Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Creative Writing Workshop—Two in Kota Kinabalu

Just back from two back-to-back workshops in Kota Kinabalu (Sabah, Borneo), one a six-hour workshop for Universiti Malaysia Sabah (above) and then a four-hour workshop organized by the KK Theatre Group, SPArKS (see below).

Mark Storey presents a gift to an exhausted Robert Raymer after
6-hour workshop at UMS
The first workshop at UMS, we started out with 30 academic lecturers and tutors, including someone who recognized me from Unimas, a former colleague from USM, and a fellow expat writer, Mark Storey, who organized the event.   

In the second workshop, the ages ran from thirteen to mid-sixties, from secondary students to published authors, including fellow MPH writer, Tina Kisil, author of Footprints in the Paddy Field.  One participant flew in from Miri, one was the daughter of one of the UMS staff that I taught the previous day, and another, Farida, was the mother of a student I taught at USM years ago. In fact, her enthusiasm for bringing a creative writing workshop to KK brought both UMS (Mark) and SPArKS (Jude Day) aboard.  Suddenly I’m in KK conducting not one but two workshops to two very different groups.

Robert Raymer demonstrating the use of clustering.
Also attending the second workshop were two students from IPGK Gaya and three UMS students who were taking creative writing in Malay. They told me how different my approach was from the way they were being taught and how easily they can apply my ideas to generate their own ideas.  At UMS, they’re getting mostly theory but they don’t know what to write, or where to even start!  

I take the opposite approach by leaving the theory where it belongs in the textbooks (see “Tree Methodology”  from Tropical Affairs) and showing them some useful pre-writing techniques that actually work in the real world.  We also use sensory details and 5-Ws as prompts that flood them with even more ideas.  Within minutes they’re eager to write.  Several times, after getting them started, I had to stop them, so we could move on, so I could introduce more story-starter ideas! The important thing is they got started and later they can finish up what they began.

The workshops went so well in fact, it looks like I’ll be back to KK in August for another related workshop and possibly a follow up in November. The one in August, I will be creating two longer writing sessions (one for first-person non-fiction, the other for fiction) so they can produce two finished samples to add to what they’ve already started and hopefully completed. (My final exams at USM were one hour and I was always amazed what they came up with after investing some of their precious time with pre-writing).  Then a follow-up workshop (after they’ve had time to rewrite and polish) so I can critique their opening pages from one of those samples, as I did for the 2009 MPH Short Story Awards when I was one of their judges.  By limiting the size of the workshop to 20-25, we can devote 10 minutes for each participant.

When I did this in Kuching '09, this worked wonderfully. They all benefited no matter whose story we were discussing since the others made similar mistakes in their own stories.  (It’s easier to find mistakes in someone else’s story than your own!) 

When I tried this in Miri '09 (maybe because of all of the advance publicity), it wasn’t as effective because many of the writers had sent in stories via their friends or even their moms, so they weren’t even present for their own feedback, nor could they benefit from the feedback for the other stories! Other writers took advantage of the theater style seating and passed down multiple stories.  One submitted four!  I was furious when I found out later what was going on.  It was so unfair to the writers who were present with their own short stories because we couldn’t get to them all.  This time around, as I did in Kuching, where we sat around one long table, I will personally collect each story from each writer, so everyone present benefits.

When I put on my judging and editor’s hat (as I did briefly in KK), I can show them what is holding back their writing (be it grammar, organization, style, including word choices, repetition, and using tentative or trite expressions), so they, and all those who attend, can take their writing to the next level. Here are the judging tips that I posted for the MPH contest and workshop, the post-contest comments and a little inspiration to prove them wrong, and the story behind the story links, whereby I blogged about the significant changes that I made in the Lovers and Strangers Revisited stories that led to their various publications (80, so far, in 12 countries!)

A one-off workshop—although inspiring and motivating for all—is rarely enough.  One writer in Kuching, was so inspired by one of my workshops at Unimas, he turned his ideas into five hundred page book!  (It still has a way to go, but he sure got off to a great start!)  For others, they’ll eventually get around to doing some writing.  We all know about good intentions, but life and work often gets in the way.  The real learning comes from the actual writing. The doing!
      —Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

*One of the IPGK Gaya students blogged about the workshop. (Yes, our pictures came from the same source, but he added more!)  So did the gentleman from Miri.  Here's Tina's blog about the same event.

**Here is the follow up KK workshop in August'11And the third KK workshop 22 October '11

***Here's my workshop with Malaysian Nurses Association and International Tuition School in Kuching.

Here's a blog link about being interviewed on TV for Kuppa Kopi.  If you wish to contact me for a creative writing workshop at your school (for your staff or students or both) or your association, I can be reached at robert@borneoexpatwriter.com  

******Announcement latest workshops:  Writing Your Life Stories Workshop—Kuching! 23 June 2012 (with links to other workshops and writing tips!) and also a workshop in KK on 17 June 2012! 

If you are interested to bring one of my writing workshops to your organizations or association in Sabah/Sarawak/West Malaysia/Singapore/Brunei please contact me at robert@borneoexpatwriter.com  Thank you.

Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I 



sintaicharles said...

I enjoyed your workshop very much. I will definitely attend the follow-up workshop.
Actually I had a chance to attend the one in Miri but the head of my school's language department did not let me know about it.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Finally I got to meet you. Glad you enjoyed it and were able to fly up for the day. We were able to accomplish a lot. I liked the mix of participants; they were there because they wanted to be there.

Several of the academics in the first KK workshop just wanted their name on the attendance so they can get credit for attending, and then skipped out the first chance they had!

Next time, we should charge them a fee and open it up to the university and the students, then we'll only get those who are truly interested and that always helps. Still those who stayed for the full six hours had a great time. I was glad to have them.

I had one all-day event at Unimas and not a single person left. Maybe it was because we held the event away from their departments, so the temptation to check email or catch up in other work wasn't as strong...

Yes, some heads of department aren't very efficient about relaying news, if they relay it at all. Often they sit on it for two weeks (or two months) and then send it out the day before when people had already made other plans. Had only they known about it sooner...

sintaicharles said...

This is my blog on the course:

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Sintaicharles, Thanks. I've added the link into the blog. Hmmm rapid-fire American. Guilty! Writing on the board and using handouts do help! Glad you could apply "Tree Methodology". It works!

Maybe you can arrange to bring me to to Miri so I can inspire your colleagues!

Afiq said...

Thank you for the workshop, Mr. Raymer. It was really fun.

I learnt lots of things from it! Your methods are effective even though they are surprisingly easy. I can't wait to pen a story or two.

See you again this August! ^^

[and thanks for mentioning about my blog]

Borneo Expat Writer said...

You're more than welcome. Glad you enjoyed it, and glad you wrote nice things about it in your blog, too.

Check out Sintaicharles post in a previous comment, which I also included in the blog. It's great to get different perspectives and feedback so quickly

sintaicharles said...

Good suggestion! I will discuss with my Principal.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Good. Give me your email and I'll send a breakdown of the workshop that I did in KK, and add other suggestions, too, something I'll be working on this weekend for Jude for the next KK workshop. Then you can print it out or forward it to your Principle. You can leave the email via my website email or use the one listed below.

Tina said...

Hi Robert!
I enjoyed your workshop too and I'm looking forward to the next one.
Thanks for mentioning my book here. Check out my blog post to see what I wrote about the workshop. Cheers!

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Tina thanks and you're welcome! I just added a link at the end of the blog!

Mark Storey said...

Great to read about our doings on your blog, Robert. Yours was as inspiring a workshop as I've attended in a long time. Thanks for enlivening PPIB with your presence and hope to see you again in Sabah in the near future.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Thanks Mark! I look so exhausted after that first workshop. It showed I wasn't holding anything back. It was a good idea that we switched everyone to one side so I could address them head on. Better for them too, and less running around for me, or I would've been doubly tired!

Let's do a follow up workshop like we're doing with the other KK group. Keep the momentum going.