The AWT Workshop for Emerging Writers Rekindled my Passion for Writing.

by Gary Layn

“Gary, keep writing,” Eric Ngalle, the workshop tutor told me when the workshop concluded. “Your writing is beautiful.” At a time when I was struggling with writer’s block that had gone on for months, it surprised me that all it took was a few words said to me at the right time to fill me with hope; hope that I could still write.

I joined the workshop partly to discover whether I could still really write or if the ability had been stripped away from me, and partly because I’ve wanted to write a memoir for a long time but always felt that I was too young, that I was yet to experience incredible things that others would find interesting, and that in any case, no one would want to read a memoir from an insignificant name. At the end, I discovered that, yes, I could still write and that I could write a memoir.

One of the exercises that we did that helped me a lot and which I enjoyed, was going down memory lane and revisiting those instances in my childhood that while they seemed insignificant whenever I thought of them, revealed a great deal about who I was and the kind of person I’ve grown to become. Some of those memories are traumatic, like the time I almost fell into a pit latrine, only to be saved by an aunt who held my arms while my feet dangled into the open pit. Or the time my mother rushed me to hospital, my head covered in a hat to reduce the flow of blood that sipped out endlessly after I had hit my head on a window.  Going in, I had never bothered to think about my childhood, such a distant place, one I was sure held nothing of interest and yet there it was, a place of wonder, pain, laughter, love, a place that held many stories. This session was awesome and my favorite.

Like all the writing workshops that I’ve attended, at some point, we had to read each other’s work and provide feedback. Forget the small lectures about elements of non-fiction, character development, remaining authentic in your story, going back in your memories, how personal experience enhances the story, creating escapism for the reader, the editing process…forget all that; I found that others reviewing my work and me theirs, taught me a lot more about writing and understanding characters. Now, whenever I receive compliments, I smile and sometimes giggle like an idiot and avoid people’s eyes. That is exactly what happened as Eric spoke about what worked for my story and what could be improved.

Picture this: me, alone in my room, the camera of my laptop on, giggling to myself, the dimples on my cheeks deepening. That was me, and of course, being naturally shy, I thought everyone was staring at me (no one was) and I tried as hell not to look into the camera. Anyway, when that was done, I was certain that I could write, as long as I let the fear come and go. And so, I told myself that I would give writing a memoir a go, starting with a short story about something that happened in my childhood and how it impacted my relationship with my parents.

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