New Kiwi Women Write Their Stories

Giving a voice to Auckland's migrant women

Workshop 1 – Introduction to Writing


Each week I’ll be summarising what happened in the workshops. Because this is a summary of what happened on both days (Sunday and Monday), don’t worry if it’s a little different to how you remember it! You don’t have Altzheimers, baby brain, PMT or any of the other myriad afflictions that are supposed to affect us women. The exercises and discussions vary according to the group and the tutors, but the content remains similar.

We started with introductions – going around the table everyone talked about who they were and what they hoped to get out of the course.  We are an amazing group, very international with a huge range and depth of experience (a few quick stats: We come from 21 countries and speak over 23 languages between us. The most recently arrived person immigrated 7 days ago, the longest arrived person immigrated 46 years ago. The youngest person is 20, the oldest is.. um, I don’t know.)

Despite this variety, the same reasons for coming to a writing course kept on being repeated: We saw the opportunity, and took it. We want to tell stories: ours, our family’s, other people’s. Something inside us drives us to write. We want to understand more about the writing, publishing and reading universe. And most importantly, we want to find others who write.

I want to acknowledge here the role Auckland Council has had in instigating, supporting and promoting these workshops, especially Matt Blomeley, whose initiative it was in the first place.  They are held in Glenfield because of the need this area has for cultural resources, and we have formed a wonderful partnership with Glenfield Community Centre.  We have opened these workshops to all migrant women however, recognising the need this group has for opportunities to connect beyond their immediate family and community.

Our ‘ground rules’: 

2. Safety – everyone is free to speak, free to pass.
3. Confidentiality – what is discussed in the room, stays in the room.  No recording or reporting unless permission asked for and given.
4.Respect – each others’ work and stories, no critique or judgement unless it is asked for.
5.Take Risks – have a go at everything. Why not?!

Formalities over, it was time to get writing. Exercises were different on different days, but here’s a sampling:

– Truth or Lie: Write 3 statements about yourself (no more than a sentence). Two are true, one is a complete lie. The others have to guess which one is not true. (An exercise in acting as well as writing!).

– Naming: Names are powerful because of the stories they carry with them. Take your name or the name of someone in your family, and write a short piece in any genre telling a story about that name.

-Morning Pages: Not just for mornings, think of this as a brain stretch. Useful any time as a way of overcoming writer’s block and getting the brain going in preparation for a writing session.  Pick up a pen and start writing. Write anything that comes to mind, follow any thoughts or write complete nonsense, just don’t stop writing for 5 minutes.At the end of that time, you can either discard this page and get going on your nominated writing task, or you can turn your piece of ‘rubbish writing’ into unexpected gold:  highlight any phrases or ideas you like the look of.  Use these highlighted bits as the basis for a new piece of writing – tweak, add, expand, edit… you’ll be surprised what you come up with.

-haiku and haibun: write a series of short modern haiku (3 line poems) or haibun (short evocative prose followed by a haiku) to express moments in your day.  See here for a full description (those who missed this, feel free to try).

Discussion: How to write/starting to write

Make yourself do it. It’s common to have reasons not to start, not to continue….treat it like anything else that’s important in your life. Make time for it, plan ahead to ensure you can use any small or large patches of time, ‘down time’ such as time spent travelling, or consider cutting down on unnecessary things like too much TV. Make an appointment with yourself if you need to. Turn off the modem and phone, tell the family not to disturb you.  Don’t wait for the muse – she’ll never arrive.  Go in search of her.Setting yourself a daily word count or time often helps. Writing is like exercise in that the more you do it, the better you get – and the easier it gets to continue, too. Take the first step and try to do a bit each day.

Use deadlines as goals.  To find yourself deadlines, look for competitions to enter, or tell a valued friend or colleague that you’ll show them a completed work by such and such a date.

Give yourself permission to write badly.  Just write at first, don’t edit. Everyone has to get that ‘shitty first draft’ down in order to get the ideas out, then you’ll have something to work with.

Call yourself a writer and you’ll become one.  Have a business card made if necessary.

Do you have a space to write? A room of your own?  A door to shut?  Some people need this, others don’t.  Maybe you can write in busy surroundings with your family around you. Maybe you can find a cafe or library. Find out what works for you.

All writers need to read – widely and well.  Try genres you don’t normally try. You don’t have to finish a book if you don’t like it, but there’s no reason not to start.  If you find a writer you admire, experiment with trying to write like them. What is it about their way of writing which is so effective? Why does the writing speak to you? In understanding this you may find out something about your own writing – the ‘marinade’ which makes your voice memorable and unique. Also, understand yourself as a reader – and remember that for a writer, the reader is essential. The writer supplies the key – the reader brings their own insight to the work, using the piece to open into their own lives.

You need some way of capturing that ‘snap’ – that first idea, image, character or plot which could be the start of your next work. Carry a notebook or use a smartphone to record your ideas. Label and date your ideas and file your notesbooks – that way you’ll never be out of ideas. Note which ideas come back again and again – those are the ones you need to work on.

Writers’ groups – there are many, but they vary in membership and function.  Decide what you want before you join, or form, a group. Do you want a forum for mutual sharing and celebration? Or are you interested more in swapping critique? What is the size? (Around 4-5 people is often enough).  Make sure you match in terms of goals and personalities. Remember, you can join more than one group, so long as you have enough time to commit. You can also outgrow a group – don’t be afraid to move on, or go without a group for a while and rely on friends and editors.

Competitions and journals – find out which competitions and journals are currently accepting submissions and plan towards them. You can find a list of interesting journals, and many other resources, here. Don’t forget online and international!


Ok, that’s all for now. A few last notes – Auckland Writers and Readers festival are currently calling for volunteers, email “‘Melanie Weeks'” <> by 28th March to register your interest. You will need to commit to helping out for at least 3 shifts.


3 comments on “Workshop 1 – Introduction to Writing

  1. meemee
    March 21, 2013

    Well done, Renee. We all enjoyed the first session immensely! Thank you and Janet and Max! Am looking forward to next Monday as I am sure the others are too.

  2. Yolande
    March 21, 2013

    A new beginning for me! I never saw myself as a writer(nor did anyone else) but maybe there is something in there…..Will it be discovered?

    • meemee
      March 22, 2013

      well done, Yolande. Summarising is a way of doing homework. Helps you to remember.

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This entry was posted on March 20, 2013 by .
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