Ellen Renner’s writing workshop, “Write About It!” was not only fun and enjoyable, but it also helped young writers to stop worrying about formula, and just write.
The first exercise was an ice-breaker. Various sentence starters were passed around the room, and each person added five words, passing it on to the next person. We got some very bizarre combinations, including a single paragraph in which the word “cake” must have been mentioned at least ten times. It was probably one of the funniest activities I’ve ever gone through, especially when all the paragraphs were read out.
When I walked into that room, I didn’t really expect to hear about a giant lizard from space, an angry hosepipe snake, or a cake that makes people laugh manically and run away.
Then the more challenging exercises emerged. We were challenged to write a paragraph including the words, “donkey”, “wizardry”, “baby”, “ice”, “brick”, “husband”, “fight”, “fruit”, “mammoth” and, “picturesque”. There were some writers who wrote about dystopian worlds; there were some who wrote about donkeys performing magic only to start having a fight with their husbands. It was a wholly bizarre experience, and it called for a lot of wacky paragraphs.
But it was the last two exercises that really brought home how much effort has to be put into writing. We were instructed to write again, only this time, we were given no words, and we were writing “show, don’t tell” scenes. Almost everyone in the room who read out their piece of writing was told they were telling at some point, instead of showing. It really reminded me of just how much telling writers do in their writing.
It’s difficult to capture emotion without telling the reader what the character is feeling; authors really have to push into their own characters’ minds to feel what they’re feeling, but it’s a lot harder than you might think. Writers don’t just have to feel empathy for this character. They don’t have to look at their writing and think, “Poor Jerry; I just killed off one of his family members.” They have to genuinely make themselves go through the same emotional experiences as their characters; a sad moment in a book will need an equally sad moment for its writer.
To wrap it all up, and get ourselves out of the sad heads of our characters, we did a poetry exercise. This exercise is definitely not for the rational of minds. We were told to write down twenty words, just any random words that came to our heads. Then we were told to put them into a poem.
We were allowed no other words other than the ones we already had. Since I had “nuclear”, “bauble”, “purple” and “goat”, you can imagine how doubtful I was about writing an entire meaningful poem about it.
But that’s the point. It’s not supposed to hold meaning.
Everyone’s poems were strange and didn’t make any sense whatsoever, but it was enjoyable; it meant that every writer in the room simply let their mind make up anything. Poetry doesn’t always need a meaning. You never know. Maybe there’s someone in the world who thinks a poem about nuclear baubles and purple goats is riveting and deep.
Ellen Renner is the author of the Castle of Shadows series and the Tribute series. You can find her here: http://www.ellenrenner.com/.