Written Resistance Week 1

Welcome to Written Resistance! 

Expressing and sharing our personal stories—to use our own voice to frame our lived experiences—is imperative in a time when authoritarian, anti-democratic forces are relentless in their intent on silencing us. Expressing our stories in this context is not only an act of personal empowerment and healing, but also a revolutionary act of resisting injustice.

The basic premise of this workshop is that our stories make a difference. Stories change hearts and minds. Stories incite change. Stories bring us together and make us stronger as individuals and as a movement of resistance. Expressing the truth of our lives in the face of "alternative facts" is a powerful tool for social change. Thank you for joining me on this endeavor! 

Before we dig in and get started, let's orient ourselves with what we will achieve this week. The objectives are: 

  • Ground ourselves in our individual purpose and motivation.
  • Introduce ourselves to the course participants.
  • Understand the multiple considerations when selecting a topic related to personal experience.
  • Select a potential story/experience to focus on over the next four weeks.
  • Begin free writing about the story/experience you selected. 

Getting Grounded

When you set out on a writing project, selecting a topic with the specific intention for effecting change in the world can be challenging. Each of us has multitudes of passions and issues that are of vital importance to us. The world needs so much “fixing” that it can be overwhelming.

Where to begin? Get grounded in The Why, and Imagine Beyond.

First, when I say, “get grounded in The Why,” I mean reflect on why you want to do this, why you want to tell your stories, and let those reasons fuel your expression. Why is this important to you?   

Since the 2016 U.S. election, writers from all over the world have been contemplating the significance of being a writer and telling their stories in this new era. Author and editor Julie Gray remarked

Whatever you write, you’re not alone, I think all creatives are feeling the need to express right now and while there are no guarantees that what you are writing will be a lightning rod in terms of plot or theme will be a runaway hit as a film or a bestselling book, that you express yourself is important because lemme tell ya, in times like these, with so much uncertainty and division, stories just might have the power to heal, if not comfort.

We are lucky to be writers, even if that particular talent and dream does come with many pitfalls. We are the ones who articulate the way people are feeling, from individual love stories to stories about the future, the past and who we are as humans. I am reminded of a quote by the great Paul Auster, who once said “Stories only happen to those who can tell them.” So let’s get telling our stories, guys. No matter what the future holds, our stories will endure.
— Julie Gray

Writing Reflection 1

Take  5-10 minutes to do some free writing in your journal or notebook about The Why for you.

We all have our individual, unique reasons and motivations. What are yours? 

Now that you are grounded in The Why, it's time to Imagine Beyond. In order to change the world we live in, we must be able to imagine an alternative, we must be able to imagine justice, imagine healing, imagine wellbeing for all. In that vein, I invite you to listen to poet Martín Espada read his poem “Imagine the Angels of Bread.”   The full text of his poem is below, so that you can read along if you'd like.

Martin Espada - Imagine the Angels of Bread on Def Jam Poetry

Imagine the Angels of Bread

This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roofdeck
or levitating hands in praise
of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges
who stare at the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year that dark-skinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.

This is the year that those
who swim the border's undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts
the vine,
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;
this is the year that the eyes stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth; this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.

If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.

So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.

— Martín Espada

Writing Reflection 2

For 10-15 minutes, write down your thoughts and feelings in response to Espada's poem. What do you imagine for a more just, healthy world? How do you envision justice?


Now that you have done some self-reflection about your purpose, motivation, and vision, please take a few minutes to introduce yourself to the other workshop participants. 

Selecting a Topic

It's very likely that you already have a topic in mind that you would like to focus on over the next four weeks. That's great! If you're not sure where to begin, or if you want to generate ideas for future writing projects, then consider these Four Essentials for Selecting a Topic below. 

But first, I want to clear something up: You're not simply selecting a topic to pontificate about, you are selecting a problem. After all, that's why you are taking this workshop; because there are problems in this world that are troubling you, and you want to express your thoughts and experiences with words to change them.

There are two types of problems, subject matter problems and rhetorical problems. The goal of subject matter problems is simply the pursuit of knowledge, practice, or values. Rhetorical problems, on the other hand, have a different set of characteristics and goals. A rhetorical problem involves:

  • a strong personal significance for the writer
  • a significance for the audience/reader (strong or otherwise)
  • considerations of the characteristics of the audience/reader
  • considerations of form, style, and genre

With these qualities of rhetorical problems in mind, it's time to now to go deeper into the Four Essential for Selecting a Topic. 

Four Essentials for Selecting a Topic

1. Your topic must be problematic. By problematic, I mean that members of your audience do not currently agree upon a perspective or solution to the issue. This is an essential because this writing endeavor is all about uniquely expressing your voice, your opinions, and your experiences and offering an alternative way to look at your topic.

2. Your topic must be sufficiently focused. Writing about the complexity of our lived experience in relationship to systems of power, privilege, and oppression can be overwhelming, to say the least! So much of what we experience daily, and what our stories often illustrate, is the intersection of multitudes of issues occurring simultaneously. For this reason, it is easy to be drawn to spend time writing related, but not immediately relevant, storylines. If you feel that you are being pulled in many different directions as you begin writing, then take a moment and choose one of the directions, knowing that you can write the other stories some other time. 

3. You must be passionate about the topic. Think of it this way: if you're not passionate about your topic, that lack of energy will be evident in your writing, and your reader is not going to be interested. Spend some time reflecting on why your topic matters to you and how it effects your life. Explore your relationship with the topic and have that motivate you to write and share your story.

4. Your topic must have a larger significance. In a sense, this point can be considered a given, especially if you have carefully chosen a rhetorical problem according to the previously noted characteristics. That said, it's worth emphasizing here as being essential to topic selection: this topic must matter to others. It cannot simply be of interest to you (you can write those ideas in your private journal!). I encourage you to reflect on the larger significance of your topic so that you begin to understand how your personal experience is connected to other people, systems, institutions, and cultural norms that shape our experience. 

Writing Reflection 3

Brainstorm a list of social issues that you are genuinely passionate about--note any that come to your mind! Let yourself be surprised by the topics that come up for you. I encourage you to review Step 1: Brainstorming in The Process of Writing tutorial for different ways to generate ideas for your writing. 

Remembering Self-Care

Writing about our personal experiences can bring up a number of emotions, some of which can be difficult. This is especially the case when exploring our personal stories related to social issues. Please remember to make self-care a priority as you begin to write your story. If you need to, take a break from writing, go for a walk, meditate, talk with a friend; do whatever self-care looks like for you. 


Now that you have come up with a number of topics that you are interested in writing about, it's time to get some initial feedback. Getting feedback at this point helps you learn about different perspectives on your topic, as well as gain insight into how potential readers may respond to it.  

Week 1 Writing Exercise

Select one of the topics you came up with while brainstorming, or choose another topic that has come to mind since doing that Writing Reflection,  and do some free writing about it. Consider the personal and larger significance of the topic, and see where your writing takes you. How is this topic related to your own personal experience? Do any specific personal stories come to mind? 

The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is- it’s to imagine what is possible.
— bell hooks