Oyunga Pala’s Workshop: The Art of Becoming A Writer

I attended my very first creative workshop this weekend. It was a full day affair punctuated by great snacks and food; my own personal measure of event worth. I met 6 ladies and a gent who were charming, endearing, sensitive, funny, poignant, honest, quiet, exuberant and all things writers can be. Our master of ceremony, our teacher, the Yoda? Oyunga Pala. Many of us in the room came to this simply because of his name. And the title of the workshop? The Art of Becoming a Writer.

Now, you may say that I have been writing for years, decades actually. Why would one attend this class? Aren’t you already a writer? How do you get taught how to become when you already are and you have the science of writing down? Valid questions. But have you ever thought about what it takes to write? There is a science to writing, a formula. Our teachers in 8-4-4 taught us this science but this course by Oyunga Pala introduced me to the art of it. Yes, I can sit down and take a mundane phrase and weave a story around and about it. For me, the science of how I write is a formula combination of [ideas or topics + imagination or research]. x + y = z. Solve for x or y and your story (z) pops out. Some other sub-requirements to give this formula life may include, for me, the ability to step outside of self, life experiences, an amount of time to think up or create storylines, a suitable writing tool (preferably a beautiful pen and crisply white paper) and the availability of Cadbury’s milk chocolate. But that is not a necessary part of the scientific formula though it is an infinitely better choice than a glass of Hendrick’s and Lime every time I write. Then there is what you need to subtract because it is not always about addition. You can have x + y – bx – cy =z. bx could be fear as attached to your x, your ideas or topics. cy could be procrastination as attached to doing the research you need for your topic or the lack of motivation to really imagine up a scenario for your protagonist and all his or her friends.

For some people, their science is that they can simply look at a person walking by on the street and type out their imagined story of this person’s background and all the incidents, events, situations and happenstances that give him or her that gait.  Yes, it takes a combination of art, science and a healthy dose of time to become a writer. It took me decades to be able to announce out loud that I am a writer. To own it fully. For years, it was lumped to the side as a hobby. And even when I wrote for money, I never saw a penny of it, choosing to have my little sister go pick up my ‘paycheck’ as her pocket money when she was still in college. Perhaps this is why I want to write for money, to feel validated that I am a writer because I can get paid to produce these marvelous stories or insights. Because when you work a formal 9-5 somewhere, when your salary arrives, it is a clear indication that your hard work at whatever you do in that office has been validated. It’s almost like as if a part of me feels that if I write and I get paid for it, that is the universe’s way of saying, ‘Yes, you are a writer…and you are good at it’.

This weekend, I learned that the art in writing is in the details of the process, your process. What was clear was that Oyunga was not saying that the only way to write is his way or no way. Simply, it was less of a write-by-numbers scenario and more of a reflection by this celebrated writer on what has worked well for him in his decades of writing columns, features, essays and being an editor. Each of us attendees took the shared reflections and then verbalized our ideas, our hopes and the intentions we had when it came to writing. We each obviously had our own methods and science to how we write; some preferred heavy doses of research, some preferred poignant reflection and others leaned heavily on the idea of writing something diametrically opposite to what they faced in their 9-5 gigs. What we all needed was the art to tie it all together.

The workshop was magnificent because it formally introduced me to a sacred process that I slowly recognized, having carried out chunks and pieces of it from time to time. You know that feeling when you are in the Chemistry Practical exam and you mix your your test tube contents after you have been doing guesswork and making it through unscathed and, for the first time, you are mixing confidently – secure in the knowledge that for sure they will not explode? I felt like I had been doing guesswork all this time I had been writing and just getting by. Now actually seeing the process typed out, presented, animated and validated by someone with more experience that myself was eye-opening. Eye-openingly amazing. I went home, armed with this knowledge and ready to spit out all the words, stories and scenarios that were lounging in my head.

I had been given the key of art with which to flourish up the science by which I had been writing.

What was also lovely was meeting other people and learning about their process. You could hear the passion in their voices when they voiced their ideas, and even the quieter voices (obviously mine was less quiet overall) held notes of blooming dreams, budding ideas and that passion for a diverse set of subjects. To each one, our Yoda listened, nodded and then quietly delivered some gems and we would scribble away in our notebooks, taking notes, afraid of missing something that could prove to be the one thing that would echo in your brain that one night or early dawn when you were struggling to push words forth onto paper or onto your MS Word document against a deadline, internal or external. Whew. A long sentence. But this workshop also taught me how to listen. How to hear what other people are saying. A crazy notion, right? A writer should write…but should also be able to listen and hear to what others are saying because your storyline could come from this lifeline. And when people feel heard, they engage with you even more. This is one of the gems I picked up from this class. Just write, listen and hear what others have to say. Share your work with others and get feedback.

It was an amazing day. To see other women (and the one man) talk about what meant the most to them (because folks will write about what is in their hearts) from painful loss, family relationships, business challenges, internal conflicts, dreams of freedom. It was a full tapestry of extraordinary potential and courage and humor and vulnerability.

It was beautiful.



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