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Bernard MacLaverty gives you permission to write badly

15 Jun

The Scottish Book Trust and BBC Scotland are collecting stories about our favourite Scottish places. They’re looking for diary entries, stories, poems, letters, song lyrics or a short scene from a play.

This national campaign to get us writing includes free writing workshops with internationally renowned authors, what a rare and wonderful thing?! I booked onto the first free workshop at North Edinburgh Arts with Bernard MacLaverty.

I enjoyed the workshop. Bernard spent time getting to know us and reading examples from his novels. He also had some great advice…

Bernard’s Top Tips:

Start by saying “today I give myself permission to write badly”. If you try to write a masterpiece it’s hard to write anything at all. If you give yourself permission to write badly it’s easy to write and you never know, a masterpiece might come somewhere along the way.

Write to show and not tell. You could write ‘Mary was in love with the boy next door’, that’s telling. But to show would be to say ‘Mary waited by the curtains looking at the red door as it opened…’ and so on.

When I work with teenagers they all want to write something that astounds you, something to change the world but actually I just want them to tell me about their Granny or a place or something someone said.

Our Task

Bernard had planned to get us to write a postcard from a favourite place.  Beginners are encouraged to go to these workshops but since but we were all professional writers he set us a different task. We had to describe a room from childhood using the five senses and in the third person. A show and not tell exercise.

We had just ten minutes to write it and I gave myself permission to write badly. Here’s what I wrote:

She swept the smooth wooden floor of the caravan with her socks, sliding and sweeping. More fun than a broom, not conventional sweeping. This was dangerous. One slide too far and you’re on the floor. She perfected the motion, sweeping the dust of last night’s fire, of today’s food. Up and down and around and back. Up and down and around and back. Sweeping it into a small, fluffy pile. She took a dust pan and swept it up. There wasn’t a bin so she found a bag and tipped it all in.

We read our paragraphs to Bernard and the rest of the group for feedback. Here’s what people said about my paragraph:

  • It pinged a memory and is likely to do so with others (Bernard talked about how he used to polish the floor with his socks as a child)
  • I think someone is about to come to the caravan or something is about to happen, there’s suspense building, it’s exciting…
  • It seems to be a short story already, keep going and make it into one
  • It reminds me of a description from Hemingway about a fish (but it wasn’t really about a fish) is this really about sweeping?
  • What was she avioding? What was coming next? What was she really thinnking?
  • The repeated phrase worked because it showed the repetative nature of the task

I’d strayed a little from the brief, earlier in the workshop I’d been thinking about Skye as a favourite place. It’s unbelievably beautiful and was somewhere I stayed earlier this year. Here’s a picture I took on a bike ride with my mobile:

When asked to describe a room from childhood I didn’t really want to leave the beautiful island in my imagination and so I described where I stayed on Skye instead. The rest of the group didn’t know that when I read my paragraph.

The best thing about the workshop was it made me want to write. I had loads of ideas and was poised with my pen raring to go while the task was being discussed. I think that’s what these workshops are all about, meeting great people, being inspired and putting pen to paper.

Do you have a favourite place? Book onto a my favourite place writing workshop here. Read about other peoples favourite places here. The closing date to submit your writing is 31st August, submit it here.

The Scottish Book Trust loved this blog post so they reposted it on their blog here.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Events, Writing

 

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