Keys to Unlocking Your Stories
Home Page Updated: September, 2003

Welcome to... Unlocking Your Stories
with Ann Diamond

Writing is not about putting words down on paper, so much as it's a process of feeling, remembering, and shaping our experience. Unlocking Your Stories is a workshop in developing our awareness of those inner and outer processes of thinking, feeling, knowing and sensing that give birth to stories.

Storytelling is probably the oldest art form, and although it must have been preceded by the development of speech, dreams came before verbal storytelling. In writing stories, we can draw on the fluidity and inventiveness of dreams to create an experience for ourselves, our listeners, and readers.

A group can be both an audience and a team of practitioners. In Unlocking Your Stories, we get together to explore techniques, approaches, and strategies for storytelling, drawing on personal sources as well as advice from established writers. This workshop is a place to experiment, grow and see ourselves through a different kind of looking-glass: the inexhaustible mirror of narrative.

Welcome to this page, and hope to see you in my workshop!


Ann Diamond

An Interview with Ann Diamond:

June 30, 1999 Interview with Ann Diamond by Samaa Elobieri

Miss Diamond, how did you become a writer?

I think I was eight years old. It was after I read "The Little Mermaid", the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. After reading it, I cried for 2 hours non-stop, and I decided there's something strange about telling a story, if it can make you cry like that maybe there's something in it. I decided to be a writer, so I could make people cry.

You want to make people cry?

I don't think I've really succeeded in making people cry, but maybe sometimes I've made them laugh. I think that's also important. Miss Diamond, you are helping people who are writing or thinking about writing, to unlock their potential. We usually tend to think that somebody who is a writer is born like that, that you either can write or you cannot write.

Obviously you think that there are those who can write better, or can all of us be brought to write in a wonderful way? Would you like to comment on that?

I've been giving workshops in the Montreal area which I call "Unlocking Your Stories" and they're aimed at anyone who has a story or something they are carrying around in their heads that they want to bring out. As to whether writers are born, I think maybe they are. I think people are born with certain talents that get handed down through families, or maybe for different people sometimes quite early on decide that writing is their preferred form of expression, just as you get children at age 5 who sit down at the piano and start to play music. That's an innate talent. But at the same time there are different kinds of talent and different kinds of story talent. What we think of as writers, people who make their living from writing, but maybe we'd call that literary talent. And we have examples in Canada of people who have made great contributions, people like Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies. But on another level, story-telling, the way I think of it is something that is, well, widespread in the population and it doesn't necessary belong only to an elite. The variety and multiculturalism that we have here is a richness and a heritage that we would like to preserve, and people should be encouraged to write about their past, about their life here, about how they integrate -- this is how I see it.

It's true. I completely agree.

My mother was French Canadian and my father was Scottish Canadian. Both came from small villages in Quebec and Ontario. Both of them were good storytellers and came from families and communities where people told stories. As we get to be a bigger country and we have our media telling us what we should think about our past, our present and our future, it seems to be we're losing that village tradition of storytelling which is underneath all the great cultures of the world.

Certainly, in the Middle East, this is true... I come from Egypt and storytelling is part of the tradition, and it runs in the family, so I remember the stories that my grandmother used to tell me. They're so precious.

Yes. it's part of the heritage, and the oral tradition is very important.

And what I find here is that we are overcome by so much noise, it's loud, it's fast, and we really have to sit and take the time to relate things, simple things but stories with a moral, stories with a significance, stories that make you cry, as you said.

That's right. You could say also that writing belongs more and more to academics and critics -- we're discovering that we have a literature in Canada or we're in the process of creating one -- and the universities have played a very important role. But it's a certain perspective on writing and on stories, and I think in some ways it denies the emotional side, the emotional power of storytelling. And that's one aspect of what I'm trying to do, trying to get people to connect with the personal. So we're trying really to democratize writing. It's for anybody who wants to write.

Yes. I see in your workshops that you talk about "from Diary to Drama". People tend to write diaries when they are young and then they put this aside. Am I right?

I think that's true. It's certainly been true for me. I just had a story come to me today in an e-mail from someone who put some pieces together from her diary that were so powerful and they made such a wonderful story. That's one of the things I go after in these workshops. There are a lot of secret diaries. People write things down they have no real intention of sharing. It's a private thing and they think no one would be interested. But sometimes in that diary there's an amazing richness and quality of lived experience that can really turn into great stories, novels, dramatic scripts.

What are the elements that make a simple diary become really interesting to other people?

Not every diary entry is interesting, some are so private they don't translate outside the mind of the writer. But some diaries are just full of anecdotes, daily events, relationships with children, parents, what people really say and what they really feel. Of course it takes talent, it takes an eye, a certain kind of gift to turn that kind of daily material into something special, but there are people everywhere who have that gift. If nothing else, when you write about these things, sometimes you release the frustration and tension and sometimes you find joy in writing. The best thing that's happened to me in the last few years has been these workshops because I get to hear people express themselves and tell the stories that are important to them. And it's not work, it;s fun, and I think I'm learning more from it than I've learned from almost anything.

You also mention that "dreams become stories". I thought it was only Egyptians who dreamt a lot and talked a lot about dreams -- I don't find anybody in the west saying "I dreamt this" or "I saw this" or "I had this premonition." Is that right?

You'll have to join one of my groups. We don't talk much about dreams, it's not a dream workshop, but my groups attract a lot of women and women tend to be very sensitive to things like dreams, premonitions, messages from the unconscious. And some of it's very funny, it can be touching, it's a source of wisdom. I encourage people to give value to those experiences.

Do you think dreams are what we're wanting and longing for?

I think our dreams can reveal our desires and wishes, a hidden side of our lives that we're not prepared to face, and as a result they can sometimes disrupt, but all of that adds drama. I'm addicted to drama. Our subconscious is always creating drama for us.

I see you talk about the fourth dimension. What is the fourth dimension?

I call the fourth dimension the side of story telling which reveals a spiritual dimension to life. And it comes out when we face the darkness in ourselves. In great stories, people pass through darkness and get to the divine and the divine is the fourth dimension. Through the process of writing, getting to know ourselves, we come to an awareness of a larger self. And I think that's part of the reason people write.

You also talk about silence and the unknown.

It's the deeper part of ourselves where there aren't any glib, easy answers. You have to dig and you have to listen. And to tell great stories you have to have a bit of an ear for silence. One of my teachers has been Raymond Carver, a great American short story writer who is also a master of silence.

What about vocabulary. Did somebody tell you "I don't know what to write" or "My language is not expressive enough or fluent enough". Do you work on vocabulary or choice of words in your workshops?

Not so much because I find that when people begin to connect with their feelings, their true perceptions, the words come. The main problem is not knowing yourself, not listening to yourself. I say, Just start. Move your hand. Use your dreams, the daily things that move you, that confuse you, that make you sad. You don't need a vast vocabulary. As far as I'm concerned you can be writing in very simple language. You can tell stories in cartoons, they're still stories. If they reach into the truth about themselves, they will move other people, others will understand. I find that through the process of writing, vocabulary expands just naturally.

Who comes to your workshops and who should be coming to your workshops?

Anyone with a deep and sincere interest in storytelling and in being honest. Those are the two criteria.

Do people come in order to be able to make more money, or is it for personal satisfaction?

You never know. I've never had anyone leave my workshop and sell a book and make a million dollars. But I've seen some very powerful stories that have managed to move everyone in the room and change us, just by listening to them. Or reading them. So I know that there are great stories in people.

2003 Ann Diamond, All Rights Reserved