#38Write: How I’m Using Pinterest in the #38Write Writing Workshop

38Write—my [new-ish] global writing initiative—is a monthly series of online writing adventure workshops for place-passionate, culturally curious writers around the world. Each writing adventure focuses on one particular aspect of craft or the writing life (for example, writing kick-butt descriptions), and during each 38-hour adventure, writers connect with me and 38Write writers around the world via a Twitter hashtag (#38Write) and a group board on Pinterest. The July workshop had 16 writers in 9 countries. It’s pretty darn fun.


When I set out to create #38Write—a monthly series of writing workshops for writers all over the world—I knew I’d have to find ways to help students connect, feel part of a group, communicate with me and one another, deepen their experience, etc. Sure, they’d receive emails from me. Sure, they’d send emails to me. But after teaching writing workshops—online and in person—for nearly 20 years, I knew that wasn’t enough. A workshop—even a remote workshop—needs to offer connectivity, because while actual writing happens one writer to one keyboard/pen, a workshop needs group energy.

During the first workshop (June 2012), I introduced the Twitter hashtag #38Write. It was terrific. Writers in China were tweeting with writers in Australia; writers in the U.S. were tweeting with writers in France; writers in Belgium were tweeting with…well, you see what I mean. It proved to be a great way for writers on different continents and in different time zones to communicate.

Then in July 2012, I added Pinterest to the mix. (stirring, stirring…)

How It Works

  • I create a group board for the workshop on my Pinterest account. (For example, I created a group board for the July 2012 workshop—#38Write | Structure. See it here.)
  • I add each writer in the workshop as a “pinner.” (Of course, writers do not have to participate in the Pinterest board. Not every writer wants to engage in the social media aspects of the class. Some want to get the assignments and work without interaction. That is perfectly fine. Different strokes for different folks.)
  • After I “add” writers, each receives an invitation from Pinterest to be a “pinner” on the group board. It’s all very mannerly.
  • Once writers accept their invitations, the group board also appears on their Pinterest pages, and they can start pinning to the board.

My Intention for Pinterest

Here’s what I said about the Pinterest element to writers in #38Write | Structure:

  • “As you’re working, observing, adventuring, tooling around the Internet, take note of images of cool structural things. Then add them to the 38Write | Structure board. Anything that makes you think. Anything that puts you into writerhead. IMPORTANT: The new Pinterest layer of the class isn’t to replace or displace the writing; and no, I don’t want you to write from a photograph. The Pinterest board simply offers another way to see, to share how/what you see, to get inspired, to connect with other writers in the workshop, to find a jumping-off point, etc.

“For example, a few days ago, I spotted a photograph of a ‘glass frog’ on MV’s Facebook page (MV is one of the writers taking the workshop), and I was compelled to pin it on the 38Write | Structure board—not because I wanted to write about the frog, but because the structure of the frog made me think about the structure of an essay. My thought was, ‘Hm, could I structure an essay this way? An essay with a solid shape but translucent skin through which readers could see the innards? Solid yet vulnerable.’ I immediately jetted off into writerhead…far, far from the actual frog. As writers, we make all kinds of connections from many different stimuli…some direct, some indirect…some concrete, some abstract. As a teacher, I like to offer a variety of ways for writers to happen upon such stimuli. Pinterest is one of those ways.”

 The Benefits of Using Pinterest in a Workshop

  1. communication (People speak visually, as well as verbally; Pinterest allows this all-important visual conversation to happen…despite the miles, oceans, and time zones that separate writers in my workshops.)
  2. cultural exchange (Writers all over the world can share what their neck of the woods looks like, feels like, etc. I was going to say “smells like,” but as far as I know, Pinterest has not yet introduced “Smellerest.” Would be great though!)
  3. think/see — see/think (Writers in the workshops get to “see” how the other writers think, which pushes them to think and see in different ways. This happens organically in a “live-and-in-person” workshop; Pinterest is a great way to nurture this from afar.)
  4. jumping off points for the writing / inspiration (While I don’t encourage or discourage writers to write from a photograph, sometimes a photograph is the inspiration for a piece of writing…or one aspect of a piece of writing. For example, this pinned photo got me going this morning. How could it not?)
  5. group buzz (Yup, for many, Pinterest gets the creative juices flowing. Inspiration is contagious.)
  6. focus (As a writing teacher, I often say, “See it in your mind’s eye” and “Get your readers to see what you see.” Pinterest focuses that eye.)
  7. fun (Ya gotta have fun…)

And there you have it. Pinterest in a writing workshop. Love it.

(If you’re interested in signing up for the next #38Write, click over to the Classes page.)

Expat Sat: Travel Writing Scholarship

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is such an amazing writing opportunity for some youngster or oldster who fits the criteria. Check it out. (Please note that all information has been taken from Travel Writing Scholarship. I’m just sharing the goodness.)

 

DESCRIPTION:

“Do you want to be a published travel writer?

“This year we decided to shake things up a bit and instead of choosing just one country for our scholarship…we’ve decided to send you off to three different countries in Southeast Asia! Once on the ground, you’ll have the opportunity to see for yourself life beyond the banana pancake trail, and get to know Southeast Asia from the local perspectives, through the eyes of three amazing writers.

“Here’s the triple-dip deal:

“First you’ll head off to Singapore to go on assignment for five days under the mentorship of Rough Guides writer Richard Lim to review and update ‘The Rough Guide to Singapore’.

“Then you’ll fly to Bali and meet up with Stuart McDonald, founder of Travelfish, the online travel guide to Southeast Asia, before heading off on six days of cultural insight and adventure in Indonesia.

“For the last leg of the scholarship, you will be whisked off to Malaysia for a food odyssey through Kuala Lumpur and Penang with former local and cookbook author of award winning hsa*ba Burmese cookbook, Tin Cho Chaw, to explore how cuisine shapes the lives of Malaysians.”

HOW TO ENTER:

To enter, you must:

  1. write and submit a 2,000-word essay
  2. fill out and submit an entry form

Topics and details are here.

PRIZE

See description above.

DEADLINE:

April 23, 2012 (Write! Write!)

WHO CAN APPLY:

* This opportunity is open to students, emerging and non-professional writers and lovers of travel looking for a career change.

* The scholarship is open to all nationalities, however, you must have a high degree of proficiency in written English.

* The opportunity is designed to give you a taste of what it’s like to be a travel writer on the road, so you must be comfortable doing some travel on your own.

* Minimum age 18 by the date the scholarship application close (April 23, 2012)

* A current passport with at least six months before expiry

* You must be available as per the dates set out. Please note these dates are not changeable in anyway, you must be available for the entire assignment.

* You should be an exceptional writer with a lust for adventure travel, a desire to experience new cultures (and eat them!)and above all, a burning desire to become a professional travel writer!

THE KICKER:

None that I can see.

THE UPSIDE:

Duh.

ADVICE:

Check out the Travel Writing Scholarship. There’s lots more information there. Then get busy and write.

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Image: worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expat Sat: “Shanghai Calling,” the Movie

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


All my Shanghai/China/expat pals, look out! “Shanghai Calling” is a’coming to theaters near you. Check out the trailer! (Look/sound/feel familiar?) I love this!

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt: There’s Nothing To Write About??!!

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


Earlier this week a writer said to me, “But there’s nothing to write about.”

NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT!!!!!!

Holy crap-a-majoli! Nothing to write about? Nothing to write about?

(short pause, while I sit down and breathe)

FOR PENELOPE’S SAKE, NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT???

To help this writer and any others who have come to this desperate state, here’s a writing prompt to prove that no matter who or where you are, THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT!

Now…get to work.

STEP 1: Go outside and hunker down on a corner. (Yes, I know “corner” will mean something different to each of you. If you’re in a cabin in the woods, go to a bend in a path or a river or a creek. If you’re in Mumbai, go to a nearby intersection. You know what I mean…)

STEP 2: Wait for something to happen. (drums fingers on knee)

STEP 3: While you wait, see what takes your attention. (Who’s pulling their gutchies out of their crack? Who’s smooching on the corner? What is that smell?! Have you ever, ever seen that shade of green before? How would you describe that old woman’s limp? And so on…)

STEP 4: When something happens (AND IT WILL!), go somewhere and write. Get it all down. The whole hot sticky spilling-over-the-sides mess of it.

STEP 5: When you’re done, post a few lines of your piece in the Comments section below. I want to see what’s happening around the world.

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P.S. I know, I know, a few weeks ago I made a big promise. I sent out a “Save the Date” for today. Ugh! My apologies for postponing. But stay tuned. It’s a’coming.

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Image: sakhorn38 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #10: Kooky

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is #10 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing. (Yup, the last one in this series. But don’t worry…there’s more fun stuff a’coming.)

__________

kooky |ˈkoōkē| adjective ( kookier, kookiest ) informal; strange or eccentric

I love the kooky stuff. The wacky stuff. The stuff that makes you whip your head around and say Huh?

When I first moved to China, nearly everything was kooky. The hospital patients strolling the neighborhood with their IV bags in tow. The frog-tying guy on Wulumuqi Road. The fish that escaped its basket and flopped as fast as it could down Anfu Road, trying (and failing) to escape from the cook who chased it. Expat rants. Crazy-ass mannequins in shop windows. And so much more.

Assignment: What is the kookiest thing you’ve seen in your host country? What has made you whip your head around and say Huh? Write about it.

Tip: Put the kooky thing in context. Don’t leave it out there floating in space. Are there cultural reasons for this particular kookiness? Is there anything in your home country to which you can compare it? Did you tell anyone about this kooky thing at the time you saw it? Did anyone else see it? What was their response?

 

Have some fun with this one…and as always, get thee to writerhead!

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Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #9: “Raindrops on Roses…”

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is #9 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.

__________

One of my favorite things about living in Shanghai was that I was constantly (constantly!) inspired to take photographs. In addition to writing, I’m a wee bit obsessed with taking photographs.

In Shanghai, I carried my camera everywhere. On the walk to my daughter’s preschool/play group. On the drive to the grocery store. To my fav foot massage place. To friends’ houses. To Pudong. To Xian. To Chengdu. Up the street to buy a pack of toilet paper. Down to the Bund. Along the lanes. To Dongtai Lu. Into the wet markets. To the Ambassy Club swimming pool in the summertime. To the Longhua Temple.

I was inspired by, well, just about everything: people, objects, transportation, movement, weird & wacky stuff in window displays, birds in cages, birds not in cages, noodles, the frog-tying guy on Wulumuqi Road, the ice delivery chicky-babe who could hoist a massive block of ice onto her shoulder and tote it down a lane as if she were carrying feathers, bamboo scaffolding, Chinglish, monks, temples, fish that escaped their baskets and flopped on down the road trying to find the sea, nametags, and oh, so much more.

I have a gazillion photographs (like the one up there in the corner) that in the end loop back to my writing. It’s all part of my creative process…my writerhead.

Assignment: Write about your favorite thing–okay, one of your favorite things–about living in your host country. What gets you up and out in the morning? What makes you say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I love this place”? What inspires you?

Tip: Be specific. Dig in. If you love noodles, tear them crazy-delicious noodles apart. Don’t stop at “I love noodles.” What kinds of noodles do you love? How do you like your noodles to be prepared? How many times a week do you eat noodles? Do noodles remind you of anything back home? Where did you first eat these life-changing noodles? Did you ever burn yourself on a noodle? Slip on one? Stretch one out to see how long it was? Take a noodle-making class? Watch a noodle maker at the market? From what do these noodles set you free (boxed ramen, perhaps)?

 

Now spend a little time thinking about your favorite things…and then, as always, get thee to writerhead!

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #8: You & Her…Here & There…This & That

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is #8 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.

__________

Folks are often hesitant to do the old “comparison/contrast” when it comes to writing about their host country or their fellow expats. They’re afraid of offending people, stereotyping, etc. I get ya, but sometimes there’s nothing better than a little “us and them” to reveal truths, highlight key cultural differences, and maybe even make your reader laugh out loud. Believe me, you can poke a little fun at yourself, your culture, your fellow expats & their cultures, and yes, even your host country’s culture…all without being offensive. (And besides, not all comparison/contrast essays are funny. Many are quite serious. That part is up to you.)

Writing Assignment: You’ve got a couple of options:

1. Choose something aesthetic that you like: literature, food, movies, music, dance, art, clubbing, photography, architecture, etc. Then pick one example from your home country and one from your host country (for example, if you choose food, you could compare Chinese hot pot to good, old-fashioned American beef stew). Once you’ve narrowed your topic:

a. Explain why one thing is better than the other. For example, if you’re a fan of Chinese hot pot, explain why it’s better than stew back home in the United States. (In my mind, ANYTHING is better than stew.)

b. Reveal a little something-something about both by doing a side-by-side comparison. For example, hot pot and stew are both delicious but each reflects certain aspects of its culture. (Both are comforting, cold-weather dishes but stew-eaters are lazier than hot-pot aficionados. Stew-eaters like their dish to arrive ready to eat whereas hot-pot aficionados like to participate in the cooking.)

2. Compare and/or contrast two groups of people: taxi drivers in your host country and taxi drivers back home; store clerks in your host country and store clerks back home; bosses in your host country and bosses back home; mothers in your host country and mothers back home (yep, been done by Amy Chua, I know) ; etc.

a. Explain why one is better than the other. For example, why taxi drivers in the U.S. are way better than taxi drivers in your host country.

b. Reveal a little something-something about both by doing a side-by-side comparison. For example, taxi drivers in both countries USUALLY get you where you want to go, but both have their quirks.

Tip #1: Figure out what your purpose is. Are you explaining your two subjects…saying both are good (or bad), just different? Or are you evaluating your two subjects…saying that one is better (or worse) than the other?

Tip #2: Before you start writing, make lists. (Always a good time to make a list!) List the characteristics of both subjects that you will compare. (For example, make a list of hot pot characteristics and beef stew characteristics. Then also characteristics of people who eat each of these dishes.)

Tip #3: Keep your audience in mind. Imagine someone reading your piece in the next edition of “Best Travel Essays.” Make sure you give that reader all the info she needs. (Perhaps this poor reader has never had the privilege of eating Chinese hot pot!)

Un-Goal: This is not a rant. Your goal is not to mock or make fun. There’s a fine line between funny and making fun. (More on this in a future post.)

 

Now…get thee to writerhead!

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Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #7: Fear

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is #7 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.

__________

Fill in the blanks in the following statement:

Before I moved to ________ [host country], I was afraid of ________.

Come on, come on…don’t be afraid to admit your fears, however unfounded. Fear is a natural reaction to the unknown. And as you well know, packing up your life and moving to a new country is rife with unknowns.

To help you out, I’ll start…

Before moving to China, I was afraid that I would never learn to speak Chinese, never be able to communicate, and as a result, get stranded in some remote part of Shanghai during a wayward taxi ride.

Ha!

Little did I know that even AFTER learning to speak Mandarin and AFTER being able to communicate fairly well in China, I’d still get lost in remote parts of Shanghai during wayward taxi rides.

There were a couple doozies, too, including the taxi ride during which we drove backward on the highway because we’d missed our exit.

So what about you? What scared you?

  • The boogie man?
  • Getting sick?
  • A new job in a new country?
  • Tossing your kids into an international school?
  • Learning how to use a squatty potty?
  • Living in a Muslim community?
  • Curry?
  • Language barriers?
  • Learning a new subway system?
  • Camels on your street?
  • Fat, juicy spiders sneaking into your bed at night?

Writing Assignment: Pick one of the fears you had about moving to a new country. Own it. Explain how that fear felt…how it manifested itself in your daily life. Then tell how you’ve worked through (or not worked through) the fear now that you’ve actually lived in your host country.

Tip: Back to one of my writing mantras…thou shalt not pussyfoot around. Tell it like it is.

 

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Image: federico stevanin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #6: Giving Directions

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is #6 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.

__________

In retrospect, the first time I was able to give directions to someone in Shanghai was no big deal. I was crossing Wulumuqi Road at Anfu Road and a bewildered Scottish bloke needed to get to the Ambassy Club on Huaihai Road…just a few blocks away. (Granted, I gave him directions in English. The first time I successfully gave directions in Chinese is another story, another Expat Sat.)

Anyway, I realized as I gave the guy directions that I knew my neighborhood really well. I told him he’d pass the frog-tying guy and possibly (checking my watch) the ice-block delivery woman in front of the fruit/veggie shop. I also explained that once he passed the Iranian Embassy, he’d be fairly close to the intersection of Wulumuqi and Huaihai roads, where he would need to turn right.

When you get down to it, giving directions isn’t really about knowing where to turn left or right. It’s about knowing landmarks and points of interest. It’s about knowing what catches someone’s eye and knowing your own digs. And so, your writing assignment for the week…

Writing Assignment: Open a guidebook or a newspaper for your host city/town. Pick a popular destination. Then write out the directions you’d give to a bewildered Scottish bloke who needs to get from your house to this destination. (Remember, the Scottish bloke is a newbie to your town. He’s clueless.)

Tip: Write in 2nd person point of view…you  know, the “you” point of view. (for example, if you’re in Ireland, “When you get to the third castle, you know it’s time for a pit stop in the pub.”)

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Image: anankkml / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #5: The Fine Art of Description

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


This is #5 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.

__________

I’ve been talking to students in my college writing classes about description. Actually, I’ve been making them describe just about everything around them (favorite food, person they love, a person eating, a place that feels like home, their own knee, a sound on the street, etc.). Yesterday, I passed around a couple of Ziploc bags full of cinnamon. I told students to sniff, then write. After the obligatory jokes about the teacher passing around an illegal substance to snort, some beautiful, funny, unexpected writing occurred.

The morning after the cinnamon exercise, I caught a Tweet by @unbravegirl (on Twitter) about moon cakes in China. She said, “I think I would like moon cakes more if they tasted like cake. They’re more like moon newtons.”

What a spot-on description of moon cakes.

All this talk about description, of course, got me thinking about all of you. No matter what you’re working on–fiction or nonfiction–you need to be able to write a spot-on description. And so, here’s your writing assignment for the week.

Writing Assignment: Pick one spice or dish that is particular to the country in which you are now living. Eat it. Sniff it. Touch it. Turn it over. Rub it between your fingers. Roll it around on your tongue. Toss it against the wall…see it if bounces. Eat it with chopsticks. Eat it with a knife and fork. Eat it with your fingers. Tap it with a carrot stick. Compare it to some other dish you ate in some other country in some other period of your life. Then when you’ve exhausted all food play, write about it.

Tip: Try writing sense by sense: see it, listen to it, smell it, touch it, taste it. (Note: If, like me, you have ESP, read its mind and move it without touching it.)

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Image: Dino De Luca / FreeDigitalPhotos.net