A new opportunity on campus allows students to hone their creative writing skills. On Wednesdays at 4 p.m., through the month of April, a group met in the Hillsdale College Health and Wellness Center to go through the creative process.
The group, brought to Hillsdale by Kaitlyn Zellner, a counselor at the Health and Wellness Center, and Jill Barnum, mother of Emily Barnum ’18, uses the Amherst Writers and Artists technique.
“We start out with a prompt,” Zellner said. “Usually it’s a poem or prompt on a particular topic.”
The group has used work by Shel Silverstein, as well as Mary Oliver, both decorated poets.
After the poem is introduced, each participant has 15 minutes to write.
“It can be a poem, journal entry, vignette, or short prose,” Barnum said. “It’s very fresh and very impromptu.”
When time is called, people take turns sharing their work and giving helpful feedback to others.
“As facilitators, we hone our responses so they’re positive,” Barnum said. “Some workshops go at the writer hard and tell the writer what they need to do differently. In this case, it’s so fresh, coming out of the heart. There’s always an option not to share.”
The feedback orients itself around three points: what’s strong, what works, and what sticks with the listener.
“The writer can share what they’re writing and talk about the creative intent of their piece,” Zellner said. “People may be uncomfortable, but generally, people become comfortable enough to open up.”
Once everyone has had a chance to share their work and receive feedback, the group concludes usually after about an hour.
The technique was developed by Pat Schneider, author of “Writing Alone and with Others.”
“Schneider wanted writers to find their voice,” Barnum said. “When you find your voice, you find confidence, healing, and identity. There’s something healing about getting positive feedback for something that came right out of your heart, out of your soul, out of your mind.”
Zellner acknowledged that some students may have misconceptions about the group.
“The group is primarily creative,” Zellner said. “Our goal is to help people process experiences and also have a creative outlet.”
Barnum sees value in the group as a collection of artists.
“It’s not a self-help group, and it’s not a therapy group. It’s a group of artists,” Barnum said. “The art is writing and the feedback is positive, but it happens to be therapeutic.”
The group offers a unique opportunity for Hillsdale College’s aspiring writers.
“I think writing in community in that way could be therapeutic, but it’s also just writing and receiving feedback,” Emily Barnum ‘18, who attended twice, said. “Although it’s offered through the health center, it’s been advertised through SAB and isn’t aimed towards a demographic struggling with any particular issue.”