‘Writing The City’ With Jon Gresham

Rumi said “What you seek is seeking you” and I live by these golden words. When I moved to Singapore last year, I was extremely unsure if I would “fit in”. Almost a year has passed by and this city has been nothing but warm to me. I’ve met some great people along the way who have shown compassion and guided me on the right path. Gladly, I also found what I sought – a passionate Literature and Arts community.

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Earlier this year, I had shared my experience at the Singapore Writers Festival’s outreach program Words Go Round and my amazing indulgence in two splendid evenings of poetry with Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi during SIFA 2018. Today, I am here to talk about Sing Lit Station – yet another community that has given me a space where not only can I meet fellow writers but I also get to learn from the pioneers of Literature.

On the second Saturday of this month, I had the opportunity to attend a Creative Workshop organised by Writing the City. Founded in the year 2011, Writing the City is a literary arts platform in Singapore for emerging and established writers led and facilitated by Jon Gresham, author of We Rose Up Slowly – a collection of short stories. Jon is an a renowned photographer, and the director / facilitator at Sing Lit Station.

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Writing The City : Connection & Change – Reading Raymond Carver

Now this is how it  works – you find a workshop that you are interested in on the Sing Lit Station website and register for it. There is no registration fee for regular sessions, which are held either at Toa Payoh Library or Sing Lit Station. After the registration, you get a window of almost a week to submit your short stories (up to 1500 words) to Jon, who selects some and discusses them during the session later. I loved this part about the workshop. It actually gives writers a chance to have their work read by an established author and get real-time feedback. As the day of the workshop approaches, they send selected stories to all registrants along with some notes to go through. 

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My workshop was at Toa Payoh Library between 2 pm and 4 pm on 11th August and it was on the topic of Connection and Change. Before reading and analyzing Raymond Carver’s Cathedral (which was provided to is before-hand), we started the session with introductions followed by a few interesting writing exercises.

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It felt good blurting out on my diary after such a long time on a prompt given by someone. It was a pleasant brainstorm. Then we started discussing the short story for the day. Jon began the session with explaining how stories can actually bring about a spiritual change. He gave us several anecdotes on how to write a good short story:

“A good short story can familiarize fiction.”

The Process of Writing A Short Story : Jon Gresham

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He explained the characters, the set up and how the “interiority inside the mind of the narrator” played a critical role in the story. He told us about the concept of story questions and how that makes a work of fiction a page turner. He also walked us through yet another significant writing concept known as the reader’s response theory, which basically means that readers can respond to a particular scene in completely different ways depending on how they perceive it. We discussed about how humor and metaphors can be culture specific and how to develop them while keeping the readers in mind. He also explained that how sometimes the insecurities and flaws of a character make them likable. We got to learn about sentence constructionbuilding suspense and the role of entailing a good back story for each character/moment in the story. 

The best part about this session was that there were over 30 writers, teachers and aspirants of different ethnicity, age group and backgrounds in the room. Learning amidst this diverse group of Literary people, listening to their views on different writing processes was an added advantage! Jon was extremely warm and open to ideas from the audience – this made the session interactive and interesting. If given a chance, would I go for another Writing the City workshop with Jon? Definitely!

Sing Lit Station is organizing ‘Poetry Reportage: Capturing our Stories in Poetry’ on 15th September and you can get your tickets here. During this event, acclaimed British poet Joelle Taylor will explore poetry reportage, drawing on her recent celebrated collection Songs My Enemy Taught Me.


For queries, collaborations, pitches and feedback, write to us at theventmachine2018@gmail.com

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