Monique Charlton believes in the healing power of words. That belief inspired the creation of Write it Out Muskoka, a writing group at Enliven Muskoka, the local volunteer organization supporting people through their journey with cancer.
“Write It Out is an opportunity for people to take time for themselves to write,” says Charlton. “The journaling process helps people who are going through something significant in their lives—cancer, or anything else.”
Charlton began facilitating the free writing group in November 2018, after completing a two-year term as one of the original board members at Enliven Muskoka. At the time, Enliven was seeking unique opportunities to further support and enrich the lives of those impacted by cancer, be it patients, survivors, family members, friends, or caregivers.
The writing group is meant for any experience level, even for those just wanting to try it out. There is no expectation to share with others, or to publish the writing, only to encourage participants to explore the method for their own individual benefit. It’s described on the Enliven Muskoka website as a space to write personal stories that could “reflect your thoughts and nourish your soul.”
“I think any type of writing can help us,” Charlton says, “to pull out thoughts and emotions that we may not realize we have, and take a better look at them, understand them, [and]see them in a different light.”
Up until March of this year, Charlton held the weekly group in the former Ahimsa Yoga Studio, where she endeavoured to create a calming, introspective atmosphere.
The group begins with a short, guided relaxation exercise, after which participants are encouraged to write for 90 minutes uninterrupted. All forms of writing of any length are encouraged, such as a poem, a letter, a story, or a song.
Writing prompts are provided, consisting of a random word or phrase, followed by a short passage from a book. Charlton encourages the use of pen and paper to write. “It engages a different part of your brain than writing at a computer,” she explains. “Computer software often provides an editor service, which we aren’t interested in for this [type of]writing.”
Participant Carol Ferris shares that the atmosphere was both soothing and beneficial. “It was lovely from the first moment. A quiet room, flowers, fairy lights!” she says. “It was a unique experience for me. My confidence to write grew.” She stresses that proficiency was never the goal, however. “I will never be a great writer, nor is it my passion,” she says before adding, “Trying something different expanded my world, in a good way. One can’t ask for more than that!”
Charlton describes her role as a “cheerleader” for the group. “I create spaces, time, and community to support them.” And participants have told Charlton that they appreciate this dedicated, supported time to explore their writing.
“After my cancer diagnosis I heard about Enliven,” says Jane Finbow. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to talk, who I wanted to talk to, or what I wanted to talk about. But writing seemed safe. I attended my first session one week after finishing my last chemo treatment. I was feeling hopeful, yet cautious about my health. Monique welcomed me, and I immediately knew I was in the right spot—a quiet space and quiet time to quiet the mind.”
Unfortunately, with the pandemic, meeting in person became problematic, particularly for those vulnerable individuals whose medical conditions put them and their close contacts at high risk.
Regardless, Charlton was unequivocal about the need to maintain connections while still adhering to public health recommendations to practice social distancing.
“Writing helps us to realize that, even though we may have to be apart from those we love, we can still connect with each other,” she says. “We have more in common with others around us than we may have considered. Writing and telling our stories creates community, creates belonging, creates connection.”
So, like many other groups, Write it Out Muskoka turned to virtual meetings.
“Because we could no longer meet in person, I created a private group in Facebook [anyone can request to join]where I have shared a video,” Charlton explains. “Each person needs to have their own timer set to 90 minutes. I ask them to ‘press pause, and Write It Out’.”
Charlton has done something similar for the group on Instagram, where her weekly writing prompts accompany a photo and are often nature based.
“Writing connects us, not only to other people, but also to our environment, and our world,” she says, describing the connections between nature and us as “the ups and downs, moods, cycles, and rhythms we experience.”
Just before the pandemic restrictions emerged, Charlton had planned to launch a new writing group, unrelated to Enliven, at the Dwight Public Library called Hour Writing. “I would like to try again when conditions are more favourable for meeting in the library,” she says hopefully. “It would be nice to have an opportunity to meet with other writers in the Dwight area over the colder months.”
In the meantime, Charlton has decided to start her own business called Write for Wellness. She plans to offer two different workshops—“one that integrates nature into the writing process, and the other that utilizes personal letter-writing,” she says—as well as envisioning weekend writing retreats and an annual storytelling event.
For more information about Monique Charlton’s Write for Wellness business, visit writeforwellness.ca.
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