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05 December 2018

Posted by Joanna

Bowling Balls, Dentists, and Baby Donkeys

"Writing is an extreme privilege, but it's also a gift. It's a gift to yourself and it's a gift of giving a story to someone.' - Amy Tan

One of our favourite things to do, at So:Write Women, is to 'gift' words to each other to act as a prompt - it often produces surprising results.

In our November workshops that's just how we began. Each person wrote, on separate slips, a name and / or occupation (eg Mr Hislop the florist), a place (as large as a continent, or as small as a street), a time (of history, year, or day) and an (apparently random) object. We collected them in the middle and then proceeded to 'lucky dip' for our workshop's first writing prompt.

(Of course, there was a small degree of chaos along the lines of 'hang on, I've got two objects and no people' because I'm still apparently unable to organise four small piles of paper, but I'm still working on that - and we got there in the end).

Our task was to create a short piece of fiction, or poem, using our person, place, time and object.

I used the words 'apparently random' above because, a bit spookily, in the Thursday group we ended up with two dentists and two bowling balls. Coincidence, or collective unconscious? Is there a conspicuous dentist's surgery and a bowling alley en route from the car park or bus stop to the Art House? I'll look more closely next time...also strangely, both of our dentists were a tad sinister, if not murderous (sorry dentists!)

The power of the exercise lies really in the fact that we're forced to write outside of our comfort zone. If we didn't know the place (I'm looking at you, Silk Shop Cut), we had to improvise, or imagine it. We found stories in the small details that weren't of our own devising: a pound coin, a pencil sharpener, a teacup. The work produced ranged from humorous to moving to unsettling.

Writing muscle thoroughly warmed, for our next exercise I gave the groups a provocative opening sentence to finish: 'I still remember my first...'

If I was expecting a lot of first kisses and first loves, I underestimated the So:Write Women. Ester was up first with her astonishing 'I still remember my first kill'. (Whether it was carried out with a bowling ball, we may never know...) Over to the Saturday group and Katie's seemingly innocuous story beginning 'I still remember my first guinea pig' had us in stitches, and the next moment Claire G had us in tears with 'I still remember my first steps', a moving tribute to her daughter.

This is why writing a gift: it costs nothing to share our words, but they can make people think, laugh and cry. There's magic in that.

PS oh, the baby donkey? That was the unexpected, middle-of-the-night gift that was to transform the well-ordered life of Mr Hislop, the florist...


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