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Gilly Smith

Umi's writing techniques

Umi Sinha, a writer and writing facilitator, came to talk to us at the second Arts and Learning day yesterday, and passed on some invaluable exercises which I shall use with my students.  The chicken’s in the oven, so I’ll be brief….

Warm up exercises:
Walk around the room with pad and pen, finishing off any number of one liners starting with ‘I see’. Here are a few of mine:
I see tangy lime walls without any juice
I see pin boards empty of ideas
I see horizontal lines, beachless pebbles, harsh lights and sharp-faced buildings
I see empty streets, a lone cyclist with nowhere to go
I see empty spaces waiting for life

This was designed to connect us to our visual senses and then Umi asked us to turn one of those lines into a metaphor by changing the ‘I see’ into ‘I am’. Because I was in a bad mood, I chose ‘I am an empty space waiting for life’…

We then used the diamond shape to try collaborative story telling as another warm up;
I worked with Jane and we took a line each in two stories so that we each had a go at the beginning and the end of a nine word story.

Leaves (Jane)
fall softly (Gilly)
in the woods.(Jane)
Another day (Gilly)
closes (Jane)

Panic (Gilly)
takes over. (Jane)
Quickly, they realise (Gilly)
time has (Jane)
stopped (Gilly)
We studied texts by Dickens (‘Great Expectations’), Geoff Dyer (‘But Beautiful’) and Jean Rhys’ ‘Voyage in the Dark’ to look at use of senses in describing place and emotion. Lovely stuff!
Umi showed us a great writing technique that I’ll try with my students at UCH. The poet, Roger Stevens, had taught it on one of his writing courses and told her to pass it on. I do love the generosity of the creative mind.
Write down the following:
  • an emotion
  • a sport
  • something you enjoy at work/school
  • something you enjoy at home
  • a bad habit
  • a good habit

Now write down an animal you would associate with each of them.
Now write a line for each, starting with ‘There’s a (your animal) in me that….’
Et voila; you have a poem that explores the very essence of you.
Here’s mine;
There’s a dog in me that wags her tail at the sound of the key in the door
There’s a chimp in me that leaps onto your hip and buries her neck into yours
There’s a lion in me that watches you play, occasionally stretching out a paw to warn you how loud I can roar
There’s a cat in me that curls up on the deep red sofa as soon as the sun slips behind the yard arm
There’s a tiger in me that pounces on anyone who steps out of line
There’s a meercat in me, eagerly spotting the next opportunity to give away my love
We talked about working with teenagers at the end of the session. Umi asked us to try out this exercise to see how to get deep safely.  She asked us to write down a time when we felt grief. We all selected the death of a family member. My original line was ‘I felt grief when I read ‘She is Gone’ at my mother’s funeral and looked out at my father and brother and knew that, to them, she really had.’  Turning it into a definition kept the power but distanced it from the personal so, ‘Grief is looking at at my father and brother as I read ‘She is Gone’ at my mother’s funeral and knowing that for them, she had.’ 

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