Sue Guiney, founder and CEO of Writing Through, offers some words on what inspires her organisation and its vision of fostering education and self-esteem through creative writing.
‘I’m not creative.’ So many people have said that to me, and I’m always upset to hear it. They say it when I suggest they might want to write a poem or story themselves. They say it when I describe how I founded Writing Through, the international educational non-profit that uses creative writing to help develop thinking skills, language fluency and self-esteem. ‘Oh, I could never do what you’ve done,’ they say. ‘I’m not creative.’ But I say, ‘Don’t be silly. Of course you are creative. We all are.’ We all just need the skills to unlock our creative impulses and the courage to try. That is what Writing Through does.
Twelve years ago I travelled to Cambodia with my family, and I fell in love – with the people, their fascinating culture, their beautiful country despite their tragic history. That trip inspired me to write a novel – I can’t help it; that’s what I do – and the publication of that novel, which is called A Clash of Innocents, and is now the first in a trilogy of novels, encouraged me to bring the creative result of that inspiration back to the country which inspired me. To do that, I offered a modified version of a writing workshop I had been teaching in the UK to a shelter for street kids in Siem Reap. Twelve years later, that one workshop has now turned into an organisation reaching thousands of marginalized and at-risk people throughout three countries in Southeast Asia.
We teach our workshops throughout Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore, and we are moving towards expanding beyond the region, as well. And what is it that we do? We convince the people who participate in our specialized workshops that they are, indeed, creative, plus we give them the tools to access that creativity. We then give them the freedom to express their creative thoughts in words, in English, a language they have often felt was far beyond their reach.
How do we do this? Over the years we have created and honed our programme of workshops which take well-known, proven techniques and combines them in a way which encourages, empowers, and stimulates all within a fun and often silly environment. We do this through the magic of creative writing.
We at Writing Through know that experiencing the arts first-hand, and especially the literary arts of writing poetry and stories, is a key to developing thinking skills. So many of us have experienced the classroom as a place of fear. In our workshops, we take that fear away and replace it with fun and encouragement. So many of us have found ourselves in educational systems which are based on the rote repetition of information without having the chance to consider our own thoughts.
Instead of giving answers in our workshops, we ask questions, over and over, encouraging deeper, more creative responses. Too many of us live lives where the arts are a distant experience reserved for others somehow ‘better’ than us. Writing Through hands these people a ‘magic pencil’, a blank piece of paper and says, ‘Go.’ Try.’ ‘Yes, you can.’ Then we give our students a forum in which to stand up and say aloud, sometimes for the very first time, who they are and what they think. That experience is life changing, both for the writer and for the audience.
The word No is the death knell of creativity. To untap the creativity that is within all of us, we must first find the courage to say Yes. I have been personally lucky enough to have been given the time, the tools, and the encouragement to say Yes. In Writing Through our goal is to impart that gift of Yesto all our students, regardless of their age, nationality or life circumstances – and we aim to do it, one poem, one story at a time.