Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

The Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop is the right setting for the capital’s aspiring authors

Authors of all abilities have flocked to a new writing group that has quickly grown to hundreds of members.
Janet Olearski (second from left), founder of The Abu Dhabi Writer’s Workshop group, at a weekly meetup. Delores Johnson / The National
Janet Olearski (second from left), founder of The Abu Dhabi Writer’s Workshop group, at a weekly meetup. Delores Johnson / The National

Writing is usually a solitary affair, but a recently launched writers’ group in Abu Dhabi has become an effective support group and sounding board for resident novelists and aspiring authors.

Since its launch last year on meetup.com, The Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop has gone from eight members to more than 630. Every Wednesday, up to 15 members reserve a spot at a cafe (the location is revealed only to members), where they catch up over coffee and snacks to discuss their progress and brainstorm.

Children’s-book author Janet Olearski founded the group because she was disappointed with the dearth of networking platforms for fiction and short-story writers in the capital.

An English lecturer at The Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, she has written more than 40 textbooks for the English as a Foreign Language market. After moving to Abu Dhabi in 2002, she began working on books for school­children and fiction writing.

“Writers are introverted people and write in isolation,” Olearski says. “But it is also a kind of paradox that they need people for feedback – not someone who disturbs their peace, but supports them instead.”

There are a few meetup opportunities for writers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so the consistent meeting place for serious writers that the group has provided since June has been a welcome addition.

“I thought it would be nice to meet other writers and compare notes, our processes and get ideas in different ways,” says Olearski. “And I wanted it to be different from some of the other groups out there. With my background in neuro-linguistic programming, I don’t dictate a method but rather share, and we develop our work together.”

The founder has hosted more than 33 meetups, but limits the number of people who can attend each one to between eight and 15.

“Each workshop has an element of writing involved,” she says. “We need to limit the number of people so that we have time to read and discuss their writing, as well.”

Kwame Dadson, who is British, is a regular workshop participant and has found the opinions shared during the sessions very beneficial.

“Writing is not my main profession, so the professional insights from experienced writers, the wealth of information Janet brings and the peer review has been very helpful,” says the 48-year-old IT professional, who has completed the first draft of his novel Legal Alien, a drama about a politician who becomes the first black British prime minister.

The meetup begins with members getting comfortable over coffee as Olearski picks up unfinished threads of conversation from the previous session.

She then uses examples and material from published authors to demonstrate different styles.

“We have one writer who is testing out a story with multiple narrators,” she says. “So with examples such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or work by William Faulkner, we discuss whether breaking it into sections or intertwining the voices would work.”

A discussion of members’ works, writing theories and challenges follows, and participants can read extracts from their drafts. Olearski then shakes it up by giving them a writing assignment, enabling them to create fiction in a flash during the last hour.

Dadson says a short story he developed during one of these sessions recently made it into an online publication.

“I give them writing prompts, about five to six ideas, lines, scenes or titles to write about,” says Olearski. “They end up writing a complete 800-word story or the beginning of one.”

She says the exercise trains the brain for on-the-spot, out-of-the-box thinking, often resulting in some of the best works of fiction.

“I’ve seen members gain more confidence in the process, as well,” she says. “Some of them were reluctant to share their work with others in the beginn­ing, but they start getting more comfortable and open to productive feedback.”

The Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop meets every Wednesday at 6pm. Register at www.meetup.com/Abu-Dhabi-Writers-Workshop; on Twitter @AbuDhabiWrites

aahmed@thenational.ae

Updated: April 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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