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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Creative writing volunteers help get juices flowing

It’s Wednesday night. Any Wednesday – whether in the dead of the Canadian winter or the stifling summer heat, the Clients' Library at the Queen Street site of CAMH is bright and cheerful. The Loose Pages writing group has gathered once again.

Creative writing volunteers
(L to R) Loose Pages volunteers Melissa, Jeannine and Lindsay

The group was founded in January 2010 by a volunteer named Polly. Unfortunately, Polly’s work commitments eventually prevented her from continuing in the library, but with the support of past and current volunteers – Jeannine, Alex, Melissa and Lindsay – the group has continued and flourished.

This is how a typical evening goes. About six people are sitting around a long, rectangular table, laughing and sharing anecdotes about their adventures throughout the previous week. Each of these people is different; each brings a completely unique set of experiences to the group. But all share one feature in common: the desire to express themselves through the written word. After a few minutes, Lloyd – a writer who earns his living by selling his self-published poetry chapbook at various events around Toronto – urges us to call the meeting to order. “We should probably get started,” he says. One of the volunteers pulls out a large plastic bin labelled “Writing Group” and sets it on the table. The group members open it and take out pens, pencils and loose leaf paper. Then, they announce a writing prompt. It might be anything from "write about a tradition that's meaningful to you" to "write a piece inspired by a work of art." After four years they've gone through a lot of writing prompts, but somehow they always manage to find new ones.

At this point the room goes silent. Some group members begin writing immediately, others sit quietly, waiting for a flash of inspiration to confront the whiteness of the page. Some members are avid, experienced writers; others swear it’s been years since they last picked up a pen. But within minutes, all pens and pencils are moving, all eyes are focused in concentration on the page as memories, experiences, impressions, visions and dreams are transformed into words.

After 30 or 40 minutes, they put their pens down. Proceeding in a circle, they take turns and share their work. While no one is ever obligated to read, they rarely decline. The workshop’s objective is not to critique writing but to generate raw material, to take first steps toward transforming thoughts and feelings into words.

And this transformation is exactly what happens. Every week, the group is amazed at the quality and variety of pieces produced. From one client’s reminiscences about his childhood in Guyana to another’s passionate stories about pressing social problems, the material generated in this workshop speaks to the full range of human experience. After everyone has read, they gather their loose pages and place them in the plastic bin. They leave the workshop inspired by each other’s stories and eager to continue telling their own.

In 2014 Loose Pages began sharing their writing on a blog. Their workshop is open to everyone, and they are always looking for new members.

The Loose Pages writing group meets every Wednesday night from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Clients' Library at the Queen St. site. For more information or to join, please contact The Loose Pages.

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