“How much comes down to dealing with the fear?”
I wrote this line in my journal on Saturday October 17, an hour before OUT LOUD! 2015 — the Sister Writes sponsored LGBTQ creative writing conference for youth — got underway.
I was thinking not just about fear of writing and sharing that writing, but the fear associated with showing up for OUT LOUD! 2015. Courage was required by each of the participants as they climbed the two flights of stairs to the Glad Day Bookshop event space. It took courage and boldness to take a seat at the table. It took courage to identify themselves. And it took courage to pick up a pen and write.
“Boldly” was the title of the first workshop, led by writer and Sister Writes program director, Lauren Kirshner. It is a word that echoed around the room the entire day as the young writers shared their honest and evocative stories, created from the interesting prompts presented by the guest authors. And it was thanks to the talented and caring guidance from the day’s guest authors that everyone in the room felt safe enough to be themselves.
Vivek Shraya, multi-talented writer, musician and performer, advocated recognizing and honouring your unique voice. His first book, God Loves Hair, is a series of stories about growing up as a brown person of Hindu background. He took the bold step of self-publishing the book at 27.
“Have the courage to talk about your work and don’t be shy about owning the fact that you’re a writer,” he said.
He spoke about cliches as examples of too familiar writing that gets in the way of your own voice and we had fun rewriting some familiar ones.
Zoe Whittall, the next award-winning featured author, led a free write that focused on a single powerful emotion- anxiety or shyness or grief. She suggested slowing down your writing when dealing with strong emotions. Don’t skim the surface, but dive into the middle and write what it looks like, sounds like, tastes like, to feel something deeply.
How do you get to that place where you can access strong emotions? Artist Callan Field introduced a powerful visualization exercise that had everyone closing their eyes and focusing, one at a time, on a series of objects. There is a meditative quality to this kind of visualization that calms and allows your mind to explore below the surface.
Callan also talked about identity, showing a series of his own photos that encouraged us to question our preconceived notions of what it means to be a man or a woman or a they/them. He pointed out that writing can be a way to fill the gaps left by pictures and a way to process experiences.
Poet Ben Ladouceur, in the final workshop, agreed that writing can be a therapeutic tool and admitted he often turns to writing when upset. He circled back to that term boldly, encouraging everyone to be unafraid to make statements with their writing. If you care about your subject, and why write about it if you don’t, then say what you mean with confidence. Write what you know to be true.
The five hours flew by. We were no longer a room full of strangers, but rather a group of artists, gathered together to share tips and offer support to each other. Writing can feel like a lonely endeavour so it felt good to connect with like-minded souls.
When I asked Donna Reid, co-coordinator of the conference, what stood out for her about the day, she mentioned the energy and enthusiasm of Lauren, Vivek, Zoe, Callan and Ben. This electric energy kept all of the participants engaged and inspired, including Donna.
Lauren told me how proud she was of these young writers who came out and shared their amazing writing. She was also proud of the fact that we had been able to create a safe but exciting place for these important stories to be written and told.
I wasn’t prepared for how emotional I would feel after the day was over. I felt privileged to have been a part of OUT LOUD! 2015. If I had to sum up the most important personal takeaway message it would be: “Go out and announce to the world that you are a writer. Be prepared for rejection, but don’t let that stop you. Keep writing; use your unique voice and tell your story.”
Here are some writing exercises from the workshops that you can try right now:
- Rewrite the cliches below. Give yourself 10 minutes for each one. Think about the story behind the cliche and tell that story in your own words.
“What goes around, comes around.”
“I ran at the speed of light.”
- Write about your hair. Go for 10 minutes.
- Pick one of the following emotions and write for 10 minutes. Assume your reader has no idea what emotion you are writing about; you need to show her through effective use of images and action:
Panic; grief; shame
Til next time, keep writing.