Giving a voice to Auckland's migrant women
We have kicked off our month of writing! It was amazing to get to know everyone this weekend – we are from 16 different countries! – a little of your life stories and why you want to write. We are all here with the aim of telling stories about our lives and the communities we live in, to explore where writing can take us, and to push ourselves as writers. Many are first timers – others write professionally in other areas, but want to explore writing for themselves.
Three simple ground rules. Firstly, confidentiality: writing can be intensely personal and we want to make this workshop a safe space to share. So, what is shared stays between us, and there is to be no reporting/recording etc without express permission. Secondly, the right to pass – although some people will be happy to share their writing with the group, not everyone does and there is no obligation to share. Lastly, and the first two rules are to help with this, taking risks with your writing. The most powerful writing occurs when personal, emotional and creative risks are taken. Take a risk and your readers won’t be able to stop reading. Take a risk and you’ll discover more about yourself. As a writer, and beyond.
Our first three workshops (Introduction, Poetry, Prose + Creative Non Fiction) will follow the same basic structure: discussion on the topic, exercises and sharing, a break then a round table (ie participatory and driven by your questions) discussion on an aspect of writerly craft. Then we’ll do more exercises, sharing and close, and you may be given some optional homework. The final workshop, which is on Editing, will be focussed on giving you one on one time with a tutor to discuss individual pieces and get them ready for publication.
The anthology we will publish at the end of the course will feature the writing you wish to showcase. It will be professionally edited and designed and will be launched at a community event on the 2nd of July. Your writing can be on any topic and you don’t need to have written it during the workshop (though we will give you lots of starts on pieces you can develop for publication.) You are invited to submit up to 4 pages of work in any genre for inclusion. The deadline for submission is midnight Sunday, 12 June. A word guide is 750-800 words of prose, or less if it’s poetry or script.
Our course is focussed not only on getting you to write (and there will be plenty of exercises), but on welcoming you to the writing community. We are lucky in NZ- the writing community is relatively small, and once you get to know a few people, it’s easy to find your way around. We’ll be mentioning plenty of places, events and websites to make those contacts and encouraging you to come to some of the many (often free or koha) events featuring writers. As a start, check out the links on the sidebar.
A note on language. You are welcome to write in any language – often it’s easier to’flow’ in your first language. We’d encourage you to then attempt a translation since (unfortunately) we are not polyglots and can only help in English (and translations done by the author tend to be both beautiful and accurate). For the anthology, I am happy to help with proofreading and grammar.
Also a note on topic. The exercises will push you to write on a wide range of topics. There are no expectations for you to write only ‘migrant’ stories – feel free to explore whatever you wish! The point is the writing. The stories will emerge on their own.
So to start. How do you become a writer? The easy, and somewhat flippant answer is: to write. As everyone knows, this is easy to say, but harder to put into action. Even seasoned writers encounter roadblocks or periods in their lives where events and other commitments seem to make this impossible. So here’s a list of possible issues and potential solutions.
Time: we’re all affected aren’t we? How you find the time to write depends on circumstance and also who you are. Some people find it easier to rise early or stay up late and do their writing in a big block. Others can treat their writing like a job and keep ‘office hours’ – avoid the temptation of distractions such as internet, housework or errands! For those of us racing from job to job, you can do a lot by snatching ‘chunks’ of time (15 mins here and there can add up) – just make sure you’re always ready to go with a notebook. For chunk snatchers, you might find that short form writing (eg poetry or flash fiction) work better as you can complete a whole work in that time. But there’s nothing to stop you writing a longer work.
Space: “A room of one’s own” is what some people need, while others thrive on busy environments. If you can’t find a private space at home, consider leaving – a library, cafe, friend’s house, or even a shared office space. Shared creative spaces for reasonable rents are now easily found on the internet.
Starting: Always have something (a notebook, phone etc) to jot down ideas as they come to you. Label (what genre? what length?), and date your ideas. Doodle and add to them. Add references or inspirations. When you finish one, label and date the notebook and file it somewhere prominent in your house. Now you’ll never be stuck for ideas the next time you have time or opportunity.
Finishing: Having a folder of half finished projects is all too common! How do you finish them? You could look for opportunities – competitions or journals seeking writing on a particular topic. This has the advantage of giving you a deadline, for people who work to one. Or, tell a friend or mentor when you’ll show them the finished draft. Or, for people who like extreme risk taking, book a public reading or showing of your work (it works, I’ve done it).
For those scared of opening up that piece of work they started in great hope and then lost direction in – ignore your internal self editor, go ahead and finish that first draft – don’t worry, when you finish you’ll be able to edit and refine it.
Roadblocks: this happens to all of us from time to time. Exercises are really good for unblocking, and several of the ones we’ll be doing on this course are perfect for getting you on track to hit your project again. Often, if you hit a block in your big project, it’s good to start and finish a smaller project. It will give you a sense of achievement and get you in the right frame of mind to start again. (But then again, the small project might take on a life of its own.. this is not necessarily a bad thing.)
Exercise: both physical and mental. Physical exercise is beneficial to the writing brain, and often engages the mind during the actual exercise (have a notebook on hand to write it all down after.) And writing is like exercise. When you first start it’s hard to get moving, but the more you do, the easier it becomes. Develop a writing habit, and do it regularly. Don’t forget to challenge yourself from time to time… change genres, try a new style of writing, try on a different voice.
Reading: Reading begets writing, and it’s important to read, both for inspiration and to find out what others have already tried. You can see what works and what doesn’t. It’s good for roadblocks too – if you can’t seem to start writing, read. Find out who your literary heroes are and stalk them (on the shelf, online, and in person if they are local.) Which brings us to…
Mentors: Writers, as a rule, like to be approached by enthusiastic readers who are also fellow writers. They were probably taken under the wing of someone when they were starting out, so they are more than happy to pay it forward. A polite approach at a writer’s event, a request for email contact or coffee, is likely to result in a ‘yes’ or a ‘maybe later after my big project’ – be positive, informed and non pushy. They will be more than happy to talk about their craft and share a few tips – they will NOT be interested in looking at your poem, manuscript etc, at least not on the first meeting. In time this may grow into more of a friendship and exchange. If you are wanting a more formal mentorship, many writers will be happy to meet for a fee, and the same goes for manuscript appraisals. Lists of willing writers can be contacted through the NZ Society of Authors, and if you join the NZSA, you can apply for one of their valuable Mentorships (competitive; free.)
OK. Time to start writing! A list of the exercises we covered this week is below. They vary by day, but I’ll list them all so that you can use them if you wish. I deliberately give very little time for each exercise, to overcome blocks and get you responding to your instincts and going with the first thought (often the best).
Naming: 6 minutes. Write a story about a name – yours, or one you gave someone else. Names are very important – they’re carefully chosen, and there are often deep reasons why they are chosen. They can reveal a personal story and also influence one’s path in life.
A first home: Draw a ground plan of the first house you remember living in. Where were the rooms, doors, windows? (accuracy is not important.) Now, pick a room. Draw what it looked like from its door. Where was the furniture, what objects were in it? Now, pick one of those objects. Write about it, paying attention to perspective (are you writing as someone finding the object? as the object itself?) time (are you yourself in the past, or do you find the object years later?) and relationship (what is the relationship between the object and the character(s) in your story?)
Riddles: 12 minutes. Pick an everyday object. Write a riddle, writing as the object (‘I am…). Play with image, sound, ambivalence and double meanings. For example, an egg could be ‘yoked shells’. Google riddle poems for inspiration.
A recipe for happiness: Write a recipe for happiness. What are the ingredients, methods, serving suggestions? Can you be specific on measurements? Play with metaphor, (un)reality and imagery. Focus on each of the five senses. Are these instructions, or just a whimsical story?
The morning pages: This is a well known technique for a writerly’stretch’ – it doesn’t need to be in the morning, just any time you want to get the writing flow going! Pick up your pen…. now, GO. Do not stop writing for ten minutes.Write whatever is in your head, go with any thoughts, not matter how strange – if you can’t think of anything, write “I can’t think of anything”. At the end of the ten minutes, you can discard your writing. Or, if you like, highlight the phrases you particularly like, excise them and use them as the basis for a new piece of writing.