Befriending words…

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” – James A. Michener

I attended a writer’s workshop last weekend led by writer and journalist, Sudha Menon. Sudha has been running workshops like this for many years now. This one was special because it was exclusively for women (about 20 of us).

The minute I heard about it,  I knew I’ll be attending. I’ve always held so much admiration for people who have a way with words, be it spoken or written. Any great work be it art, literature or oration – always communicates with its audience and that personal connection is what makes the work ‘great’. I’m always left marveling at how great writers express complex emotions and situations in such lucid language. So when the opportunity came to improve my own very scattered writing skills, I happily jumped on it. But as I would discover by the end of the day, this workshop had more to do with catharsis than improving technical skills of writing. A pleasant discovery.

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All participants churned out about 6-7 pieces of writing in the day long workshop. Sudha gave us different writing prompts and there were only three rules.

  1. You write continuously for the time allocated to you. No pausing, thinking allowed. Whatever comes to your mind, you write.
  2. You are not allowed to edit.
  3. If you are comfortable, you can share this with rest of the group. (This is something we did after every writing prompt)

The writing prompts were (in this order):

  • I remember… (any incident from the past)
  • Memories of an unpleasant place
  • What if…
  • Idiosyncrasies of your family/any family member (or something that binds you together as family – music, food, movies or anything etc)
  • My first love..
  • Is it possible to hate one’s mother?

Very interesting prompts and what made it even more so was what I ended up with at the end of each piece. The thing about writing continuously like that without pausing, without editing is that after a few initial bumps, a rhythmic connection develops between the pen, your hand and your mind. That natural rhythm carves out its own path giving a structure and depth to what you are writing. If you can curb your natural urge to restrain your mind, be less cautious of committing your unspoken thoughts to paper, this process will bring you to an end point (or perhaps mid-point if there’s more to be unlocked), that you couldn’t ever have imagined. I felt this in most of the pieces but it was probably most pronounced in the ‘What if’ piece. It started out on a sombre note and that’s pretty much the note I saw it ending on. This unhinged flow of thoughts brought me to an interesting point – what started out as a reflective, somewhat penitent pondering of the past, after a few paragraphs, led me to a very calming, almost liberating realization. As many people read their pieces (I sat this one out, the reading aloud of it), it was interesting to see how they had approached the subject. Many of them had explored a collection of various what if’s in a single piece, while I had built my write-up centered around just one what-if.

We did a thought-provoking exercise to arrive at our second writing prompt. Sudha asked us to jot down ten places we didn’t enjoy or even disliked visiting in our earlier years. The interpretation of earlier years was left open. Some people thought only of childhood and some considered the time frame till five years ago. I considered the time-frame between 10 and 22 years. Many people found it difficult to think of ten places. Not me, as soon as I put my pen to the paper, I was listing down places one after the other. In spite of the speed, some of the places I had so spontaneously listed surprised me. I hadn’t thought of these places in years, and even if I had – not ever as spaces I consciously disliked. Memory is an endlessly intriguing device, isn’t it? What it can conjure, what it can block out, what it can selectively retain in the subconscious – it is absolutely fascinating. Anyway, so once we were done listing we had to pick four and place them in slots on a printed maze. Then we took our pens, picked a start point and let it lead us to one of these four places. Wherever we reached, we had to pick a memory from that place and write. It astonishes me how much we can recollect and recreate when we start to reminisce. Even when the memories aren’t as pleasant we are able to recall vivid details as we start to paint the picture. As you read the narrative you have reconstructed over a few pages, you start to wonder if this incident really had impacted you so deeply. The words certainly seem to covey so. You hadn’t even thought about it in years but there it was recollected and captured in vivid details. I read this piece out loud for the group. It wasn’t pretty but it was what it was, an authentic memory.

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.” – Margaret Atwood

Another piece that I read out was the one on family. It was basically built around the tea tradition that my parents have that I’d captured in this post a couple of years ago. But this time, I had an opportunity to go beyond describing their adorable little ritual and talk about what I’ve taken away from it.  This piece, as I finished reading it, was greeted with applause from a room full of ladies. :) Needless to say, this joyful applause has nothing to do with my writing but was entirely an ode to the wonderful partnership that parents’ marriage is. And sometimes, I can’t help but feel grateful that I got to be a witness to their tale of love.

The stories we love best do live in us forever – JK Rowling

All in all, a day beautifully spent. The best part is that there were no business cards exchanged, not even names swapped. Most of the women in the room barely knew each other. But as each of them read their stories, there was so much others could connect with, so much of someone else’s life that resonated with you, so many thought triggers someone else’s story set off in your own head and so many genuine, shared emotions after each piece was read. In that one day, amidst all those incredible stories, it felt like I traveled many places and back.

“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” – JK Rowling

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