Reflections on writing for fun, friendship and well-being

Gabrielle Barnby, writer, creative practitioner, Orkney, poetry, prose, Across the Silent Sea, Sparsile

    This summer I have been facilitating a set of six sessions for individuals developing self-management tools while living with long-term challenges in their health and wellbeing. The sessions have been funded through Voluntary Action Orkney.

    Today was our last session of the set of six. Our aim was to be co-creative.

    We begin with a simple prompt for some free writing. This sort of opening to a session really couldn’t be simpler. I repeat the now familiar phrases, ‘You cannot do anything wrong. You can do it your own way. Don’t worry if your words wander.’

    I find a connection when…

    We write together in silence for five minutes. These moments of free-flowing writing ground me into the session. Yes, I am keeping track of the time, but I also gift myself a moment to explore what I need to explore. Today I write about the warmth through the window above, in an Orkney summer there is light by the bucketful. ‘I feel the warmth from above even though it is filtered by clouds and glass, it falls on my skin and warms me, changes the mood of me physically, just as the food I’ve eaten rests within me and nourishes me.

    I have been facilitating this group for six weeks now. There is a core membership, and others have come and gone depending on other commitments and health. I feel we have come on a journey together and today I am excited and nervous to see how our group renga will come together. There is never any guarantee a prompt will be fruitful even if they have worked before , or I have seen them used successfully by other creatives. There’s a moment of risk.

    There is also mixed energy levels today and all the syllable counting and the guidance on imagery makes renga a challenge. It is usually enjoyable, but not everyone’s cup of tea. I start off with a haiku written a few weeks ago at the start of summer. Today it seems out of place, but I go with it.

    While collared doves call

    lost ball hides beneath new growth

    – rest, be curious

    We write for five minutes in silence then share. I have to concentrate hard to type in the group’s responses into the chat function in zoom, trying my best to get everything word for word as I hear it. Gradually we link and shift using each others lines as prompts for the next. It can be a wonderful experience with a group of likeminded friends. Here’s more info if you’re interested in having a go:

    I realise by the end of the session what a great group this is, living with sadness, with pain, with isolation yet my participants bring courage and set aside these things. When we are together they are open and vulnerable, they share experiences, they value each other’s words spoken and written. We respond to each other, support each other and look for positives. I have respect for these women and gratitude for their participation. I can feel a multiplication of hope.

    Working with the renga form feels very exposed to me. What if there is no next line? It requires discipline and is at the same time childishly simple and fiendishly difficult –like all art. One participant notes that it is satisfying to be able to allow another person to carry the burden of inspiration, to let go of ideas after holding them briefly and move on. Is that what the renga is teaching us today? That this pattern of link and shift inspires all our days, being able to hold and let go, to begin and end with confidence.

    At the end of the renga, just as we’re talking about how the sessions have gone overall I receive a satisfying piece of feedback, ‘I’m annoyed that I missed one!’ It makes me smile.

    When we conclude I see the piece has come out beautifully, with unexpected images, twists and turns, yet a sense of flow. I have that good, positive, tired feeling after creating something. I trust my co-creators who I have just farewelled feel the same.

    And just like that the call is over, and they are gone from the screen. I have the renga to transcribe..and now the garage calls to say the car is ready…how instantly the creative bubble is burst, and how precious is this time that we give ourselves and give each other.

    A couple of sessions back someone made the observation that, ‘We’ve got to know each other a lot more doing this than by other things.’

    It’s true: Words Work Well. It is a central belief I support and a phrase taken from Lapidus Scotland. If you are curious read more about their work here:  and read more about the sessions I offer here.

    Voluntary Action Orkney.

    Support my creative facilitation – buy a book or ebook!

    *NEW* Across the Silent Sea

                The Oystercatcher Girl        The House with the Lilac Shutters and other stories


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    Gabrielle Barnby