New Kiwi Women Write Their Stories

Giving a voice to Auckland's migrant women

Workshop 3 Summary 2012

Workshop 3, held on the 26th March, was all about prose. What is prose? Sarah Laing explained that there are many forms of prose – maybe the first division is whether it is fiction or non-fiction. After that you have to decide on length, form and genre. Examples of form are the short story, personal essay, memoir, novels, novella and prose poem – as you can see there are many overlaps between fiction and non fiction and between prose and poetry, and people are finding new ways to overlap all the time!

A few pointers to remember when writing prose (or poetry for that matter):

– keep language simple and direct – this communicates more directly to the reader.

– beware of adjectives and adverbs – often these aren’t necessary to get the story or character across and an overly wordy description may get in the way of the reader’s experience.

– use your own natural voice – trust that the way you communicate will appeal to the reader.

– as writer, read widely – experience a wide range of styles and voices.

– ‘show not tell’ – often said, and often effective. For example, instead of describing someone’s emotional state – “she was angry” – describe their physical experience – “she smelt blood in her nostrils.”

– when writing dialogue, don’t forget that in real life people lie – people talk over each other- they don’t listen to each other – they talk tangentially. Mimic this and you will still show character motivation while avoiding being too ‘on the nose’.

– at the end of the day, these ‘rules’ are partially due to a trend or fashion in writing – they are less important than developing your own distinct style and voice, which is what most publishers are looking for. (And maybe coming from other or between cultures, there is a natural freshness and vitality).

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On to our exercises! This week, many of our writing exercises came from The Exercise Book (ed Bill Manhire, Ken Duncum, Chris Price and Damien Wilkins), VUP, 2012.  We recommend looking at a copy of this book for a whole range of writing exercises if you want to continue your writing ‘practice’.  For copyright reasons, I can’t reproduce these exercises in full on this blog, but I’ll paraphrase them:

1. Descriptive Exercise (10 mins).  Imagine yourself in a situation, such as a market, a dark cellar or at a party.  Using each of your five senses, describe what you experience.

2. I see…. I remember… I imagine (15 mins). Grab a notebook and pen and find a nice place to sit (outside, if it’s a nice day). Again using your five senses, write everything you experience – but leave your mind free to stray (you may find the headings above useful).

3. A Pet (10 mins). Imagine you have an unusual pet.  Be as crazy as you like.  Describe what your pet is like – what it eats, how it acts, how it thinks, its politics, its religion……

4. Pictures (10 mins).  Find an interesting picture in the paper, of two or more people engaged in some activity or interacting.  Pick one of the people in the picture and  put yourself in their shoes. What are they thinking? Feeling?  Now put yourself in the shoes of someone else in the picture. Write how they are feeling/thinking.  This could be the beginning of a dialogue or dramatic script.

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Our discussion this week centred on getting published/finding an audience. There are many ways to get published, but literary journals are often a good first step to putting yourself in front of a wider audience. Journals accept short stories, poetry, essays and non-fiction, also sometimes image/text. They cater for a wide range of tastes – do your research and read a journal before submitting.  Many are now online or have submission details online.

Examples of NZ literary journals: Takahe, Sport, JAAM, Hue + Cry, Turbine, Snorkel, Blackmail Press.  Other magazines will accept submissions – again, check out the guidelines before you submit: The NZ Listener, Metro, The School Journal (for writing aimed at children). Examples of overseas literary journals: The New Yorker, Cha.

Keep track of your submissions – it is bad form to submit the same piece of work to more than one journal or publication at the same time.  Most will let you know if your work is not accepted, but if not, and you have sent in your work and the next edition of that journal has then appeared without your work, assume it has not been accepted. There is nothing wrong with contacting the journal to make sure your work has been received, but most journals will not give specific feedback on why. Don’t get defensive or bug them – all writers have experienced rejection at some stage. Move on and make sure you try the same journal again at some point with a different work. A rejection only means that that editor, at that moment, doesn’t like your work – this can change.

Competitions – there are many nationally and internationally, for all genres. Winning a competition will often ‘put your name on the map’ for a reader or potential publisher so are worth entering from that viewpoint. Remember only one person can win, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t. Although many competitions are free, it’s possible to spend a lot of money entering competitions so again read the rules carefully, select your targets and as far as possible custom-write for that competition, you are far more likely to succeed. The NZ Society of Authors (see writing resources tab) has a “Death by Deadline” section in each newsletter which tells you when each competition is coming up. Competitions seen as prestigious include the Grattan Prize, The Mansfield Short Story Competition, and the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition.

Beware of writing scams – for example ‘competitions’ which seem too easy to win, or ‘publishers’ which contact you seeking something to publish.  You can check if something is likely to be a scam by googling [name]+scam.

Publishers – again, these vary in audience and theme – do your research before approaching them.  Some publishers will not read unsolicited manuscripts so it pays to contact them before sending your work in. Examples of “literary” publishers in NZ include Steele Roberts, Penguin, Random House, AUP, VUP and OUP. There are many smaller publishers, often catering to a niche market – they may be right for you. See who publishes books that you enjoy.

Self-publishing is becoming a more feasible option, especially with the rise of small print run self publishers and e-books.  There is a wealth of opinion on whether this is a good option for first time authors – the main message being, if you are prepared to do the hard work in promotion and selling, then it could be for you. Having a good editor is also recommended.  You don’t necessarily need to put out a huge financial outlay to start. Chapbooks and zines are other options for self-publishing. These are great for swapping with other writers and there are communities built around zines.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of exposure.  Get out there – get yourself known. Every time you release a publication or do a reading, let people know about it (social media like Facebook and Twitter, media releases sent to Stuff.co.nz and local papers, online networks like The Big Idea (thebigidea.co.nz).) Start a blog, read and comment on other people’s blogs, join a writing blog community. Say yes whenever someone asks you to do something writing-related (the majority of these will be for free, at least at first). Give away your books, zines, chapbooks.  Help other writers and readers. Share any information you have. These will grow your audience and the publishers are on the lookout for people who are self-starters.

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Right, that’s enough!  See everyone next week for our fourth and final workshop, which is on Editing and Presentation.  And don’t forget to put the 14th April in your diary for our reading and book launch!

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2 comments on “Workshop 3 Summary 2012

  1. Young-Rie RHO
    March 29, 2012

    Good job!!
    It’s amazing.
    The summary is useful for me.

    Thank you~~~

  2. Stephanie Kho
    April 2, 2012

    Fabulous ! Thanks so much Renee! Even I’ve missed this session but I’ve picked up many informative ideas and guidelines. Will catch up soon!

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