Monday, February 4, 2019

Why Workshops Work

I am fortunate to know a few good writers. However, I know many more writers who think they are good but have never put that to the test. Many of them only hold the title of “good writer” because they do not let others critique their work. This is not surprising – in a contest with only one person, they always get the gold. Unfortunately, their evolution as a writer is very slow, and most of their works – no matter how good – will forever go unread.

This is why workshops are so important. Whether it’s one of the nationally advertised writing conferences for the veteran author or a writing workshop at the local library, it is an excellent tool to improve your writing (and we all can use some improvement). More than that, it provides us with a community of people going through exactly what we are going through, and reminds us that in our journey of words, we are not alone.

In the workshop I have facilitated for the past few years, I have encountered writers of every skill level, and they all share the same qualities. They all want feedback. They all want to polish their style. They all want to become the writer they wish they were. And most importantly, they all are willing to take on that vulnerability that comes with pouring words onto a page.

Let’s examine that last point first, because it’s the most important. The most difficult part about creative writing – fiction or non-fiction – is that it requires vulnerability. The writer has to put those words out without hesitation, without concern about what might happen when mere ideas turn into ink (or toner). It takes some effort to get past the anxieties that come with honest, unrestrained writing. However, that effort goes to a new level when the writer has to share those words with other people, particularly people who have no emotional investment in that writer’s fate. It was a big step for me writing my first novella. The bigger step was having someone other than my parents read it. And then at a workshop – well, what could be more stressful than that?

And that’s the beauty of the writing workshop. A properly facilitated workshop becomes a place where writers can not only be vulnerable, but where they can feel comfortable with that degree of vulnerability, and put that back into their writing. Once a writer begins to open up, their ability to create grows by leaps and bounds.

Every good writer I know has been through the workshop process. They started off as people who wanted to be creative and had a lot to say, but needed to break through their personal discomfort of fearing the written word. When they did, I have witnessed people start discussing their deepest feelings. Timid people now wrote about lives of addiction, abuse, violence and heartbreak; and not just their life stories. They could turn their feelings into characters and plots, they took a mood and made it a complete narrative. They broke through their personal resistance and opened up a whole world of writing.

If there’s anything you should want from a workshop, it is gaining the kind of courage that allows you to write about the things you don’t want to share. Whether you write about those things is up to you; the courage is the important part.

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