The budding writers in Kathleen Gilday’s workshop: Gilday is seated at the head of the table. VALLEY DISPATCH PHOTOS/JENNIFER AMY MYERS
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(Second of Two Parts)

NASHUA — They stood tall, walking out into the frigid March night with a renewed confidence and sense of accomplishment, the same group of aspiring writers who just four weeks before, were uncertain and a bit apprehensive as they first stepped into Kathleen Gilday’s “Write Into Your Life” creative writing workshop.

“I’m a little sad that it’s over,” lamented Karen Reed, a director of quality management from Nashua. “It takes a lot to get me to go out at night, but the class is so energizing and really encourages me to write more.”

“I feel renewed by the experience,” she added.

Gilday, a freelance writer and writing coach from Pelham, began running creative writing workshops last year to encourage people to feel comfortable enough to find their voices and let their stories out.

By the final class, the writing exercises had grown longer and the writing was much brighter, fuller and more confident. The welcoming environment quickly ate away at any hesitancy the writers had about sharing even the deepest of personal stories.

The most interesting moments of the March 1 workshop came when Gilday passed out a covered container to each student. They were instructed to take a whiff of its contents, without looking inside, and then write about what they perceived the object to be.

Jeanne Myers, a contracts coordinator from Hudson, was convinced that her container held chocolate-covered strawberries. The aroma instantly brought her back to a trip she took to visit her sister in California more than 20 years ago. Her sister’s Irish friend, Kay, invited them to dinner and served the decadent, yet simple treats.

“Plump red strawberries, covered in thick milk chocolate,” she wrote. “I thought this was just the classiest thing I had ever been served.”

Myers’ tale then moved from the fruit to a part of that meal that has stuck out in her memory all of those years. Her mother had recently died, and Kay managed to make her father feel relaxed and got him to smile and laugh again.

“It’s amazing how a memory can bring you to a place you weren’t planning to go,” she said.

What was in Myers’ container? Raspberry flavored chocolate chips.

Gilday said she created the exercise because scent is so closely tied to memory, much more strongly than any of the other senses, and even the faintest smell can transport a writer to a time and place abundant in memories waiting to be tapped.

Leslie Cabral, a software engineer and holistic healer from Lowell, was not pleased with the smell emanating from the container with which she was saddled.

“It smells like something medical, like rubbing alcohol,” she said, quickly placing the cover back onto the foul-smelling container.

As unpleasant as the scent was, it brought Cabral back to being 8-year-old and begging her parents to let her get her ears pierced, a campaign that eventually led to a family trip to Cherry, Webb & Touraine in Stoneham.

“I had begged my mother for months and months. She insisted I was not ready,” she wrote. “I remember feeling that first punch of that piercing gun and screaming at the top of my lungs.”

“Every time my mother would take out the rubbing alcohol to clean my ears I would turn white, almost vomit and have to lay down, every time,” she continued. “She reminded me that she was right and I shouldn’t have gotten my ears pierced. I was such a wimp.”

Cabral is a veteran of Gilday’s seminar, now having taken it twice. She is also planning to attend some one-on-one coaching sessions with Gilday to hone her skills.

“I love writing and just feel more accountable to myself when I know I’m coming to a class,” she said. “Plus, it is a few hours a week to do something for myself.”

Marc Dell’erba, a software quality analyst from Nashua, was also in his second go-around.

“You don’t feel pushed, but you are learning,” he said.

The class has inspired Myers to finally pick up and use the stacks of journals cluttering her home.

“Last year we went to France and I brought my travel journal, but didn’t write enough,” she said. “I really wish I had done more because now I can’t remember the names of all the little towns we visited.”

Recently, on a weekend trip to Florida, she did take the time to write in her travel journal.

“I am going to keep track of even little weekend things, so I can look back later and read about them, even things that may not have seemed significant at the time,” Myers added.

Gilday sent the scribes out into the night with encouraging words.

“Published or not, writers write — so keep writing,” she said.

For more information on Kathleen Gilday’s workshops and writers’ retreat visit www.writeintoyourlife.com.

Have a story idea? E-mail Jennifer Amy Myers at jmyers@thevalleydispatch.com.