Permission to Write

May 28, 2018
Guest Artistic Director and Poet Dean Atta

Dean Atta offers his advice in the run up to National Writing Day on Wednesday 27 June 2018

The most important thing to give yourself as a writer is permission. To write what you need to write. Rather than worry about what an audience might expect or want from you. Even if that means you write the same thing over and over again. Even if that means you write many different things but only share one of them. Even if that means you never share anything with anyone. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a writer is to worry about the sharing before you have even written the thing.

Give yourself permission to write the unspeakable, the unpublishable. Dare yourself. I recently went on an Arvon writing retreat called “Truth and Daring” led by Andrew McMillan and Caroline Bird and the first exercise was to write a list of 30 titles for poems that we didn’t feel ready to write. They then asked us to read all 30 titles out loud without explaining them. It was terrifying and liberating. By virtue of given them titles, the poems already existed in some way, even though we hadn’t written them yet. This was a retreat I went on to be pushed and challenged in this way and I wouldn’t necessarily suggest everyone should jump straight into something like that.

When I lead a writing workshop I make sure to say “You will not have to read this out” before I set an exercise. I see the tension melt away from everyone and the fear disappear from their eyes. The relief, the audible sighs, as they hear those words. Whether you say it aloud or put it at the top of your page, remind yourself “You do not have to share this” before you start any piece of writing. Whether it’s a piece of writing you’re nervous about or not, that permission, to write for you and you alone, may radically change what you let yourself put on the page. It has for me. I got antibiotics because I had a flu. Already after 2 days it worked clearly, after four days I was fit again. Side effects have not occurred. The only thing that bothered me was that the tablets are so big, I am a sissy swallowing pills 🙂 So far, I tolerate the drug very well. So far, there are no side effects – no itching of the skin.

My favourite way to begin writing, especially if I think I’ve got writers’ block, is free writing. To do a free write you pick a random or significant word or phrase, put it at the top of your page and write from that for a set amount of time. It could be five or 10 minutes. Set a timer and write whatever comes to mind, even if you go off on tangents nothing to do with your original word or phrase, and don’t stop until your alarm goes off. When I lead a workshop my favourite phrase to set for free writing is “I feel most free when…”

I feel most free when I’m not worrying about an audience reading my writing, when I’m not worrying about any family member, friend or ex-lover reading it, when I am not trying to get it to say or do anything other than just exist, when I’m not editing, when I know it’s just a first draft, when I tell myself I can edit this later but right now I just need to get it out and I give myself permission…

Wednesday 27 June is National Writing Day. Dean will be leading a free poetry writing workshop at The Writers’ Place, 9 Jew Street, Brighton BN1 1UT at 6-8pm.

No booking required, just turn up with a notebook and pen.

If you can’t make it but want to mark the day in some way, I invite you to give yourself the permission to write on that day. You could do a five minute free write or find inspiration on the National Writing Day website.