10 May Words for Writers – yes Im looking at YOU!
I went to American Samoa and met many lovely people, including a 12yro girl whos writing a story on Wattpad. Its a Young Adult work in progress about life, love, school, relationships and family. She explained apologetically that ‘its only my first book and not very good’. How long is it? “Only seventeen chapters.”
Here’s what I said to her and I repeat it for all those with a writing dream, who are “only” writing something little…not very good…long way to go…etc. Especially other young Pasifika writers, poets and artists.
“To be writers, we must write. Regularly. With a goal. It helps if we have an audience in mind. You’re only twelve years old and yet youve already written SEVENTEEN CHAPTERS for a novel?! Not only that, you’ve made your writing public and accessible so youve cracked the massive obstacle which holds many wannabe-writers back – we are afraid to let people read our writing.
By writing regularly, (even if youre not sure its any good), you are developing an essential writing habit, training yourself to write consistently and towards an end. Also, you already have followers for this story, people who are bugging you for the next chapter and who are ‘hooked’. That means you are learning to write each instalment with a mini conflict that has some resolution and also contributes to an ongoing major conflict that makes a reader NEED to keep reading. All important skills and essential for writing novels and TV series scripts… I havent read your Wattpad story but I’ve been listening to you at the dinner table, tell us about the characters and DAMMIT I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!”
It was a pleasure to spend time with young Pasifika writers like Yasminna and her sister Karlinna who writes poetry, to see their enthusiasm for learning, storytelling, One Direction and for life in general. And valuable to be reminded of some writer basics.
Nobody writes flawlessly. Especially not at first. But we must not let that stop us from writing. It doesnt matter how young or old we are, we should start now to build a strong writing habit and write our way to better and better stories.
There are many avenues out there for sharing your writing and (forcing) yourself to be accountable to an audience. Start a blog on a free host site. Join a free story writing site like Wattpad. Post them on Facebook, link to them on Tumblr. Insta pic your poetry and put it on Instagram. Enter the Tusitala Samoa Observer Short Story Competition.
To new Pasifika writers out there, we need you. We need more stories written about us, by us and for us. Its incredibly empowering to read fiction and be able to see ourselves, to see people who look like us, from places and cultures that we can connect with. But remember, that doesn’t mean our stories need to be ‘traditional, heritage-laden, or village-based’ and ascribing to some rigid definition of what ‘Pacific Literature’ is.
We are also urban, contemporary people.
We are young women like Lauren, studying film in Salt Lake city, the first in our family to graduate from high school.
We are fashion designers in California like Isabella, making Telesa inspired art and much more, telling stories through fashion.
We are entrepeneurs like Tamiano, managing art n fashion stores at age 23, writing poetry on the side in between business proposals.
We are teenagers in NZ like Sade, who can speak Japanese and audition for Spoken word workshops in South Auckland.
We are actors and grad school students in Hawaii like Jo, telling Bus Chronicle stories on Facebook, and challenging culture and stereotypes on stage (and getting fired from our dayjobs for it.)
We are grandmothers in wheelchairs in Utah like Ko, who want to write stories in Samoan about the homeland for children.
We are mothers in Australia like Caroline, writing our first novel in between work and raising five children.
And yes, we are 12yr olds in American Samoa like Yasminna Lutu-Sanchez, writing stories on Wattpad – 17 chapters and counting!
I love Kathy Jetnil Kijiner’s words on this subject – “there is no one way to be “Pacific.” There is so much more to our identities than the coconut trees ocean navigation canoes and tourist destination (although those are integral factors for sure)…” Kathy is a poet from the Marshall Islands. You may have seen her present at the UN session recently on climate change and you should check out her blog here
Just as there’s no one definition for what makes someone a Samoan (or a Tongan, a Tokelauan, or whatever) – there’s no one definition for what makes a story ‘count’ as Pacific Literature. I’m the author of eight books and counting. Including a contemporary fantasy paranormal series where a girl bursts into flames when she kisses the boy she likes…a women’s lit series where a 30yro plus-sized heroine is a little obsessed with Jason Momoa and takes on all her familys taboos about sex and talking about child sexual abuse. I’ve also written stories for children that are used in the NZ schools reading curriculum…a historical record of a three country natural disaster…and an erotic romance written under a pseudonym.
Thats the beauty of storytelling. Theres no limit to the scope of our storytelling reach and we certainly shouldnt allow ourselves to be bound by fear that our voice isnt “Samoan enough”. Or doubt that our cultural authenticity is lacking.
We are in many places, living many lives, and telling many stories.
May we always have the courage to share those stories and the commitment to take them from the spark of an idea – all the way to their triumphant fiery reality as novels, poetry, performance art and more.