The Writing Workshop: You’ll Laugh. You’ll Cry. You Might Even Write!
I’ve been thinking this week about writing workshops, because of two recent publications. The first is a book I just reviewed for The Writer Magazine, titled Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. Author Kate Hopper, who teaches “Motherhood & Words™ both online and at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, reflects on the literary and emotional work done by participants in her writing workshops. Her generosity and insight make me wish I lived closer to The Loft, so I could sit around the table with her and the other mom writers pondering the ethics of writing about our kids’ preschool crushes and swapping stories about how our little darling dressed up the cat so it looked just like Lady Gaga.
Hopper reminds me that a workshop can offer much more than just literary practice and feedback . . . when it’s full of earnest, respectful writers, it provides camaraderie and fun.
And something else. Author Steve Almond has a lovely and thought-provoking essay in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about workshops. Titled, “Why Talk Therapy is on the Wane, and Writing Workshops Are on the Rise,” the piece examines the reasons we gravitate toward these workshops, as well as the role of the leader. “What they really want,” he writes of participants in his own groups, “isn’t fame or fortune but permission to articulate feelings that were somehow off limits within the fragile habitat of their families. They are hoping to find, by means of literary art, braver and more-forgiving versions of themselves.”
The last writing workshop I attended took place in a little art studio in downtown Eugene, where participants sat in a circle of folding chairs and drank wine out of plastic cups while we dissected each other’s memoir. The marvelous Oregon author John Daniel facilitated with a gentle and mindful and very honest attention to the critiquing process. I know he was called upon, as Steve Almond describes, to play therapist as well as workshop leader . . . because I remember asking him whether I myself dared articulate my feelings about a rather challenging childhood. Daniel fostered such a sense of community that ten years later (yesterday, in fact), I saw one of my fellow workshop participants in the downtown library and waved, feeling a flood of goodwill and an instant camaraderie born of late nights spent talking about writing, but also about life.
Tell people you’re thinking of attending a writing workshop, and they may freak out. “Too intense,” they might caution. “It’ll make you cry.” I admit there are workshops poorly facilitated, which can cause harm to a writer and his/her work. Talk to the leader in person or on the phone. Ask to sit in on one meeting. Speak with a few of the participants and make sure you’re a good fit. You can find information on workshops through your local writers’ group, or ask at the library, or look on bookstore bulletin boards, or visit the excellent website, ShawGuides.
Hey, I’d love to know your experiences with writing workshops: feel free to comment, below!