There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.
My teaching year began this week and although I have many returning students there are also new enrolments. The first lesson always includes writing exercises to help us get to know one another, but coming up with innovative icebreakers isn’t easy. I think I’ve exhausted all the usual suspects and planning that first lesson takes a great deal of time.
How do you make the information shared ‘new’ for the same people who have been meeting and writing together for over a decade? How do you make someone coming into that established group feel excited about joining and wanting to belong? The variety of ages, life experience, abilities and expectations in adult classes makes them interesting and enjoyable, but also a challenge.
A good ice breaker helps create a memorable first impression and often encourages lasting friendships – that enjoyable feeling where you say, ‘we just clicked!’
As a teacher I listen attentively to everyone’s responses and encourage the class to do the same – being a good listener very important, but especially so for writers. Often we interview each other and then introduce our interviewee to the class before writing either a story based on some piece of information gleaned, or a journalistic profile or mini biography.
However, when the same people return each year I have to come up with targeted interview questions or word games. This year we went around the room several times describing ourselves with adjectives that began with the same letter as our name (alliteration), but added why we chose the word.
Meticulous Mairi – I love paying attention to detail when I write.
Moneyless Mairi – The need to have a regular income to pay bills keeps me grounded, but also eats into writing time.
Mysterious Mairi – An intriguing song from my youth often plays in my head, Peter Sarstedt’s “Where do you go to My Lovely…” I never want to be described as ‘an open book.’
The ice was certainly broken by the first round as people helped each other to come up with adjectives and explanations of why they chose the word – those with names beginning with ‘I’ having to stretch the mind muscles with inimitable, illogical, immaculate, inventive, innovative, irrepressible, ingenious and informal… One student’s name began with ‘J‘ and we understood why jolly and jocular were easy to say, but jam-lover revealed an interesting snippet we hadn’t heard before!
Not everyone can think ‘off the top of their head’ and although I always leave a dictionary and thesaurus in the centre of the table it was heartening to see how everyone joined in to help each other out when someone got stuck. It’s not as easy as it sounds, to come up with words beginning with the same letter or sound as your name – especially to match descriptions you want to be accurate!
A feature of my classes is always laughter – and my students have never disappointed – a little bit of humour whether self deprecating, satire or full on comedy should be a component of everyone’s day.
The assigned homework will add to our knowledge of each other if the writers choose my suggestion of modelling a profile on the alphabet. Like list poetry I have discussed in a previous post, using the alphabet as a jumping off point can be helpful to a writer:
Write the alphabet down the page – Underneath the letter or off to the side, write:
A is for __________.
For example, A is for Australia (if you were born in Australia, or perhaps Apple if that’s your favourite fruit). Write a couple of sentences of explanation, description…fantasy, memoir… wherever your thoughts take you.
Next week you will share this ABC profile of yourself and also any story ideas it may have given you. This is a FUN exercise to flex your writing muscles and imagination.
Perhaps the ABC profile might be about a character in a story you are working on, or some other person you want to write about. The more bizarre or unusual the words you choose, the more interesting and original the writing and the more you stretch your imagination! RELAX and keep a good dictionary handy.
Last year among the targeted questions the class pondered and answered we thought about our names. Your name is an integral part of who you are, how you perceive yourself (many people change their names). Names often generate a discussion when you first meet someone – whether it is about culture, origin, similarity to your own, never been heard before, unusual spelling…
From a writer’s perspective choosing a character’s name is an important part of the writing process. At the end of the first lesson last year we certainly knew each other better and had some interesting ideas for stories and characters.
What’s in a name?
To break the ice in writing class
Much to some students’ dismay
We asked each other questions
In a ‘getting to know you’ kind of way.
At first we pondered each other’s names
Their origin – had family tradition won?
We discovered Barbara may be a saint
And Victoria’s Tori is much more fun.
Amelia loves her name, as does Heather,
Who hates nicknames or shortened versions
While Emily feels loved when she hears Em,
And Jan became Janette if family ructions.
A lipstick released and called Michelle
Ensured Jane’s mother chose simply Jane
Michael never wants to hear Mike and
Mairi wishes her spelling more plain.
What’s in a name, I hear you say
What’s the creative writing motivation?
Well, as any writer will tell you
All knowledge is ripe for exploitation!
Who hasn’t heard of Oliver Twist,
Jane Eyre, Miss Faversham or Lorna Doon
of Harry Potter, Hercules Poirot?
And Mr d’Arcy still makes folk swoon!
Most storytellers invent characters
And characters usually need a name
Think carefully as you bring yours to life
Because they may be on the road to fame!
Ice breakers help the class explore their thoughts on a common issue and for a group of writers they can be a perfect segue into a topic or technique important to the craft of writing. When I reflect on the class responses I may see a snapshot into their current thinking or knowledge of writing, as well as recognising changes in the lives and health of those who have been attending for a long period of time. The lessons from that first lesson shape the term as we continue on that wonderful road paved with words, ideas and more words!
A writer’s problem does not change. It is always how to write truly and having found out what is true to project it in such a way that it becomes part of the experience of the person who reads it.