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Posted July 3, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Food for thought: Class at Shenandoah Arts Council teaches free-writing, creativity

By Jessica Wiant -- jwiant@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- When the Shenandoah Arts Council's board of directors rewrote its mission statement earlier this year, it went out of its way to include not only visual arts, but performing and literary arts as well.

The organization used to host poetry readings, for example, says its executive director, Tracy Marlatt.

As it has evolved, the council inadvertently put more focus on visual arts, according to Marlatt, but performing and literary arts are just as important -- and are now getting a little more attention again.

With one class, making its second run at the arts council this summer, writing is seeing some time in the limelight.

Maggie Stetler will teach "WRITING to FREE the creative artist within you" at the council's gallery at 811 S. Loudoun St. beginning Wednesday.

Stetler and her husband, a visual artist, moved to the Winchester area post-9/11 after spending 30 years in New York.

An English major and published poet, Stetler worked as a copywriter in the publishing industry.

Upon their move to Virginia, it wasn't long before Stetler and her husband discovered the Shenandoah Arts Council and became patrons, she said. When she learned that the council was interested in more literary-integrated events, she approached Marlatt about doing the class.

Stetler had taught free-writing workshops in New York, she said, and while the definition of free-writing is simple -- just set a timer and "your pen is not supposed to come off that page" until time is up -- her class has more to it.

Stetler developed the curriculum for the six-session class based on books she's read about the technique, including "Recovery of Your Inner Child," "The Artist's Way," and "Finding What You Didn't Lose."

The class isn't a how-to write a story or a poem class, she said.

"It's how to get at the creative person inside you," she said. "It's always been a very holistic ... workshop."

The class will meet on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. for six weeks and practice free-writing each time using different techniques, including writing letters to or by the inner child, or writing a conversation between a person and his or her critic, or muse. She may have students write a prayer, or something spiritual, for one session.

Free-writing is also stream of consciousness writing, Stetler explained.

"It's a technique that's been used a lot," she said.

People can write questions and then write whatever answer pops into their heads, and sometimes can learn things they never realized about themselves.

"It's also a growth tool," she said. "This workshop, it's about getting to your feelings; [it] verges on writing therapy."

It gives people an opportunity to nurture their inner child, Stetler said.

"A lot of us did not get the nurturing that we needed when we were young," she said.

For Stetler, writing her own poetry served as a means to express feelings she could not otherwise explain. For her, and a lot of people, she said, writing can be a way of healing.

To know your inner child, she said, is great for anything you do -- whether it leads to more writing or to visual art.

The classes aim to help people find what area they are most interested in and pursue it further, she said. And it has more therapeutic purposes for some.

About eight students attended the class when Stetler taught it last summer, and she'll accept about 10 students maximum.

While Stetler, 64, primarily has written poetry, she has authored some short stories and an unpublished longer work that was a result of her free-writing, she explained.

She has had poems featured in Small Pond Magazine of Literature and Pearl Magazine and is currently working on putting together her first collection of poetry.

She works as a substitute teacher for Winchester Public Schools.

Marlatt said the class was well-received last year, and she encourages teenagers to get involved.

"WRITING to FREE the creative artist within you," will be held on Wednesdays through Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Shenandoah Arts Council gallery at 811 S. Loudoun St. in Winchester. Cost is $125. Register by e-mailing Stetler at mastetler@verizon.net.

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