Write Like a Unicorn With Minal Hajratwala

Photo credit: Preston Merchant

Poet, essayist and memoirist Minal Hajratwala teaches an online workshop titled Write Like a Unicorn. Designed to “ease the isolation” and help you to “get a TON of writing done: the writing you want and plan and hunger to do anyway.”

Minal herself recently completed a residency at the Cill Rialaig Arts Centre in southwest Kerry, Ireland. In this brief interview I asked her about the residency, which sounds magical, and the workshop, which kicks off this month.

[Uma] Tell me more about your residency at the Cill Rialaig Art Centre. What did you work on there? How did the experience fulfill your expectations and how did it surprise you?

[Minal] Ireland is a true writer’s country: the landscape, the people’s respect for writers, and the deep literary history all conspire to make it an amazing place to create new work. The southwestern coast is incredibly stark and gorgeous, and Cill Rialaig is a tiny amazing village, from the pre-famine era and recently restored for artists, perched on a cliff. It felt like being on a retreat at the edge of the world. ​

I worked on a poem sequence and some sections of my novel, and I also immersed myself in reading Irish poets and writers.
The big surprise was how their work and the landscape seemed to make its way into my own writing almost immediately. I love the deep structure and linguistic agility that is so amazing in Irish poetry, and as a result I’ve been writing much more formally, which sounds stodgy — but actually is very playful and fun. It’s about moving closer into language and the way words and lines relate to one another to make meaning, instead of letting image do all the work of the poem.

[Uma] That makes sense. I’ve always Why like a unicorn? What’s the connection for you between magic and writing?

[Minal] Oh, writing IS magic. Don’t take my word for it! “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic” (Albus Dumbledore). 
 
In every workshop that I teach, I notice there are some writers who have trouble just carving out the time in their busy lives. Writing with other people is so helpful for focus, and so is writing to specific prompts that aren’t just generic, out of a book, but designed for your particular project or style. So I wanted to build a class around those basic concepts: Writing, together, with customized prompts.
 
I was inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s advice: “Write like a motherfucker!” But that wording is a bit too tough for my style of teaching — I’m more of a fairy godmother than a drill sergeant. I’ve been working with unicorn imagery for a while now (see  http://minalhajratwala.com/writer/operation-unicorn/​) ​so “Write Like a Unicorn” was a natural choice.  Unicorns are gorgeous and productive and not stressful.
[Uma] What part does silence and listening to silence play in the writer’s mind?

[Minal] Silence is incredibly important.

For me it’s an experience of listening. Silence allows something to emerge from a deeper place.
Maybe it’s better not to say too much about it?

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