Today I’ve had the great privilege of hosting the poet, Antony Dunn, as he has taught and inspired my writing students at Wellington College. Over lunch, he said something to a group of fourteen year olds, which really resonated: that they should never be afraid of writing or feel lost as to what to write about, because their way of looking at the world, interpreting it and then articulating what they see and feel is absolutely unique.
This idea came from an exercise in which he asked us to write down our sensory descriptions of a plain old, black woollen jumper. No two images produced by the students were the same: it made his point brilliantly.
The idea that every single one of us has a special way of sharing our experience of what it means to be alive, is hugely motivating.
As writers we fear, all too often, that everything has been said already – or said better.
Both of those things may be true, but what is also true is that no one has said it in quite the way we have, and that the more we tap into our unique voice, the more authentic and exciting our work will be.
Another catch-word from Antony’s workshop was that we should choose words that are surprising. He used the poem, Jaguar, by Ted Hughes and asked students to fill in a gap in the first line:
The apes yawn and ______________ their fleas in the sun.
He went round the group and asked us to think of the word that Hughes might have used. We came up with the obvious things: scratch, pick at, inspect. The word was, of course, much more originally and beautifully surprising too:
The apes yawn and adore their fleas in the sun.
No one but Hughes would have come up with that particular word. It was his unique view of the apes relationship to their fleas. We spent some time picking apart the implications of the word ‘adored’ and came to understand what a brilliant choice it was.
Young people – people of any age, but young people in particular – often feel that their voice isn’t heard.
What a gift it is to help budding writers understand that their voice is both unique and so infinitely valuable.