Linda Alper came to Pakistan at the end of 2015 and conducted a workshop on writing. Back then, this project was still in the works. It’s been about a year and a half, and I can’t even begin to describe how transformative my writing journey has been since then.
You see, as untrained writers, we’re inclined to dwell deep into our feelings about a subject, and describe mostly what we feel. This gives any piece an airy feel, that may not be relevant to everyone. Linda, then, changed everything. She did what every good teacher does. She made us unlearn what we thought writing was all about. Every time we’d go off on a tangent to describe our feelings during the workshop, she’d lasso us back with her principles. It was rigorous, and transcendent.
She helped us understand that most stories follow a predictable format. This was new to us. “The hero’s journey” by Joseph Campbell was quoted, and we deconstructed stories of our choosing according to the given format. This seems rather dry for a writer, but boy was it useful.
I’d been writing for over a decade, and for the first time, I learned to truly separate right brain activity from left brain activity. So many things that I thought have to do with creativity, or “channeling” words, was now easily fitting into a box in my mind, filled with tools to structure a story in a way that the audience can immediately identify with.
During the workshop, if she had a whip, she’d use it every time we’d say or write something non-specific. No psychology mattered here when creating characters, all that mattered were things like the color of the character’s shoes, ironing of their clothes, the way they wore their hair, and what kind of verbal “tick” they had. It was humbling as a writer to be taken through such a process.
Then a year later, she took me through another experience: writing as a team. Piece after piece. The nature of the project was unique, it was an ensemble piece, and it was less of a play, and more of a presentation. It was different to everything I’d ever done. She taught us how writers need to be okay with their pieces being killed, or how she put it, “killing your babies”. She put the pieces together, make edits, take excerpts, and gave it structure. It was humbling watching her work. How she’d make decisions about specific words and phrases. It was particularly amazing how she’d have us translate from Urdu to English and then work out the linguistic kinks so that they would connect with and American Audience.
When it was done, I have to admit it seemed a little… I don’t know… bland? But that was because we’d read the pieces over and over, and we’d gotten used to the punchlines and intensity. It was during rehearsals, when Linda had actually left, that it all started to unfold. As we started the blocking, and when the lines started to come out as David directed us, the pieces’ depth began to unravel. The structure started to make sense all of a sudden. And even now, as we are in our final phase of the rehearsals, the “play” keeps unfolding in layers.
The whole process was inspirational. I can never look at writing like I used to, all over again. Linda, you are phenomenal, as a teacher, a coach, and as a human being. And your “momming” us around is always welcome. I am forever grateful. Thank you!