With a dozen years of teaching writing life stories under her belt, Lesley Synge reflects on the challenges.
Lesley lived in Maleny from 1986-2003. She now lives in Brisbane and reviews memoirs and biographies for the Courier-Mail. She has crossed memoir with poetry in ‘Mountains Belong to the People who Love Them’, and ‘Organic Sister’, and has edited talks by a Zen master and stories from sufferers of mental illness. Related material appears on her website www.zingstories.com.au
I started teaching the genre of life writing in Maleny in 1996 to meet a community need. I’d been a high school English teacher and was morphing into a writer. I soon realised that many people dream of leaving a written legacy. Now I run workshops all over Queensland to help people turn their dream into reality.
Whatever the student wants to work on is fine by me. Autobiographies, family histories, biographies, memoirs, letters, journals, oral histories, travel, and experimental works – all are valid. Students benefit from the mix of possibilities. Where else but in a workshop does a New Guinea missionary rub shoulders with a Gay Mardi Gras organiser?
Everyone receives respect for the life they have lived and their desire to share it. Sure, it’s exciting to come across something highly publishable but as anyone in the writing industry knows, there’s an element of chance as to who ultimately falls across the finish line into the arms of a publisher. Much can be achieved if not ‘the ultimate’ – a book.
The major obstacle is ‘making time’. That is why workshop students need to prepare for the writing journey. Each person needs to ask: What workspace, equipment, research is needed? What time can I realistically commit? (HINT: Commit lots!)
The most inspiring example of a writer staying with it that I know of is Maleny retiree Sam Dawes who simply ‘sat down, poured it out and kept going until it was done.’
The life stories I’ve been privileged to share, deserve audiences. Ultimately it is up to the writer to find a place for their work. This may range from creating intimate, family-oriented audiences, to contributing to local studies collections, to writing feature articles for print or radio, creating a digital record or a blog, or – most ambitious of all – publishing a book.
Five basic tips to make that New Year’s resolution to write about your life a reality?
• Get help, especially to start with.
• Be prepared for a long haul and patches of emotional difficulty.
• Think outside the square to reach an audience.
• Transfer your new skills to enrich the lives of others.
• Enjoy yourself!
Lesley Synge’s next Maleny workshop is at the Maleny Library on Saturday February 28. Enquiries and bookings Ph: 3844 0335.