Over the last five years I have participated in a variety of writing workshops. Some focussed on character, plot, point-of-view: the ground work of all creative writing. My first experience was with a beginners class offered by The Complete Creative Writing Course run by Maggie Hamand. This experience gave my confidence a huge boost and I progressed through the intermediate and advanced courses offered by the same company.
By the end of this process I had living, breathing, compelling characters, a world that I’d created from scratch which felt pretty real (and which has continued to gain shape and definition over the intervening years), and a solid stab at my first novel.
I realised that there were other approaches to writing workshops that allowed for more discussion and investigation of the approaches and methods used by established writers. These groups are usually smaller, 6-8 participants, and often focus on a particular author for each workshop. Here, the time is usually skewed slightly more towards discussion than writing exercises. Once or twice I found myself with serious ‘resistance’ issues around a particular writer’s style or approach, but once I got over that I was very pleased to discover elements that really strengthened my own writing.
One fun and creative way to approach writing is to use a variety of locations, for example art galleries and museums, in which to write. I do, on occasion, wander off to the South Bank with notebook in hand and come back with at least one piece of inspiration for my book (often more). If you’d like to do this sort of writing activity in a group, in a more directed style, then workshops like those run by Shaun Levin are ideal.
I have attended a number of Shaun’s workshops over the last two or three years, all of which have been very useful (and fun). In fact I have recently signed up for his next round of workshops entitled ‘Writers Around Town’, which start in October this year. I’m looking forward to writing in the Tate Modern, White Chapel Gallery and the Wallace Collection.
Stepping away from structure and towards practice, I regularly attended a weekly workshop run by the playwright Diane Samuels. In these workshops the focus is entirely on the ‘practice’ of writing: relaxed, free form, opening up and really listening to our inner voice. It might sound a bit ‘out there’, but trust me those workshops really made a difference to the quality and depth of my writing. I’ve had to take a break from these and other workshops while I work my way through my dissertation, but I can’t wait to get back to Diane’s workshops.
Ah, and that’s what I should be doing now, working on my dissertation. I started my MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University in October 2011 and will finish in September this year. I chose Middlesex University as it offered an MA with a Science Fiction and Fantasy strand. It has been a real boon to work with other writers and tutors in the SFF field. It is a real pity that my cohort is the last to go through this excellent course.
Taking the plunge to do an MA seemed the next logical step after whetting my appetite and my skills on the range of aforesaid external workshops. I’m well on my way to finishing my first book, Crystal Flight, and have out outline for the sequel. (Hurrah!)
One of the BEST and most USEFUL aspects of all the above course and workshops was the element of critical feedback from other participants and tutors. Feedback might be scary at first, but it is essential for a writer. If you want your work to shine, you need to dig out the grit and polish up the rough edges. And sometimes, well quite often, other eyes are better at spotting those tricky smudges.