Tag Archives: workshop

Mailbox – Advice to a Younger Writer

As I write this, the judges are reviewing the submissions to this year’s Wadadli Pen Challenge. This post is inspired by two emails from would-be Wadadli Pen contenders seeking to get better. Time does not allow me to give the desired response to every single message, but I did give some time to these two out of a desire to encourage their efforts to put in the work and improve.

The second emailer wanted to know how she could make her stories shorter. This is a struggle for her, she said, because she likes to include a lot of detail. This is a complaint I’ve heard before with the Wadadli Pen 600 word limit. I do wish that even those who think 600 words is too little would challenge themselves to try it anyway, and that’s the main reason I want to share my response (edited for length, flow, and to excise personal information).

Length does not necessarily translate to more detail. Often, there is a lot of unnecessary detail, or a bloated and meandering plot.

After writing, let it sit for a minute (an hour, a day, a week, a month…however long you need to come at it with fresh eyes). Then, ask yourself, what is the story? Re-read with an eye toward focusing on that – do we need all that backstory? do we need all those asides? what is the pivotal action? does this character really add anything to the telling?

With the short story, you don’t have a big canvas – you’re not telling the story of all the lives of all the people or even your central character’s entire life; just this one chapter in the much more expansive story of their life. You need to narrow (read: sharpen) your focus a bit more in the short story format but doing so is actually good practice for novel writing. Even with the bigger canvas that you have with a novel, you still have to tie off the loose plot threads, and hone in on the details that matter: details that help to reveal character, establish setting or context, enhance mood, or move the plot forward. Moving the plot forward should always be your goal.

In editing, you can see where your plot is stuck in quick sand and where there’s a limb you can use to dig yourself out.

If none of that makes any sense, remember this –

  • read a lot; read a lot of different types of stories, different lengths and genres and styles;
  • write a lot (some of it will not be fit for public consumption but that’s okay, you’re doing it to build your writing muscles);
  • allow yourself the freedom during the writing phase to write badly, to write unrestrictedly, to just write;
  • then learn to be honest with yourself so that you can be clear-eyed during the editing phase (get outside feedback if you can).

In time and with practice you will get better.

Write the stories only you can tell (the stories only you can imagine) – don’t be imitative. And don’t think (at this point) of writing a novel (etc.), think what are the stories I have dammed up in me that need to be told that only I can tell…tell those stories and zero in on why it is so essential that you tell them. That will help guide you.

reading and sharing by Kurne

Scene from my 2013 Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project.


Okay, I did that in under 600 words, so I still have time to add that if you want to be notified of future writing workshops, mine or, potentially, WadPen’s, say so in Comments with your email.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight,  Fish Outta Water, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, and forthcoming With Grace). All Rights Reserved. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles,  images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

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Stimulating New Writing

Since completing the University of Iowa Massive Online Open Course in November 2016 I’ve been going over the course material, bird by bird so to speak: the transcripts and the readings (including the non-mandatory extra readings). I know, nerd. But just as the course itself, while it was live, was one of my favourite parts of […]

via Stimulating New Writing — jhohadli

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A Blast from the Past


Writer and academic, Ifeona Fulani, posted this blast from the past on facebook recently. Thankfully, this is largely a good memory and an opportunity to talk about the value of writing workshops. This one was my first (that’s me in black in the middle). Some of the other people pictured are workshop leader Olive Senior (seated), Sarah Pemberton Strong (far right) – who was not only with me (and another friend) when I got my first tattoo but suggested the design, and some others I’ve reconnected with all these years later via facebook (though I didn’t automatically make the connection) – Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa, Donna Aza Weir-Soley, Ifeona Fulani (who I knew then as Faye), and Guichard Cadet…probably others and I just haven’t made the connection as yet.

As I explained during a recent (as yet unaired) TV interview, I participated in this workshop during an in-between period in my life. It was my first ever writing workshop and came at a time when I was struggling with the choices or, it felt at the time, lack of choices that lay before me as someone who wanted to be a writer but felt like she’d have to sacrifice that dream to what was practical. This workshop (the Caribbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami) was a moment in time that allowed me to see another possibility. It was a transformative summer in many ways. But it wasn’t easy.

My memory is murky on this, so forgive any misspeaks, but the workshop was recommended to me and I recommended for the workshop by Mervyn Morris, currently Jamaica’s Poet Laureate, then, during my University of the West Indies days, my mentor. I submitted a sample of my writing and other required material, and earned a spot. I was among, if not the youngest in my group; scared but hopeful. I had only shown my work to a handful of people by that point and yet here I was in my first workshop where the writers were considerably more accomplished and certainly not shy about telling me all the ways what I had on the page didn’t work. There were tears that summer, tears and so much doubt. But there was also adventure (did I mention my first tattoo? … Well that was only a small part of it), new friendships, and so many growth opportunities. Not only didn’t I stop writing as you feel like doing sometimes after a drubbing but I went down new roads in my writing – one a vaguely familiar road, one so unfamiliar I had to wonder how I’d ended up there; two different manuscripts…and so much poetry. I read my writing before an audience for the first time that summer…and lived.

The familiar road referenced above was the dead end alley in The Boy from Willow Bend, which would become my first published manuscript.

After that first, bruising critique, Vere showed up; barefoot, running down a willow-tree-lined dead end alley. I knew that alley. It was my place of first knowing, a vague early memory. I revisited that space and – sitting there, cheered by my flat mate, the other half of my summer writing group of two, with whom I shared bits and pieces – built from it a world more fiction than fact but rooted in something solid enough to anchor me, and hopefully the reader. I got to know the boy, his character biography including many things that didn’t end up in the story but which certainly informed my understanding of him as I wrote the things that did.

Workshops are good for getting you out of your comfort zone, for challenging you, for allowing you to prove to yourself what you are made of as a writer.

At summer’s end, I stepped in to what-I-had-to-do-for-now knowing that I would never lose sight of who-I-truly-wanted-to-be. I returned to my world a writer, even if I was the only one who yet knew it. It (didn’t make me immune to but it) helped me overcome all of the petty nonsense you find on the job because I knew that that was not my life; my life existed in the moments outside of that space writing and living, and poking around for a way to make writing my life. It took some doing but that summer, the summer of ’95, was really the jump start for what came after, the bumps and scratches, the setbacks, knockdowns… and the breakthroughs.

One such breakthrough came when in January 2001, I signed the contract with Macmillan for the release of The Boy from Willow Bend. The book would be re-issued by Hansib in 2009, and has been taught in schools in Antigua and, I believe, Anguilla…and it will forever remain a highlight of my writing life, the moment a boy at a school I visited in February 2015 said to me that he played Vere, the boy in The Boy from Willow Bend, in an in-class dramatization.

The girl in this picture doesn’t know any of that; and if she did maybe she would have decided it was too hard – because it has been at times, too hard – but maybe she would decide, it was worth it and that she was strong enough…and that she was indeed a writer. Little did she know that the summer workshop she was participating in would begin to give her not only some of the tools but the drive to do just that.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C.
Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!  Fish Outta Water, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, and Burt Award finalist Musical Youth), founder and coordinator of the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

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Jhohadli Writing Project Announces January Workshop

The first Jhohadli Writing Project workshop of 2015 will be held on the afternoon of January 24th 2015. This workshop will be my first since the successful and energizing CODE workshop in November.Workshop 2 I said then I’d keep it going if I could and the enthusiasm of some of the participants with active projects has been a big part of the impetus to do just that. The JWP isn’t sponsored, of course, so participants will have to pay but the fee to start is sinfully low (only EC$50 per hour). We don’t have hotel digs like we did in November so I’m keeping the group small to begin with but as interest grows I’ll find somewhere that can accommodate us and/or split us up into different groups. That’s exactly how this will function, like a writing group; there’ll be exercises to help you flex your muscles, but the focus will be on presenting and providing guided feedback on works in progress. If you wish to be a part of the first two hour session on the 24th, Contact me to register no later than January 15th 2015.

Alternatively, if you require more personalized coaching, you could make arrangements to commission my coaching services.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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On writing dialogue

I’m not one for hard and fast rules (always, never…please!) but there are some good dialogue tips here

You know that part in your favourite show, usually the first 15 minutes or so, where characters are talking but they ain’t saying nothing (new) i.e. background and contextual overload in dialogue form …that’s what I think of when I read rule 1: Never use dialogue as an information dump (See what I mean about always, never… sometimes you’ve got to give a little something something through the dialogue …the trick is to keep it conversational).

My time as a reporter (where it’s all he said, she said with the occasional rebellion to something more descriptive) more than anything has taught me as much as possible to beware dialogue tags that get in the way of the actual dialogue which is rule 2: Use simple dialogue tags.

Having the characters do instead of or while talking is a good idea as well since that’s what we do in real life – see, I’m thinking and typing and listening to music all at once. Knew show don’t tell was gonna work its way in here some where. So, use the moments, reveal the characters, create forward movement, slow things down or speed them up, use the moments; rule 3: Use dialogue beats to help with story pacing and to convey information or emotion.

But it’s so pretty…. rule 4: Remember that often less is more.

Rule number 5 is Be careful when writing dialect.  Ok, here’s the thing, I try to write the characters’ voices as I hear them (not literally…exactly). In editing I read the dialogue out loud to hear it (for real this time). As the review process gets going I may nip and tuck here and there so that they still sound like themselves but can be understood…it’s not a science with me…but so far it works.

Read the whole article

I think my dialogue note, if I have one, is I don’t try to create my characters, I try to get to know them and be true to them in the telling. How they speak is a part of that. I am ever a student of this craft but reader response suggests I get it right (some of the time):

“… nicely managed dialogue that captures personality and mood.”

“The dialect is wonderfully written and rolls off the mental tongue while reading it.”

“I find myself caught up again in the complexity of the characters, in a fascination with a world with layers of languages I hardly know, with its sense of community.”

 “Even though the dialect wasn’t something I was used to at the end of the book, I felt that I could go to Antigua and carry on a conversation with the best of them.”

“The characters are so vivid, that I got this idea that when I will visit Antigua, I will meet them in the streets.”

*WARNING*Shameless plug alert* All reader reviews refer to my book Oh Gad! About which you can read more, here.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Writing Under the Influence

I was of two minds about attending the writing under the influence workshop. Not because I didn’t see the value in writing workshops; I’ve participated in enough of them over the years – as student and teacher – to deeply appreciate the value of flexing your muscles lest they atrophy. No, my hesitation had to do with how my once promising day had collapsed on itself. I couldn’t stand the thought of being around people just then. But I decided to chance it anyway. And not only did my writing muscles get a work out, my spirits were lifted.

Tanya Evanson’s ice breaker exercises put you off kilter enough to get you out of your head and then Rumi, Rumi, Rumi…and then group writing…oh how I hate group writing exercises…because my creative route goes brain-heart-spirit to fingers…group work short circuits the path with a detour to the tongue…and as it happened I didn’t verbalize much (read: at all) while the group writing chain linked and clinked itself together…truth is …by the time my puzzle piece of words lined themselves up someone had already jumped in and the chain had another link…always a beat behind, I held my tongue…but then we were sent our separate ways to reshape this chain into something of our own making…this part I loved…this part flowed heart-brain-spirit-fingers…I edit and write for a living so it felt almost like second hand…but then this was no simple edit… no, the words started reforming into something entirely new…and I felt alive in the process…and that gave me the key to the poem…by the time I was done I was quite eager to share it…so eager in fact that my heart was beating a wild tattoo against my rib cage…I could hear it…truth be told…the rhythm was also driven by my body’s instinctive rejection of public speaking …I do it, have done it multiple times, will again …as soon as this coming weekend…but boy do I hate it…boy do I fear it…but true to my mantra…feel the fear, but do it anyway…I leap into it…so I decided to do just that…I volunteered to go first. And because we had to be creative in our presentation I decided to incorporate my yoga (breathing) practice into the exercise. It fit the poem after all and was less about performance and more about melding with the audience. Once I was done, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the presentations and didn’t even think about my craptastic day again until I stepped outside of the cocoon of the workshop and back into the real world.

This was the chain from the group exercise:

Live in silence

Close your eyes

Speak only to yourself

Hear without ears

Feel without touching

Sense without being

This beauty is only for the blind

For those who can see won’t understand

Follow your thoughts

To their rest

I’m unable to speak

But I can use my hands

Truth cannot fill an overflowing cup

Sense the spirit that lives outside

I’m glad for this glass door that’s hiding me from deception

Ask no questions

My body shows it all

Guided by the feetless walk

Upon winding paths of the mind

Trees move not

Hear not sound

Mind sees and hears all


My redraft (entitled Truth):

Close your eyes

(a beat)

Close your eyes

Speak only to yourself

Without ears

Without words

Absent sight and sound

Live in silence

Come alive to yourself


The beauty you shield

Is only for the blind

For only those without


Can understand

Understand yourself


Follow your thoughts

Use your feet

Use your hands

Do not speak

Let your truth fill this cup

So it overflows

Swirls around you

Like spirits’ touch

Do not flinch

From it

Do not hide

From yourself

Live in silence

Come alive to yourself


The water becomes the mirror

In which you

See yourself

No more deception

No need for hiding

Come alive to yourself

Swim in this truth

Follow the currents

Where they


Let your instincts guide


Trust yourself

Here where

There is

No sound

No sound

No sound

Only you

In the silence

Speaking truth

To yourself



Blind one-word evaluation (one from each member of the group):













See also another workshop participant’s experience of the experience.


As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.


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Best of Books launches Wadadli Pen open mic

The Best of Books in association with the organisers of the Wadadli Pen Prize competition announces the start of a monthly Wadadli Pen Open-Mic activity at its Royal Palm location in Antigua and Barbuda. The objective of the activity is to give writers an opportunity to share portions of their work in a relaxed atmosphere where constructive feedback can be obtained.
Although there have been a number of successful Open-Mic activities organised by lovers of the literary arts much of this has concentrated on the delivery of poetry. Manager of Best of Books and one of the organisers of this activity, Barbara Arrindell, says that writers will be encouraged to share their creative short stories with the emphasis in the first three months being placed on humour. The topic for the first session is “Only in Antigua”
According to Arrindell, writers are encouraged to seek out the humour in some of the more current topical happenings in Antigua and Barbuda and present their short story, essay, monolog, two person act or poem using not more than three minutes on Saturday 8th May at 7:30 pm at Royal Palm Place.
Writers are required to pre-register, submitting a four line biography that will be read before they present their writing.
In addition to the actual readings, the organisers will be seeking to have talented writers form teams. By sharing ones work with a small team before presenting to a larger audience there is an opportunity to strengthen ones writing before it is presented.
The Wadadli Pen Open-Mic will also host workshops to assist writers in the art of re-writing their own work and sessions that will focus on the art of story telling and public speaking.
More information can be obtained by sending an email to literaryantigua@yahoo.com

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