Are Workshops Work?

I think of them more like Geppetto’s workshop where he cobbled together his puppet, Pinocchio, who he wanted so desperately to be a real boy. Isn’t this what we do when we participate in a writing workshop? Piece together shards of characters or settings or incidents of our lives to create our own living thing—be it a novel, a memoir, a poem, an essay, an incomplete meander that leads to some insight. Or not. (Of course, like any good character, Pinocchio didn’t follow the story Geppetto laid out for him. Off he went on adventures of his own making, which made the story so much better.)

Workshops are some of the greatest joys of my writing life. Attending them or, more often, creating them and inviting writers to come write with me. Like the Blue Moon Writing Workshop held last week under the second full moon of August. In the candlelit courtyard of my new space, fifteen participants wrote about their moonlight lives and dreams, memories and myths. And we howled. Several times.

What does howling at the moon have to do with writing you might ask? What does making a wooden puppet and calling him “son” have to do with dreams?

One of my all time favorite workshops is the Wild Women Writing Workshop. This workshop started in the mid-90s as “Hot Nights, Wild Women” and has evolved over the years into its present form—a ten-week series in which a small, intimate group of women meets each week and writes about the aspects of their lives from the perspective of their wild, feminine nature. At the end of each of these workshops, we create a chapbook of our work and hold a public reading. I’m looking forward to my next Wild Woman Writing Workshop, which begins, as they always do, in the fall. This one is set for September 18-Dec. 7. (Still a couple of spaces available.)

I like to teach craft workshops, too, where we work on aspects of our writing, learning to make it better. And what writer could do without a good read and critique workshop? But for this writer/teacher and writing practice provocateur, there’s something about these themed, free-writing, “wild mind” workshops that is especially rich and evocative. The writing that happens is ofttimes stunning and the community that’s created for an evening, a day or over ten weeks is sometimes the most intimate and honest I ever get to experience.

These are just some of the reasons workshop is the work I love most. What about you?

Have you ever carved a boy from wood? Howled at the moon? Written a whole novel from something that began as a writing exercise? What’s your favorite writing workshop?

3 thoughts on “Are Workshops Work?

  1. Not from a workshop as I am not much for public/social anything (except for the symphony I went to with someone and brought my book and when the cymbals crashed, I yelled) but I did write my first novel from a song about an old spinning wheel in the parlour. Never heard the song before or again and the words differ every time I Google the song but the short story it inspired evolved into a novel. It was a first try, a practicum.

    • Hey Linda, Doncha just love how it works? My first novel, well the first one I actually finished and revised (several times) started out with a question I asked myself: “what if Mama had left Daddy?” That old “what if.” Almost all the scenes from the novel came out of writing practice sessions, working from prompts.

      • Yummy.

        Yes and this time I made sure to include in my notebook the daily weather and what it feels, smells, and looks like, and what the birds are doing, and and how my daily morning walk feels and what happens when your hair sweats and the sun block does too. And finally I am writing September when it really is that month in the novel.
        It took me a long time to get interested in prompted writings but when I did, well, now all I have to do is pick up and hold Days or the Retreat Kit and the old feeling comes back and I’m a writer again.

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