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Of Shared Universes (Week 1): Beyond a Personal Narrative

Note: Documenting Tamaasha Studio Foundation’s residential playwriting workshop in February made us realise it was fun to talk about writing, share stories of playwriting trials and triumphs, and tips and tricks that were discussed in the room. We wanted to do more of it! So when Bangalore-based performer, playwright, director and dramaturg Nisha Abdulla announced her writing workshop ‘Of Shared Universes’ for 16 participants, we jumped at the opportunity to be in another writing room.

And so here we are, inviting you to observe and participate in this three-week-journey, as actor-writer Ashmita Arjun - who will be in the room with a front row seat - shares her reflections and observations on pursuing writing as a practice.

It was 10 AM on a Saturday, not too early for most folks but since writers inhabit the notorious cliche of nocturnal productivity, the Zoom room was filled with sleep deprived and overly caffeinated faces that quickly broke into enthusiasm as Nisha’s warm voice ricocheted across the tiny squares. She invited the group to come as we are, to bring our entire person-hoods into the room and the journey, slowly unlearn the conditioned biases and anxieties we’ve built around our creative processes and write from an informed and intersectional lens while abandoning the pressure to produce so that we could tune into the process of creating. As a writer juggling multiple deadlines; slowing down to focus on craft and indulging in the “process over product” ideology was immensely refreshing.

We began by setting intentions for the day. To me, this was an acknowledgement of the steps being taken towards a healthy relationship with the self, self-expression and one’s writing. As we settled into the virtual space, we were prompted to write about our skills, resources and experiences, even ones that wouldn't be perceived as such – this shifted the focus toward positive exploration and play while reframing supposed gaps.

“Writing is a practice. We do so much to prepare for the moment of genius, of inspiration. Most of that effort lies in repetition, in showing up to the blank page again and again,” Nisha shared. She continued to talk about ideas of rehearsal and practice in sport or music - “cinematic montages of training, hours of practice to get a note right but while depicting a writer’s journey – someone staring at a blank page or screen – just isn't as dramatic. We often forget that it takes thousands of pages of practice, of bad writing, of edits and culling out, examining craft and politics through multiple critical lenses to distil narratives into ones we want out there.”

After leaning into the areas of comfort and abundance, we took a tour down the underbellies of our self-reflections to explore what holds us back, our fears, insecurities and doubts about our creative processes. This brought up a fair share of fear even in the most prolific of writers among us. It is necessary to acknowledge and examine our intrusive shadow thoughts - some of which are true and it is helpful to locate the areas that require some tending to and bridge the gaps with lessons on craft and practice. As for the unhelpful ones that arise from an unnecessarily harsh inner critic, we learn to sit with these thoughts and create frameworks to cope.

The discussion then shifted to personal entry points, nuances within systems of privilege and oppression, and sharing of themes that participants wished to explore - from complex ideas such as humour and its relationship with the histories of masculinity and vulnerability, to the complexities within simpler themes such as food and cats. “It is within these write-what-you-know and write-what-you-are-curious-about vantage points that one can springboard into an exploration of larger themes and politics,” said Nisha. This idea was expanded in our discussion of Girls, Cows and the Cities they Grind to Dust by Vijeyta Kumar.

One of the main tenets of Nisha’s practice is to move through a hyper-individual lens to expand and frame it within collective experience and histories - where the personal becomes political and the political is entered through the self, thus investigating the conditioning of either/or and personal/political binaries.

A participant brought up the dilemma between feeling or processing something and writing about it - the uncomfortable tussle between describing an experience, remembering it and re-entering that moment while going through the feelings it brings up. This sparked nods across the little squares as everyone resonated with the concern of wrestling with the extent of truth, fiction and metaphor within our personal narratives. The group shared space and built upon each other's learnings and I caught myself jotting down these exchanges as my anticipation grew for the coming weeks.

After traipsing through a series of prompts, discussions and revelations, I was left feeling emotionally stimulated and inspired to delve deeper into my practice. One of my key takeaways was Nisha’s pointed idea of engaging with the physicality of writing taking precedence over content. The embodied notion of staying with movements of typing or motions of a pen gliding across a page. I’ve sat through many stream-of-consciousness writing exercises à la The Artist’s Way but never before has the focus been on the dance between hand, pen and page.

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