• Hayley McGrath


Updated: May 29, 2019

Rachel Watts

WORKSHOP PRESENTATION: ‘What if? – Creative Writing Thought Experiments’

An award-winning journalist and a writer, Perth-based Rachel Watts has had work published in Westerly, Island, Kill Your Darlings and Tincture Journal, among others. Her young adult climate change novella Survival was released in 2018.  Watts also works as a tutor of high school students and teaching workshops on writing.

Hi Rachel. You are returning to speak at LitFest2444 again this year. What do you love about the event?

“I think I love it because it would have been so exciting for me if LitFest was around when I was at school. The energy of the presenters and students is fantastic and the diversity of content means there's so many different ways to explore storytelling. My workshop last year was thoroughly enjoyable, the students were such strong writers and really engaged in improving their work. I'm really looking forward to coming back.”

You tutor high school students and conduct writing workshops. How essential is writing to the craft of storytelling given students today can film, illustrate, podcast or perform their stories?

“I was at a festival recently where a panellist described our society as entering a "post-literate" era. Storytelling has so many facets and, while writing has been one of the central ways we record our stories that hasn't always been the case historically and perhaps won't always be in the future. It is still the way students' expression is assessed though, and is a big part of our daily communication, so improving your writing can help you improve your confidence in so many different facets of study and play.

“I have always written as a kind of self-expression and I don't know where I'd be without it. Even if the task is not writing related, I need to write my ideas to organise and better understand them. If I were to create a podcast or film, I'd write a script first. If I were to perform a song (don't worry, I won't) I would write it down first. Writing gives me the ability to study the operation of my mind, to tell a story the best way I know how, to express a feeling of connectedness, or happiness, or loneliness, and allows me to hand that story to someone else and ask "do you feel that too?”.

“Our minds all work differently though, and I know not all of my students feel as at home with writing as they do with performing or creating an illustration. The crucial thing is recognising that we are still all storytellers. The different means to express those stories allows us to explore our different skills.”

Your LitFest2444 workshop is entitled ‘What if? Creative Writing Thought Experiments’. What benefits can flow from asking ‘What if’.

“‘What if?’ is such a great question to ask yourself as you start a story. It allows you to see a boring everyday object or place in a new light. It's the game we played as kids when we laid upside-down on the couch and imagined walking on the ceiling. Sometimes the best way to describe something is to get outside of it.

“A story aims to develop a connection with the reader, to inspire their imagination or emotion, and allow them to see what you see. You can do this with even the most far-fetched idea, though often something small and close to home is more relatable. Asking questions, and challenging your own assumptions, can help you see the story from the reader's or the character's perspective, and helps to generate empathy. It can make the story you're telling more effective, bolder and somehow more your own.”

Tell us a little about the new writing techniques and styles you’ll be helping students to explore at LitFest2444.

“We're going to be led by writers I admire and start by breaking writing down to the word level, thinking about phrasing and description in new and inventive ways. 

“Then we'll build upon that by adding character development, voice, setting and empathy. At each step I like to offer an example from a great writer, give students a prompt to write a little about, then suggest they take a step back, asking ‘what if?’ to reimagine that same element of their story.”

What’s the take-home message you like to leave students with?

“Break the rules! But know them first, so you can make it work for you instead of against you. The way you learn how to do this effectively is with practice. Practice, practice, practice. (That's two take-home messages, because I'm breaking the rules!)”

Thanks, Rachel. See you at LitFest2444.

Read more about Rachel Watts at https://wattswrites.com/

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