Since 2012, the Writers’ Collective of Canada (then known as Toronto Writers’ Collective or TWC) has been empowering members of underserved communities to find their voice and uncover their inner strength through safe, accessible and inclusive writing workshops.
The non-profit organization provides free ongoing creative writing workshops in underserved communities aimed at serving the homeless, the LGBTQ+ community, women at risk, and Indigenous communities, with mental health issues running through all sectors. Led by trained facilitators, the workshops encourage participants to exercise their creativity through a simple writing exercise. By following a number of unique principles, the workshops use practices such as timed writing and writing prompts to foster creativity by creating a positive, supportive space. Participants do not have to read what they write, and they are only met by positive and heartfelt feedback. The Collective also stresses the importance of deep listening and of confidentiality: participants’ stories are kept confidential and always treated as fiction.
After attending a live TWC workshop during The Power of the Arts National Forum a few years ago, Creery, a coordinator and facilitator in Ottawa, saw firsthand the impact of these guiding principles. “I did that session and I was blown away. What they are doing is seemingly incredibly simple, but a lot of thought went into it,” says Creery. “To me, a process where you are experiencing the deep humanity of others in a really protected space, where everyone is valued, where everyone is given unconditional positive regard, and where you’re really touching on the things that are fundamental to being human is very spiritual.”
Deeply touched by her experience, Creery was inspired to launch similar workshops in Ottawa. While completing an MA focused on the use of arts for mental health, Creery had already initiated arts workshops with Mood Disorders Ottawa, a volunteer-run organization that delivers peer support to people with mood disorders and their loved ones. For Creery, writing workshops were a natural addition to this programming. With the help of an Ottawa Community Foundation grant, she arranged for Writers’ Collective of Canada to provide facilitator training to members of Mood Disorders Ottawa, and soon began facilitating writing workshops through community health clinics.
“At one of the first groups we ran online through the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, a guy called in from Ghana.”
Once they went online, the workshops were met with near immediate enthusiasm in the community and beyond. “COVID has made this writing experience accessible to anyone anywhere in the world,” says Creery. “At one of the first groups we ran online through the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, a guy called in from Ghana.” Participants, encouraged by the feedback they received from each other, even held a recital where they had the opportunity to recite a few of their works to a wider audience. “People really enjoy what other people write, and they respond really positively, which has led some people to really bloom as writers,” says Creery.
Encouraged by this success, Creery is working with the Writers’ Collective to launch a number of new workshops in Ottawa, with facilitators from a variety of local organizations, including the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, the African, Caribbean and Black mental health group at the Somerset West Community Health Centre, Mood Disorders Ottawa, the Centretown Community Health Centre, Family Councils Ontario, and Les ateliers de l’élan. The workshops will be offered online through these organizations beginning in May. Facilitators from Les ateliers de l’élan and the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre will offer the collective’s first French writing workshops.
Creery encourages anyone to join upcoming online sessions whenever they can. She hopes that more people than ever will be able to experience the sense of connection and community that the workshops can offer. “Listening to people’s really heartfelt expressions of their own struggles and their own means of overcoming them is incredibly inspiring,” she says. “It feels like going into this little magic cave once a week and having this experience of connection with other people that is really hard to get at any time in the world we live in […] To me, it looks pretty amazing.”