New Kiwi Women Write Their Stories

Giving a voice to Auckland's migrant women

New Kiwi Women Write 2014 – week 1 notes

Hi everyone,

What a weekend it’s been!! It was wonderful to meet all of you. Here are the notes (slightly different discussions and exercises for the two days are combined here, so don’t panic if you don’t remember!).

40 participants come from 19 different countries with the most recent having come to NZ 2 months ago and some having come over 20 years ago.  Despite our many different backgrounds we all share an urge to write, to record our unique stories, and to share them with others.   Some are writers already and want something to maintain the momentum, others are just starting out. Many of us are also seeking fellowship with other writers, and to know more about the writing ‘scene’ in NZ.  We hope this course will help.  This week covered ‘introduction to writing’.

A note: although the course is held in English, you are welcome to write in other languages! Help can be given at the editing stage (final workshop) with proofreading, if you wish to translate your work into English.

The tutors this week were Sarah Laing and Renee Liang (Sat) and Johanna Emeney and Renee Liang (Sunday).  Renee is the course convener and is happy to answer any questions: email


You’ll generally be given only a small amount of time to write in each exercise – this is to push you to go with that first impulse which is so important – don’t overthink that first draft, don’t wait for inspiration, just go with the flow and you’ll be surprised at what comes out and how it often has a lot of potential!!

Naming exercise: Names are powerful– they can carry a story, a hidden meaning or a family tradition. Write a short piece about your name or a name you have given someone else. (8 minutes).

Childhoods: Write about an incident in your childhood where something happened to or with another person.  Now write about that same incident, but from the point of view of another person.  What happened when you wrote from the second viewpoint? Did the story or style change?

Colours: Using a colour swatch from a paint store, pick a colour or name that appeals.  Take 7 minutes to write a short piece.  Do the same thing with another swatch.  What happened? Did you write something you didn’t expect?

Cultural ‘huh?’ moments:  When we move into another culture, often it’s the use of certain words or colloquialisms which leave us baffled.  For example, lots of Maori words are in normal use in NZ, but unknown to the outsider.  And sometimes our accent or the way we construct sentences are hard to understand.  Take 7 minutes to write a short piece about an experience you have had where you have had a cultural ‘huh?’ moment – hilarious or tragic.

The morning pages(from Julia Cameron’s The Artists’ Way):  Pick up your pen. Start writing.  Don’t stop for any reason until 7 minutes have passed!  If you can’t think what to write, write about what’s going on around you, but then just go with where your thoughts take you.  This is a good ‘unblocking exercise’ for when you don’t think you can start writing – it will often start the flow, and there’s no pressure to write well – just to write (spelling mistakes and all.)  When you have finished, you can either discard your writing, or …

Morning Pages – part 2 (inspired by Siobhan Harvey).  Take a pen or highlighter and go through the piece you have just written, picking out phrases or ideas you quite like.  Take one or some of these as the seed for a new piece of writing – this could be a poem or a story.


Each week we will have a discussion on aspects of writerly craft – this is driven by you, so please come with your requests and questions!

Discipline in writing

–       finding the time for yourself – small chunks of time regularly are as good as one large chunk of time

–       finding what works – deadlines? Competitions. Friends.

–       set yourself a time each day to sit down and write – don’t worry if it doesn’t flow at first.  Chip away at things consistently. Establish a writing habit.

–       Ok to not have a routine and write when you have available time. Life happens!  But be faithful to the writing as well as the other things in your life.  Make use of ‘gaps’ when you’re not busy with other things.

Developing a writing habit

-Think of it as like exercise. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the faster you get into the writing ‘zone’.

– initiatives like National Novel writing month and the 100 days project can give you an impetus or structure for your writing habit.

– the idea of the ‘shitty first draft’ – what you write is less important than the actual writing, turn off the naysayers and internal critic and just flow without worrying if it is ‘good’.  The editing part can be saved for the second draft.

Finding space and time to write

–       Don’t need a special space (although nice) – car, lounge, bed, toilet(?!) – find out what works for you.

–       Some people need silence, others need music or noise.

–       Often doing something else such as exercise/walking works to kickstart the writing brain.  Sometimes rhythms, sounds, sights can inspire.

Keeping writing and developing a voice

– Read a lot – reading engenders writing

– Find voices you admire – don’t worry if your own copies this for a while. You will develop your own unique voice.  Having many cultures and languages will help you with a unique voice.

– Keep a notebook (‘black book’) in your handbag at all times for notes and ideas.  Store these to dig into for later inspiration.

– Keeping a diary or a blog is a good way to keep up the writing habit. Helps with memory, with English.

Writing to specific length?

Don’t need to write to a specific length. There are standard lengths from publishers/competition organisers but these rules change all the time – eg the rebirth of the novella in the age of ebooks. A story/play/poem is as long as it is.

How do you finish?

– Starting can be exciting, but in any project you need to plan to get through the plodding, boring tenacious bit. This separates published from unpublished writers!!  Do it in small bits, set yourself interim deadlines, get others to encourage you and ask how it’s going.

– Putting something to side for a while works too.  “Bottom drawer editor’ – putting things aside to percolate for a while. Never throw anything away even if you think it’s rubbish the first time around, you never know when it will link up with something else.

Does work need to be planned or have structure?

Various points of view…some people say to plan, but once you start writing, give yourself permission to depart from roadmap.  Conversely, you don’t have to have a plan, you can have an organic process where you follow the story. Character driven pieces often let the character show the writer where it’s going; with plot driven work, it’s more common to plan things out.  There’s no one rule that works.

Techniques for getting over writer’s block:

-permission to write ‘shitty first draft’

– mind mapping

– tell ‘inner editor’ to shut up until you have finished writing the first draft

– morning pages

– have somewhere to put your ideas (notebook, laptop, phone, voice memos)

– go for a walk or start doing something else

– short forms to kickstart – eg poems, micro fiction, blogs. These can put you in the mood for a longer form or be assembled like building blocks into larger works

How to find other writers?

–      writer’s groups – often met through writing classes or writer’s events (check local library listings or NZSA newsletter – many are free to attend.)

–      mentors – these can be approached formally or informally. Many established writers will mentor formally for a fee.  But many others will mentor informally if you ask and you show potential.

–      social media – a way to connect at all hours without leaving the house – many facebook groups and blogs for writers, and online often turns into in-person connections.

–      websites – eg NZSA, The Big Idea, Beattie’s Blog – see sidebar under ‘useful links’ for more info.

Useful books:

Bird by Bird – Ann Lamont.

The Exercise Book by Bill Manhire

And that’s all from me this week … please add your comments below. And once again thanks to Auckland Council, Albert-Eden Local Board and Sandringham Community Centre for their support – we just could not do this workshop without them! See you next week for Poetry.  Note: Saturday group will meet 10.30-2.30 at Ferndale House, 830 New North Rd, Mt Albert.


3 comments on “New Kiwi Women Write 2014 – week 1 notes

  1. Aline Parrone H
    February 3, 2014

    Thanks Renee! Happy to be part of such a creative, enthusiastic group and mentored by generous people like you and Johanna. Looking forward to more…

  2. Hua Dai
    February 4, 2014

    Thanks Renee:

    It was a most exciting and creative Sunday at the workshop. I am so thanksful that I was accepted into the learning and developing journey with your and Johanna’s support and guidance. I will like your page and start up my own blog and webiste from here. (haveing been in an enviorment of using Hitech etc, yet neery was inspried and encouraged to get my hands on it till this Sudnday at the workshop. Thanks for that.

  3. Kalyani Abhyankar
    February 5, 2014

    Hi Renee,

    It was very interesting to meet migrants from various countries and share their writings. Auckland Council’s initiative in respecting and cultivating creative aspect of the migrants is very much appreciated.

    Your encouraging attitude would certainly help in bringing out hidden talents.

    Thanks once again, Kalyani.

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