of the Writer's Cycle. We’ve mainly focused on the theme of connection, but it would be good to briefly touch on the other themes (Discovery, Craft and Transformation).’
‘I love the discovery theme, it is very much writing before you are writing. It’s about writing being the very kind of loose sense of the word. It’s about writing in a messy way, without any sense of feeling you need to shape it or structure It’s about playing.’
Yes, but at some point you do need to start adding structure – or developing a craft. So with this in mind. What is the difference between discovery and craft?’
‘I love the idea of just messy play. Let's worry not, we're going to just explore. We are inspired by others, and we are all inspired (laughing). It's very playful. But at some point you might say, I've played a lot with this and actually I want to take it further. At this point you might want to think more deeply about craft, or you might want to understand more about how we write haiku.
The Writer’s Cycle is very affirming as a model, the journey that our members have gone through is completely aligned with the one that you've come up with. Some people are writers for a day. Others have gone on to publish pamphlets. It's all very fluid.’
‘Within The Writer’s Cycle transformation can be about the self, the person. Or it can be about the transformation of the work itself, for example taking the work into another space through showcasing it or making a film. But, it can be about wider cultural and group transformations. Can you say a little bit more about which of these types of transformation are important to you?’’
‘Transformation is hugely important.
I think, if you're coming from an open ethos of wanting to enable, to create a culture of writing for all and, understanding how to do that, then this is something that I built into the whole process. There is an element of being transformed on different levels within that experience, whether it's simply being transformed by being someone who enjoys reading the haiku, and it brightens their day and you don't feel like you want to write them yourself. Or, like one of our members, who'd never written haiku before, and now runs her own poetry blog. So the transformation for her has been so amazing, and has come about by contributing on a daily basis. When you have an opportunity to do something regularly, it starts to become part of your way of being. It demystifies.
I know these things are really empowering for people.
I think that listening is essential to transformation. It goes hand in hand with establishing that invitational, safe, nurturing, supportive ethos in the group. I’ve been amazed at how this has happened holistically, with some governance. It’s all about listening as a facilitator. It’s a very positive way of working, being ready to explore further ideas that members contribute, and being open to that. It's also just about being helpful, and being a guiding hand.
That’s really important, isn't it, because it's not a curriculum, and you’re not sitting an exam, it’s an ongoing organic approach to learning. For me, it's about building confidence. If I'm thinking really about it. It’s about self-confidence. There is a wellbeing aspect to the group. It goes hand in hand with feeling confident, to put thoughts into either a video or record yourself or writing more formally.’
Habit, Rituals and Rhythms
‘Habits are another important theme in The Writer’s Cycle. But one of the things that concern me about the habits aspect of what I’ve introduced in The Writer’s Cycle is that they may be misunderstood. They can be framed or understood as that’s entirely individualistic, which is not my intention.
To what extent do habits, rhythms and rituals feature in The Daily Haiku, or in your approach to facilitation?’
‘I think that habits and rhythms are about becoming comfortable with a process.
When you have a habit, there's an element, isn't there, of comfort in it.
This is achieved again, through invitation and through creating a space that's nurturing, safe and supportive.
It’s also important that you don't have to stick to one kind of rhythm. I think if you've got a format that allows people to dip out, to say this is what I like, I don't like this, then you're going to be able to reach out to more people, than if it's too rigid as in this is the only way you can engage in this group.
Again, it’s a really fluid approach.
But I guess, as we’ve discussed, there’s an irony because there's a lot of structure there. And sometimes, people don't want it to be so fluid. They like to know what they're doing.’
‘In the Writer’s Cycle we use “touchstones” or “prompts’’ as an easy route into The Writer’s Cycle. Can you tell us more about your approach here?’
‘I do a lot of work with touchstones, the first thing that people would see when they come into a workshop with me would be a table full of stuff. And even before we start a session, they’ll be naturally picking things up or looking at them. And I won't say anything, I'll just say, Oh, that's interesting. And then we'll sit down.
And I'll say, well pick an object and just talk about why you picked it. And so people would, probably, pick something that meant something to them in some way.
It’s all about those little moments that take us into a different headspace and way of seeing which I think... creativity has been put into a place that it's somehow a separate thing that we have to access, whereas it is actually always there. We just need to find ways to open it because it's not always promoted as a good feeling. You know, we're kind of made to feel that being creative is a bit of a cop out sometimes. But it's much more than that.’
‘I'm so glad you’ve introduced the idea of focusing on the small things. Because it brings to mind the value of the haiku as a form in itself. I think that focusing on small things is important during moments of crisis, because it gives you something to anchor yourself to. Given everything you've said, why do you think haiku is so popular at the minute?’
It's the cup of tea, you're drinking a haiku. It's something people understand, you can give them some guidelines, even though haiku is definitely more if you get into it.
So you can join in, you've got a bit of a framework, you know how it works, because it's the same every day. Other people are doing it. And of course other people do post longer things.
But essentially, it's a quick thing to do. Or you can take a photo and think, right, I'm going to put the haiku into that. I think it's fitting it into something that helps people especially and I've heard this from people who've never written in haiku before, because again, it's an invitation to do a puzzle. It's not an invitation, initially, to write a poem, or even a haiku, you were going, look, this is the format, what can you make work within this with a few words.
You don’t have to work too hard with haiku, all of that grammar stuff doesn't matter.
It can matter if you want to get more into it. But at an entry level, none of that matters.
You can have your messy play, play around with ideas.’
‘I suppose it's like a mini version of it's a poetic Twitter or TikTok, really, because there is a limit on how many words and through the syllable counts.’
Yes, it really focuses the mind. And it's very easy to achieve. So anything that's difficult to do, will only be done by those people ready, very confident and accomplished writers.
You've got other people sort of just loving haiku. A few people said that they think about haiku when they wake up in the morning. You know, I Even Dream in Haiku.’
Celebrating the Communitea...
A key part of the collaborative process is contributing to a wider community network of writing organizations and individuals who share a similar ethos of connection and inclusivity to those explored in The Writer's Cycle.
Below are just a few of the Writing Educators we have partnered with before and over lockdown who are doing similar work facilitating and supporting online writing through the pandemic.
The writers facilitators listed below have partnered with us through our CPD programme (the producer’s scheme) which is one of our vehicles for knowledge and research exchange.
Dialect is a new initiative headed up by JLM Morton. It aims to create an inclusive environment for rural writers in the South West who may ordinarily find themselves isolated or with scarce opportunities. It offers writers the opportunity to connect with their community and supports talent development through workshops and events.
‘Dialect is all about writers and work that speaks from the edges of things, outside mainstream literary culture. There's long been a big gap to fall through for writers living on the margins and Dialect hopes to close it.’
Support Offered: Workshops, writers’ groups and membership scheme, include mentoring sessions, a podcast, and Dialect literary magazine.
JLM Morton is a poet and hybrid writer and Associate Producer for Paper Nations (Bath Spa Uni) and co-founder of The Outposted Project; she’s currently getting Dialect off the ground, a new initiative to support writers in rural Gloucestershire. J is part of Paper Nation’s producers scheme.
MumWrite, run by Nikki Dudley, ‘is a community of mums who write short fiction and poetry, with a particular focus on experimental and new writing techniques. The programme is largely online, which breaks geographical barriers and brings mums from all around the UK and elsewhere together.’
‘As soon as lockdown set in, childcare became a never-ending cycle of thinking up amazing activities, preparing meals, constant washing and cleaning, a million cups of tea, and amidst all that, attempting to do some work and actually write something down that wasn’t a shopping list or an activity idea!’
Support Offered: Mentoring and feedback one-to-ones. Workshops and a supportive group to help mum writers to share and collaborate; A kick start after being a stay-at-home mum for a long time; Not being able to normally afford such an opportunity.
Nikki Dudley is managing editor of streetcake and also runs the streetcake prize and is the creator of Mumwrite.
Novel Nights is an organisation headed up by Grace Palmer, supporting writers in learning about the professional writing industry.
‘I wanted to create an event so writers could learn about the publishing industry, break through with their novels and provide a writers’ showcase for novelists to share their writing.’ Grace Palmer
Support Offered: Virtual cafe, Masterclasses, Online independent bookstore, Book review club
Grace Palmer directs and runs Novel Nights, interviewing authors and agents, and curating the events programme. Running since 2013, Novel Nights used to host live events in Bristol, Bath and Exeter. They now run digital events.
‘Alison Powell believes that everyone has the right to express themselves through writing and runs sessions that support new and experienced writers to find and hone their voice. She will do her very best to ensure that you find the support you need to make your writing work.’
‘The First Rule of WriteClub
In 2016, I set up WriteClub with the intention of creating a space for writers and non-writers to come and enjoy the process of putting pen to paper and setting words free. Some people never write a thing because they’re terrified of “getting it wrong” – fearful of putting commas where they don’t belong, or of using spelling that is more inventive than standard. WriteClub says to hell with all of that. Instead I offer a safe and supportive environment where creative freedom reigns.’
Support Offered: Workshops, Courses, Masterclasses, Open Mic parties, One to ones
Alison Powell has run creativity workshops at universities, schools and festivals around the world. She is an award-winning writer with work published in various anthologies and magazines, holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa and is a Master Practitioner of NLP and coaching.
‘The Write Place is a not-for-profit community group for writers who would otherwise procrastinate on their own at home, or go slowly mad writing alone; a distraction-free writers’ refuge where everyone focuses on their own work in companionable silence, and productivity flows!’
Support Offered: Writing retreats, Writing Competitions and tips, Desk space for writing
Kate McEwan has played with words most of her working life as a copywriter, proofreader, freelance writer, author of an historical guide called Ealing Walkabout, a newspaper sub-editor and graphic designer. Kate graduated from the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.
Trowbridge Stanza is a monthly poetry group, a Poetry Society Stanza, which meets every first Saturday (first Saturday of each month, 2-4pm) at Drawing Projects UK, Bridge House, Trowbridge. Poetry Society Stanzas are poetry groups run voluntarily by members of The Poetry Society.
‘Trowbridge Stanza is a friendly, inclusive group, a mixture of published and unpublished poets. We read and talk about contemporary poetry, read and comment on each other’s work in progress, organise open-mic events and guest readers, and we perform our work at different venues.’
Support Offered: A Poetry Group, Newsletter, online events.
If you would like more information about joining our group, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also sign up for a monthly newsletter https://tinyletter.com/JosephineCorcoran
These field notes provide a light, accessible introduction to the context for my research. The final list of writer facilitators is just a snapshot of some of the people who I have mentored, partnered with or worked alongside as part of the Great Margin, and in the lead up to the release of 'I Even Dream in Haiku'. For more extensive contextual notes, case studies , vignettes and analysis take a look at our full research collection in BathSPAdata.
The definition of research as a 'process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared', stated at the top of this document comes from the REF, one of the official bodies for monitoring research.