On April 4-5, Agnes Scott hosted the 48th annual Writers Festival, which is the longest continuous literary event in Georgia. Each year, the college invites several talented and well-known writers to host readings and other events for students and the community. The visiting writers also judge the winners for the writing contest open to all college students in the state of Georgia. This year, the college hosted Nikky Finney, Ngῦgῖ wa Thiong’o, and Agnes Scott alumna Gillian Lee Fong ‘00. To learn more about this year’s guest authors, as well as the Festival itself, click here. As well as readings, these guests hosted a Q&A and a writing workshop for festival finalists. These are some of the writing tips they shared during these events.
- The Beginning
The blank page is not something to be feared, it is something to be excited about. What is important is to let your ideas flow without judgement, not to worry about the quality of your first draft. Don’t judge yourself before you have even begun to write; you can decide later whether or not to share your piece.
- Collective Experience
As writers, we draw not only from our own lives, but from what Thiong’o calls the “the collective autobiography of a people.” This collective experience allows us to communicate what it means to be human. These experiences also allow writers to use aspects of identity and culture as a source of power. Thiong’o does this by writing in his native language, Gikuyu. This, in itself, is an act of rebellion. It uses an identity intentionally weaponized against someone as resistance.
- Know the rules...
...So you can break them. Finney encourages writers to be kind and honest as well as subversive. Don’t wait on the expectations of others to validate your work, exceed them. Power lives in the expectations you have of yourself, not those of others. Speak out your truth; expressing different ideas is the purpose of writing. Don’t be afraid to shake it up! Speaking out your truth is just as important as knowing it; as Thiong’o likes to say, “that which remains in the heart never won a lawsuit.”
- Plotting a story
Creating and planning a novel is a long and arduous process. Lee Fong had an interesting suggestion on how to approach writing. She says that she starts with a character, not a story, and then follows that character on their quest. This can be not only a physical objective, but a search for answers, especially the answers to injustice. This is not only an exploration, but a way to make readers look at injustice, think about these questions, and discuss them.
- The inherent value of writing
Writing is not only about looking at something, but finding a new way to see it. Writing shares this new perspective with others. In addition, the guests pointed out to finalists that the value in the act of writing is separate from the “win” of a contest. The experience of creation and communicating who you are in your work has its own value.
- There will never be time
You will always have things to do, there will never be time to write. MAKE TIME. If you want to write, you need to prioritize it, above all else if it’s what you want to spend your life doing. Self-motivation and dedication is what makes a writer. Value you your craft; it will never stop being improved.
- Feed your imagination
Imagination is the greatest equalizer in the world and should be valued. Research different perspectives and seek out new ideas to see what sparks you. You never know when something will come in handy or impact your writing.
- Be discerning
People can be very nice, but that does not mean that they are helpful in your writing. Find those people who see what you are capable of and push you towards it. These are not the people who will let you off easily, but those who will never stop encouraging you to improve. Finney remembers someone who greatly impacted her writing when she was young returning her poetry, full of corrections, and saying “under all that red is something beautiful trying to happen.”
- Finishing a piece
Stop intellectualizing and being afraid to finish projects -- just do it. Write every day, keep working until you’re done. Writer’s block isn’t real -- you need to push yourself to practice your writing and keep going until it’s done.
- Value your humanity
Writing is about finding vulnerability. It’s perfectly okay to be uncomfortable. Telling the truth and valuing your own voice is what matters. Continue working on yourself as as well as your writing. If you’re nervous about something, it means that means it matters to you.