Thanks to Nova for the photo!
Today, we held our first Writer’s Café in Kuala Lumpur. I have to admit, I wasn’t optimistic. A few of us had been meeting monthly for a Writers’ Circle since last November and we loved it, but three of our members had been posted away and we were left with a core group of about four. We’d been trying to find more members for a while but, though I hate this for being true, not everyone wants to write. It was tough going. So why on earth I thought I wanted to start a second monthly group is a mystery.
I love the Writers’ Circle format, having been involved in a group that focused on speedwriting and sharing while creating what I call ‘a place of safety’ for over 20 years. But after our Devon writing retreat back in June, I was hungry for more, something that would stretch me and challenge me to write something a bit out of my comfort zone. This was when the Writers’ Café idea hit me and so, with the help of Melinda and Nova, two stalwarts of the Circle, we planned our first event, for Friday morning.
Why Writers’ Café? Because it meets in a café, while the Circle meetings take place in members’ homes. The other main difference is that Melinda, Nova or I are going to take it in turns to devise a simple task that the attendees complete there and then. And then share with the group.
Because I was desperate for more members I did something I should have done ages ago – I put details of the meetings on this website. Doh! Then I did something else I should have done before and started a Facebook page, called KL Writers and invited anyone who’d ever mentioned an interest in writing to like it. Doh, again. I created a Facebook event for the first meeting and invited people. And finally, I wrote a couple of articles for free newsletters here about writing and added links to the URLs. Not rocket science any of it but I had learned that word of mouth alone was simply not effective enough.
People did find out about the event through Facebook and the newsletter and so, I am delighted to report we had nine people today, with three sadly unable to make it. Those small efforts had tripled our numbers!
After we had all introduced ourselves and learned that we ranged in ability and experience from much-published to not-a-writer-at-all, I shared details of the task. I have to admit I pinched the idea from Christine, who had done a similar exercise on the first day of our Devon retreat (thanks, Christine).
The writing exercise
I simply found some old magazines, tore some pages out at random and used a highlighter pen to mark four of the most unconnected and obscure words on the page. Everyone blindly picked a sheet . I made sure I had more sheets than people and everyone was allowed one swap of sheet if they hated the one they got and then they were allowed to switch one of the words on their pages for one other word that was on the page if they wanted. There were some groans and sharp intakes of breath when I said they’d have 30 minutes to write and no preparation time, but everyone settled down to it.
Everyone wrote and there was time for us all to share too and give each other feedback. Work ranged from memoir and journal style to blogs, articles and fiction. Nova managed one, utterly perfect, goosebumpy short story. In half an hour that was quite an achievement.
We all left the café filled with inspiration and looking forward to the next event, so I call that a result. The whole meeting lasted a little under two hours.
If, like some of our new members, you find yourself writing in a vacuum with no one to share your work with and no one to tell you if you are actually any good, perhaps you would like to start a writer’s café too. If any of you have run similar events please share your exercise ideas here.
To join the group please head to KL Writers on Facebook.
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