I’m so lucky with my writing groups – and the mix of people who come. One term, I did an exercise on getting them to share what they knew: we had talks on the different kinds of silence (from a psychotherapist), on volcanoes (geography teacher), photo journalism (a photo editor), mughal architecture (journalist), continuity in TV shows (ex-BBC producer) and much more. I suspect that only in a writing group would you get this variety of expertise, and complete equality round the table (I’m including me in that) – when we face the blank page , everyone is forced to go back to the beginning.
And last night, one of our group – step up graphic novelist and beekeeper, Ellen Montelius – was doing a talk about Bees in Winter as part of the artist based Cross Pollination project, so given that it was a Wednesday night and that’s writing night, we held the writing session directly after her lecture. That’s Ellen above, organising a ‘Great British Bake Off’ demonstration on how to make a sugar and water solution to bring exhausted bumblebees back to life. There was a magic moment after this when a woman in the audience demonstrated how she often picked up bees she found on the ground and held them in her hand – her hand was cupped in the air as she showed us, her finger gently stroking an imaginary bee – until the warmth and the sugar she fed them revived what she described as little ‘flying motors’ she could feel whirring against her skin and – she opened her hand then, palm upwards – she could let it fly away.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping to find an exhausted bee on the ground after this, just so I could help bring it back to flight.
So what did we do in the writing session? There was certainly enough material in the talk to generate a hundred stories, but we began by making a word pool. Writing down as many words as we could remember from the talk. Then we went round and shared one of our words, until we had a list of twelve – CLUSTER, WINTER, COTONEASTER, NECTAR, HIBERNATE, SURPLUS, SOLUTION, CHAMBER, TERRACOTTA, STINGING, SOLITARY, DRONE. Good words, eh?
From this we freewrote for six minutes using all the words above but with one rule – we weren’t allowed to write about bees. As a penalty, at the end of the time, I made everyone use all the words they had left from the list in one line of dialogue they had to insert into their piece.
It’s interesting what happens when we change our own dictionaries. Too often we get stuck on using the same words in our writing, and it can feel stale to us. An exercise like this helps to shake it up, particularly if you take words from one discipline or interest and use them in a new way.
Our final exercise was to take Virginia Woolf’s short story, Kew Gardens, and write from the perspective of the bee – using the words and material we had all gained from Ellen’s talk. One of the things we discussed was how, in Woolf’s story, it is the momentum of the snail throughout the story that allows the reader to keep grounded in what is happening.
We also enjoyed a honey cake Ellen made for us… it’s important to remember all senses when writing…
Last night, sitting round the Wednesday Writing Table, we decided to open a Facebook group to share writing information (submission calls, competitions, new magazines, readings etc), our good news, our sulks, writing prompts, and maybe even to ask for and give feedback advice on work in progress. If you have been to one of my courses, I’d like to invite you to join us in the ‘Salon’ too. It’s currently a closed group so if you are on Facebook and would like an invitation, do leave a comment here or message me on Facebook (probably best via Sarah Salway’s Writing).