We recently put on the first of a series of writing workshops, this one aimed at runners. We ended up with quite a select group – two attendees braved the dismal weather, one of whom was an existing contributor and the other a new face (for us). Graham was one of our very early authors, contributing a poem to our 2016 Potters ‘Arf project and then a great piece in 2017 on his personal history of the Potters 'Arf. Both pieces are in our recently published ‘Arf Marathon book. Our other attendee was Graham’s mate Phil, who we’ve been following on Twitter for a while, but this was the first time we’d met.
Phil and Graham are both Mental Health Ambassadors for England Athletics, doing ‘Run and Talk’ runs with groups of local people. Pitched at people struggling with stress, depression or other mental health issues, the runs attract a huge range of people. As do Newcastle (Staffs) AC’s ‘Couch to 5k’ programmes – people of all shapes, sizes, ages and ability, just wanting to be with like-minded people and to feel better in themselves. Phil also told me a bit about Good Gym – an organisation I hadn’t come across before but who do great things through running. Have a look at their website - some inspiring stuff there.
It turns out Phil is ace fundraiser '6townsrunner', who does lots of amazing feats in support of the Dougie Mac charity (one of the local good causes we support too). Phil has a wealth of stories on his adventures, some of which we hope to feature on the website. He also has a book in his head of the adventure he and a friend undertook, canoeing as much of the length of the River Trent as they could, from source to sea. Not always easy – the Trent is curiously invisible through much of its journey through Stoke-on-Trent. Phil’s main claim to fame is the six half marathons he ran in six days in each of the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent: Tunstall, Burlsem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton.
The benefit of just having a couple of attendees was that we were able to have a more in-depth conversation about writing techniques and strategies. An early topic was how to get started: a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen in Word) can be intimidating. I’d been on an excellent writing workshop myself towards the end of 2017, run by Writing Kiln, so between us we shared a number of tips.
#1 is ‘just write’ – it doesn’t matter what, just a stream of consciousness, the first thing that pops into your head;
#2 is don’t start at the beginning – start with a particular episode or memory and work forwards and backwards from there to construct a story;
#3 is start with an outline or plan of what you want to write: even just doing that will get the words flowing and turn a set of bullet points into a series of sentences; into paragraphs; and hey bingo, there’s a story.
Another course of inspiration (#4) is “what went wrong” on a run or in a race. Black humour makes for a good read and often indirectly emphasises the good that comes out of running (or any form of exercise) – you trip and fall, ruining your chances of a PB, but another runner stops to help, or spectators come to your aid, or you end up hobbling at the back of the field chatting to wonderful runners or walkers you’d normally never run with.
Proudly placed in the middle of the table in the work shop were a pair of my fell-running shoes. Not that I do much fell-running nowadays, but my Innov8s are grippy enough to be indispensable on muddy tow-paths, glutinous woodland trails etc. As you can see, they don’t always get cleaned between runs at this time of year. Like a mini-installation in The Place To BE, they were there for a purpose – to act as a writing prop. Which is tip #5. Use an object, photograph or postcard to kick-start your imagination and write a story based on what it says to you.
Having chatted about running, writing, injuries, mental health and lots more beside, after an hour it was time to put pen to paper – and for the best part of the next 45 minutes there was complete silence as we all scribbled away. I managed a couple of sides of proto-blog post; Graham (suffering from the lurgy) decided to write about the particular hell for a runner of not being able to run due to injury or illness; Phil wrote about how he’d got into running in the first place, a great story which he’d recounted while we were talking at the start of the workshop.
You’ve now read what I wrote on the day – click on the links for Phil’s and Graham’s stories.