On Teaching Writing with the Senses

Yesterday afternoon I was carrying around plastic bags on a hunt through my house. I was looking for interesting items with textures that would be inspiring. I grabbed objects like a velvet scarf, a woven coaster, a necklace with a cluster of beads that feel like fish scales and then I stuffed this random assortment into bags until I had ten of them.

Earlier, I had been going through my collection of sounds. I have a portable mic and every now and then I use it to record sounds that are interesting to me. I was trying to decide: was the sound I had recorded of a creek more interesting, or maybe the longer track I had of me crunching down a gravel road? Of course I already had a bunch of scents ready to go. I have a recycled sour cream tub full of bottles of different essential oils, so that was no problem. 

I stopped part way through organizing all of these materials and laughed at myself. What a weird thing to be doing on a Wednesday afternoon! This is what I enjoy about teaching creative writing workshops, that it has me approaching the world from new angles, that it would lead me to go around collecting textures, and smells and sounds from around my home to inspire the writing of others. I was preparing for a workshop for the Alexandra Writers Centre Society with exercises based around the four senses that sometimes get ignored in our writing. I wanted people to focus in on these senses, really notice the details that maybe they had overlooked before.

At the moment I’m sitting at the end of the table watching them all write. There’s a rustle of plastic as people reach their hands into bags to feel their objects and write descriptions of them. In a minute I’m going to ask them, “If this object was a character, how would you describe this person?” The air is heady with a mixture of the different scents I gave to them earlier. When given the prompt of describing one of the smells they had as a piece of music, one of my students told me he found his smell a bit off-putting and then went on to describe it as a Bob Dylan song (when Bob left folk music and went into his rock period), which we all had a laugh at. 

Some of my teaching props from this morning.

Some of my teaching props from this morning.

I often wish teaching creative writing was something I could do full-time, who knows, maybe I’ll be able to some day, but right now I feel lucky for each workshop that I get to teach. Starting out I would put a workshop out there and then have to cancel it because I didn’t have enough people registered. Slowly I was able to start having workshops where I had just enough students to run the class. This one today is completely full, which is pretty exciting. A room full of writers has a different energy to it, fingers typing or scribbling pens across paper. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather spend my morning.