Late last September, and very shortly after moving back to the area, I began my search for local NaNo WriMo groups on the internet. Not finding anything in the Kenora area, I extended my search to 'Northwestern Ontario'. I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I did come across a Facebook posting for a writing workshop in Dryden. I was cutting it close both for time and space, but I managed to contact the folks at NOWW and snagged one of the last slots for the event.
I was not familiar with the author, and though I gleaned through the event description, I was more excited about the 'writing' part and finding other local writers, more than anything. When I last lived in the Kenora area some 20 years ago there were no writer groups or anything that could be considered a workshop. There was a writer’s conference one year when I came back to visit, but I have not heard much about that since. I tried my best to go with few expectations. The description gave it a very childlike feel where we could 'play' and 'doodle! and 'mess around' and reminded me of all the adult colouring books that have become so popular in the last few years. It promised to be a fun time. Kathryn, a Toronto based writer, has just recently earned her PHD in Philosophy, and has taught her creative journaling and imaginative exercises both in and outside of the academic world. Many of the exercises and topics she covered were your basic categories for first-year writing classes; Characters, setting, POV, scene building, and dialog. Kathryn, though, approached it all with a unique tactic to try and trick the brain that it was doing something fun, and not just tedious work.
If you haven’t been to the Dryden library, I highly recommend it. It is a treasure trove of creativity and artistic expression. Every nook and cranny has an original piece of artwork, including a fireplace with comfy chairs.
Crayons were the first order of business. To heck with the No. 2s and Bic Rollers, we went straight for the colourful and cursive. Kathryn had us write the alphabet, over and over, in the old school style. At least everyone in the class was familiar with cursive, so I don’t know how well this exercise will go over with anyone just graduating high school. Maybe not as exciting as most will think but her theory was sound. By using a very different writing instrument from the beginning of the class, this simple change set off a part of the brain that made you pay close attention to what you were doing. It took us out of our automaton brains and into the more right-side of the creative mind. As well, it takes most adults back to a time when crayons were a staple, and they most likely didn't worry about what it looked like.
This idea of using crayons, or markers, extended to Kathryn’s writing journal. Filled with brainstorm bubbles and landscape sketches, hers is also full of character drawings, doodles, fancy writing, square printing, and all in different mediums: Crayons, watercolor, ink, graphite, markers, coloured pens, and more. We would also be using them for the rest of the day.
A deck of tarot cards was the next rabbit she pulled from her bag of tricks. Though she was not about to read our publishing fortunes over a cup of loose-leaf tea. There is a popular book that uses tarot cards and their meanings to create a character's background, traits, and then build some situations for them. Kathryn took a more visual route with the classic Rider Waite Smith deck and had us draw a character based on the image on the card we each drew randomly. It was an invigorating exercise that ended up going in many unexpected directions, giving us a rockstar angel, a knight’s horse, and a woman playing eternal hide-and-seek. She then had us partner up to create a dialog with a given prompt. This was especially fun when the horse magically began to talk. These exercises for building a character, their voice, and dialog with another person, was fun and put the group in a playful mood that continued for the rest of the day.
My favorite exercise of the day was the Object of Desire. This, like most of the others was multi-stepped. She had us begin like the tarot card exercise with a drawing of something we desired. We made a brief list about how having said object would change our lives. Then, using just the object as subject just start writing. It was an intense writing, quick, timed and without any prompts other than what came to mind with the object.
The final step in this exercise is the one that resonated with me the most – take one line from that last paragraph of intense writing, anything that jumps out at you, something that doesn’t sit well, or you have no idea where it came from. Now, rewrite it for the beginning of the next paragraph and go from there for another minute or two of intense free-writing. Rinse and repeat once more, and however many times you want after that. Basically a 'go deeper' exercise, each paragraph or two building on the last one. Every writer has their own version of free-writing, and Kathryn’s took it up a notch by starting with drawing and growing it with intense micro-bursts, much like watching a sped-up video of a sprouting bean plant.
I came away energetic and appreciative of the Creative Journal aspect of the workshop. It was more formless, right-brained and less uber-organized, bullet journal left-brain. Kathryn gave the class permission to break rules. Previous workshop teachers I have had had been adamant that rules are cardinal and sacrilege if not followed. One of the major rules she encouraged us to break is the idea of never changing POV mid flow, as in a chapter, or having more than one in a story. Not just character POVs but going so far as going from an 'I' POV to a 'He/Her'. It was refreshing to hear analternative to the normal drone of do's and do-not's and be given a more Why Not! approach. Kathryn Kuitenbouwer knew her subject very well, and you could tell she was having fun while teaching, doing all the exercises, including the dueling dialog, along with us. She answered our questions honestly and with a strong assurance that there is no wrong way, just any way your imagination wants to take you. Allow it to happen. Don't be critical of yourself. And, just get the words flow on the paper. The doodles in the margins are a good thing.
As a side note, when the event was listing ‘different mediums’ to be used, I decided to take along one of my many typewriters. Kathryn promptly laid claim to it and set it up by the fireplace as a ‘line-by-line poetry’ experiment. I can’t say we turned out a masterpiece, but it was fun as people took turns and added their own lines to the crazy poem. And Kathryn has since acquired a typewriter of her own.