This week’s writing workshop was all about who our thoughts most commonly neglect - the animals. Compared to the previous two weeks, today’s session was pretty straightforward. No string, no paints, just a pencil and paper and your brain. But, of course, brains still need something to get them going, and Emily had no short supply of ideas.
The trick to writing, as we’d worked out, is to just start. Even if you have nothing to say and nobody to say it to, you’d be surprised how much you can write about if you just begin. So, that’s what we did. For the first 10-15 minutes of today, we free-wrote with only one rule in mind - no pausing. Even if that means writing in your ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ as they come. Like with the painting two weeks earlier, this kind of free-writing, or journaling, is a powerful tool for generating ideas. And by forcing yourself to put ideas on the page in an exercise, you end up avoiding needing to force yourself to write when it comes to creating your final version.
We didn’t stop there, of course. Emily had prepared a short series of animal images to write notes and thoughts on as quickly as they come, from whales, to tigers, to seagulls, to snakes, to moths. Just two or three sentences an animal, and sharing some of the more interesting thoughts with the group afterwards. Emily does an incredible job of keeping the entry-level of discussion so simple, yet provide so much scope for engagement. Ask a group of would-be writers to talk about a moth, and you’d probably get a few awkward looks and silences. Ask a group to write about a moth for 20 seconds and then discuss? You’d reach the heat-death of the solar system before everyone would have a chance to talk through all of their ideas.
Then Emily got us to do something which I’d never been asked to do during a Zoom call before. Two years of working-from-home in, not once had it ever occurred to me that (device permitting) work can occur outside. Go outside, she said. Write about what’s outside. How it feels compared to sitting inside. Actually take it in, and articulate it on the paper, as we’ve done with animals, with trees, and with our free-writing.
Which, once we’d finished and met up again, was the perfect launching point for the true task at hand - write as a select animal, either one we’d spoken about, or another species we connect with in some way. Thinking about writing through the lens of non-human life, I found, grounds you in a way that just writing from the self doesn’t. If I may be bold as to present my own effort here:
If I were a creature aside from my own
You’d think me honest. Perhaps modest.
But I wouldn’t know cruelty, nor intention, nor hope,
Wouldn’t think in possessions, ambitions, or growth.
I couldn’t care, nor uncare, nor anticipate, nor regret,
And never imagine, critique, project, or forget.
And in no terms would I learn, nor ever consider
That being could be complex, good, or bitter.
And never could I yearn for, or perhaps wish away
People and what they imagine I’d some day say.
These nature-writing workshops have been incredibly fulfilling in this way - getting you to step outside of your own head for a bit, and see what that sort of thought process creates. And so far, it’s always been interesting. Looking forward to next week’s final workshop from Emily, and hearing what the rest of the group comes up with during that time!