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Monday, 11 June 2012

Novel Ideas #2 - The Value of Writing Workshops

If there is one thing I have learned from my time working for Cyprus Well, it is that there are a lot of wannabe writers out there. The quality of these writers varies greatly, but one thing many of them have in common is their desire to attend writing workshops.

And there are just so many to choose from, from free local workshops, to full length residentials (with a hefty price tag to match). My question is, do they really work? How many published writers have spent a lot of time in workshops, and if so, how many have actually learned anything from them?

One of the problems is undoubtedly the fact that writers make a pitiful amount of money. International super stars such as J K Rowling and Stephen King are comparatively few. Most writers struggle. As such, workshops provide the ideal opportunity for published writers to sell their skills.

Here is where I'm a little skeptical. Just because you have been fortunate enough to get published, it does not necessarily make you a good teacher. I'm not implying that writers can't teach, but that being published isn't an automatic qualification.

I'm not saying there aren't benefits to going on workshops or residential courses. If nothing else, they provide a valuable opportunity for writers (who are largely solitary creatures) to interact and network with other writers. I know from experience that networking opportunities are always very much appreciated.

This leads me on to the question of talent and artistry. Creative workshops are something of a mystery to me, and having been taught (in inverted commas) creative writing at University, I still question how far you can teach it. Sure, you can read examples of good work to a class, you can discuss formal techniques and methods of storytelling, but I don't know whether you can teach someone to be a good writer.

But I suppose it depends on what people's expectations are. For example, if I were to go to a beginners life drawing class, I would not expect to become an artist having been to that class. I can't draw, so it would be ridiculous to expect to turn into the next big thing. Perhaps people who go to beginners writing workshops feel similarly.

I know that there are more practical workshops available, such as 'How to write a synopsis', or 'Publishing Your E-Book To Kindle'. I can see more point in these, and would even consider going on one if I felt I needed help with an aspect of the publishing process (I'm not far enough along with the writing process yet!)

I suppose I just feel that if you're serious about getting published, there is no substitute for sitting down and getting the work done. If there are any artistic workshops that appeal to me, they are ones that offer something else, like writing courses abroad, such as the one I'm currently saving up for at Naropa University in Colorado at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. What appeals to me about this particular course is its broad scope, and the opportunity to meet some really interesting people from around the world.

I'm genuinely interested to hear what people think about this issue though? Have you had successes after attending a writers workshop? Do you think they provide the key to getting published?


3 comments:

  1. Interestingly I have had the same thoughts about counselling. I don't believe you can teach somebody empathy, for example. And doing a counselling diploma doesn't create a good counsellor. Maybe coaching is a more appropriate a term. You can't teach somebody who is shit at football to be a good footballer. You can take somebody with natural talent and help enhance their innate skills, through coaching. Just a thought.

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  2. I believe that what workshops tend to aid in is allowing you to be in a supportive environment, where you can learn to accept critique, suggestions, and give the same to others. I think, as well, that workshops can help to keep you writing without thinking so hard, especially if you're doing exercises and such. I agree that being published does not necessarily make anyone a worthy teacher. I learned loads about the craft of writing from many of my writing course mates.

    That Kerouac school sounds brilliant. He's one of my favorite writers!

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    1. We had quite a heated debate about teaching creative writing at university over on my facebook page earlier! Yes, I'm hoping to do a week or two at the Kerouac school. Cannot wait.

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