Starting a writer’s meet-up.

Ammar Masood reading from his book, last year.  

Since last year, I’ve arranged several Writer’s Meet-ups, and I’ve attended many in the Arts and Literature Guild too. Whenever they take place, I feel so happy. So, in this blog post I’m going to share my experiences of attending these meet ups abroad and in Pakistan. I’ll show you how to start one of your own in your own city or town also.

Why hold writer’s meet ups?

One needs to be clear why you are doing it. Simply because writing is a lonely business (- if you can call it a business!) Meeting other writers with the same passion for literature makes you feel ‘normal’. You suddenly ‘fit in’ with the ‘crowd’. You all blend in with each other. You understand the problems of publications, editing, rewriting, printing, gathering material, research and the pain of rejections. You know, when someone talks about a ‘character’, ‘plot’ or other such issues.

Best of all, only another writer can truly appreciate how much goes into a piece of work.  They value it more, realizing where it comes from. They’ve walked down that alley of hard struggle trying to find that ‘right word’ or that ‘right sentence’ to express something.

So, listening to each other’s narratives or poetry, gives one great strength. It keeps you going when others are saying, ‘but why?’

My experiences with Writer’s Meet ups abroad:

Since 2008, when I started visiting Seattle, I attended a couple of Writer’s Meet-ups. I realized, you’ve got to find your own favorite one. In the case of the first one, I found out that I was the only ‘published’writer there. It naturally thrilled me. Yet I realized, it was not a place for me, as I couldn’t learn anything from that group. Also, they couldn’t learn from me, as my experience was that of Pakistan. (I had not yet published my book ‘My Life, My Stories,’ in USA, which is available on Amazon.)

So, it is good to attend Writer’s Meet-ups, provided they fit in with your own requirements.

I found the ‘right’ one in USA, two years ago in Renton. You will know more about it here. It gave me the confidence to start my own group. Bob is a very experienced writer himself, he gives full attention to everyone.  Most of all, he shares his experiences and gives important suggestions and advice to all the writers.

Writer’s Meet up group in Pakistan,

Welcoming the writers and poets at my last weeks’ meetup. 

I found that it needs to have these qualities:

Be clear whom you want:

  1. A group of mixed languages, since we have Urdu, Punjabi and English writers here. In our case, in Islamabad, we recently welcomed French and Norwegian also.
  2. It had to be a group of writers who have varying levels of experience: journalists, authors of novels, poets, prose and non-fiction.
  3. They had to be well grounded lot who is happy to listen to others too!
  4. Age and gender would be as varied as possible.

So, last January I held my first writers’ meet up, and I ‘covered’ it in this blog of mine.  Soon, I held a second one too, mentioned here. So, it will give you a picture of what it was like.

Around the same time,  I was interviewed last January by Shabnam Riaz who is the host of her PTV Classics Show, we really clicked. I found out she has her own Arts and Literature Guild. So, we became good friends, and both attend each other’s events, and activities.

Starting your own writer’s meet up:

Location and Time: Choose the time and place which is suitable to most folks. (Consult your friends.) Choose a popular restaurant, or an office room which is empty on the weekend. You can also have them in your own home or studio if convenient.

So, here is how to start your own writers’ meet up:

Announce: Two to three weeks in advance keep posting reminders,  in the papers, Facebook or Instagram. Do follow up those who express their interest.

Theme: Choose a theme or topic of main interest. It may be a writer, guest speaker, phase in writing, or something like that. My latest Writer’s Meet up was in honor of Matthew Vaughan, as you can see here.  It is okay to have no theme also.

Manage:  Always start on time, waiting only ten minutes at the most. Let the writers know that they have to be on time. At least respect the ones who have made the effort to come on time. Rather than to wait for those who had no respect. (Yes, yes, everyone has ‘problems’.) It is fine if someone joins in late, but do not make those persons wait, who made the effort to be on time.

Equal opportunity: Do give a time slot to each one who attends the event. No one should go back feeling as if he or she wasn’t given enough time. You will find a few speakers‘stealing the show’ however, as the host, you need to make sure others get a full chance also.

Participate fully:Make a point of enjoying the process yourself also. Keep the management simple,but efficient. Be comfortable, and that will make everyone feel that way too.If you are all tensed up, no one can enjoy it either.

Punctuality:  Make sure the program goes according to plan. Usually, one to two hour session is best. So, start with personal introduction by each individual. Then a round of reading of their own work by each writer or poet. Then a second round, if time allows.

Stay focused: Do make sure the conversation doesn’t go to food, politics, religion or criticizing anyone’s work.

Snacks: These aren’t necessary at all. It can be in any of the following ways:

In a restaurant, order something simple like pakoras or samosas for all. It is understood that everyone goes Dutch. If acceptable then everyone orders their own thing, and pays individually, (more common abroad.)

If you are hosting, please have no elaborate menus! It moves the focus to food rather than literature, which we don’t want. Having a one- dish is convenient too, if you are having the event at your home.

 Books, authors and poets: If you want to make it regular, keep it simple, and keep it regular. The WhatsApp group or an email group can be maintained with each member, to stay in touch. You can have one person who manages it, or you can do it yourself.

Our heritage of poets and writer’s meet ups:

You know, Pakistan television had many programs which brought together authors of the times. We saw Ashfaque Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Qudratullah Shahab, Mumtaz Mufti, and many other great writers sitting together and listening to music or discussing a topic of interest.

So, Meet-ups have been a tradition in the different ages. Many times poets got together for Mushaira or Baitbaazi  (- where a poet recited a couplet or verse, and the next person began his verse with the last letter of the last word used!) It was a very popular activity,which had hours of interesting poetry.

One realizes, that the times before television and internet had its own forms of entertainment. Now, we have to relocate these activities in our new world of today, to fill up the void of direct human interaction missing in our lives due to media and internet intervention.

My dear Reader, if we find anything in our lives unsatisfactory – be proactive and do something about it! Stay blessed. 🙂 

Writer’s Meet-up and Matthew Vaughan.

The first time I met Matthew Vaughan was at the PANA meeting mentioned here. He was reading out from his upcoming book, Notes from the Sacred Land. It was charming,  based on his experiences in Pakistan. The article about his taxi ride was quite hilarious and so typical of life in Pakistan. Next I knew, he had published the book through Mr. Books.  (The publishers in UK had refused, believing that  a positive image of Pakistan, doesn’t sell.

(So, unmasking terrorism or women’s oppression in Pakistan is still the ‘good’ stuff!)

Continue reading “Writer’s Meet-up and Matthew Vaughan.”