As Director of SSOA, I was recently involved in a series of interviews with leaders of creative enterprises in Sydney, taking the opportunity to describe what we’re really focussed on here in offering expertise and mentoring for our core public activities – weekly writing meetups, leading to global publication for those authors who stick to the task. Of course, the answer is that we build up the self-confidence and skills of our members, so that they can trust that their work is presented to the world in the best shape possible in telling their original stories. And we all have a lot of fun in the process.
I was encouraged to be candid, so here’s a summary of my thoughts:
So often we have ‘Writing of the Week’ [gleaned from a ten-minute exercise at the beginning of meetup groups] and someone who hasn’t ever published anything can see their work published online, in a newsletter, and that’s pretty special for them. It builds confidence, which is not only noticeable in the way they act but then in improvement in the strength of their writing. And the writing always does improve, and it has to do with, not me, but the technique that we use. That is, it’s informal. We sit around in a circle and we just do a little ritual at the beginning to say:
‘We’re here, of course, for our own work but we’re also here to help others”.
And because you’ve got half a dozen people, up to 10 people in a room maybe, who are genuinely interested, and because as a writer you get the benefit of these different styles of writing and different techniques being used and there’s discussion about that, you do benefit while you also give assistance. It’s just helpful – “What worked for you?” more than, “What didn’t work for you?” It’s the encouragement.
So it’s a wonderful trust that’s built up and it seems to work. That’s the major thing that I see. People come along and they might be here a couple of months and then they’ll see someone else come along and they can see others’ progress. Then, of course, we’ve got the books which we publish …
[Questions were then posed: Opening up a publication pathway to people? For people who wouldn’t otherwise be published?]
Yes. 2014 was when our first book was published. Burma My Mother, by Sao Khemawadee Mangrai. She wrote it in her own way in her own time and that book is still selling. It has love and also terror in it. Her husband was jailed in Burma and his father was assassinated sitting next to General Aung San when he was killed. It was published first in ebook and then in print – because it’s not the same unless you’ve got your own book to hold in your hand.
So the value of this office space which is subsidised by the City of Sydney is high. In social community terms, the larger community, it’s very valuable. I never ask for testimonials, but even people who came and then have gone on, you can tell when people like a thing and find it useful and improve and feel they’re on track with writing. One woman wrote to say that the writing group got her out of bed in the morning. She’d lost her job, but she has another job now so she’s not coming so often. She’s writing a novel and she’s a terrific writer! She goes over that work, goes over it, and she’s never happy with it until she reads it at the meetup and we say to her, ‘Yeah, that’s great!’ And her sense of self-worth improved so much. As I said, she got a job a couple of months after coming here, and that’s what she was prepared to write about, the value of writing to her and the group.