Why bother with Creative Writing courses and workshops?

Hello from my Summer Holidays! Hope you’re all well. I’m taking a leaf out of Anthony Wilson’s blog and re-blogging a few of my older posts while I’m in the land of intermittent wifi. The days seem longer here and I appear to be getting more done. That aside, I thought this short article I wrote three years ago was worth a re-visit since it’s a topic that often comes up in conversation once people know I’ve been a writing student. I think it all holds true but let me know what you think.

Anyone who’s attended a Creative Writing class or workshop, or who has studied Creative Writing at any level, will have been asked the following question at least once: “Can you teach/be taught Creative Writing?”

Here’s what I say in response:

It isn’t so much about teaching as about being immersed in a writing community for a few hours every week. It’s about being with people who care about books, who read and like books. It’s about being with people who want to talk about the subject matter of a story or poem and about how it was written; how the writing has provoked a response in them, as readers.

I suppose you could say it’s about learning to read as well as about learning to write. It’s about sharing.

In the writing workshops I teach, after we’ve talked about a poem or story, I ask the students to have a go at writing something, sometimes stealing a first line, or using the same subject matter or borrowing the technique that’s been employed.

Most people leave my workshops with several new poems or stories started. I’m always thrilled to hear and read the different responses to my writing prompts. I love being startled by other people’s imaginations.

I enjoy attending Writing courses and workshops, myself. In the early 1990s I spent five years at university writing scripts, stories and poems in order to complete Creative Writing assignments for an English degree and an MA in Creative Writing. I had wonderful teachers, among them the writers Alison MacLeod, Vicki Feaver, Eva Hoffman, Hugh Dunkerley, John Saunders and Andrew Motion.

I also learned from other students on my various courses, some of them now acclaimed writers themselves (but no more name dropping).

We read and commented on each other’s work. “I liked how you wrote that because……” “I didn’t get that. I didn’t understand that – what were you trying to say?” and having to explain, having to articulate the nub of my idea, opened up a clearer, better way of writing something.

In the classes I teach now I find students splintering into smaller groups or pairs to talk about their writing or about something they’re reading. Sometimes they make friends, even if it’s just for the afternoon. This is what I mean by a writing community.

I still attend courses and workshops when I can. In 2010 I was pleased to be a runner-up in the Poetry category of the Bridport Prize. Michael Laskey, the Poetry Judge, was running a two hour workshop before the prize giving ceremony and lunch so I duly signed up. It was lovely to meet Jennifer Olds, another Poetry runner-up, and Miranda McLeod, joint First Prize winner in the Flash Fiction category, who’d also enlisted for Michael’s workshop. Both Miranda and Jennifer teach Creative Writing at American universities.

As well as reading many poems, some freshly published in poetry magazines, we all left with a clutch of new ideas, new lines, new words for our own poems. And new material for weaving into the courses we were teaching at the time.

Recently one of my students said that he was going to start a writing poetry group at a youth club he’d become attached to. He was going to use some of my writing prompts in the sessions.

Writing is about sharing.


9 thoughts on “Why bother with Creative Writing courses and workshops?”

  1. Full of exactly my own thoughts and feelings, and a welcome reminder – the lure of THE NEW needs to be abandoned quite often as many people do not absorb what you have said until the fourth or fifth time of reading/hearing.
    Over the weekend I attended a very inspiring Saturday Workshop 10.30 to 4.30 at The Poetry Society led by Kat Lockton and Peter Ebsworth, co-editors of South Bank Poetry, a magazine I have supported by subscription more or less since its inception.
    I’ve taught English & Drama and creative writing since the early 70s, but meeting new people and sharing produced four short poems and much food for thought – it is the likemindedness which most appeals to me.
    No need to be alone out there !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Christo. 🙂 I seem to attend workshops in waves – there are times when I stop attending altogether and focus on a concentrated spell of writing. Then, a few more workshops crop up and it’s wonderful when they add nourishment to my note books. I’m really glad you got a lot out of your Saturday workshop – sounds excellent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The other part of workshopping and reports on events (which I try to begin at the time and complete even days later) is their focus on a different kind of writing from the poetry at the heart of the activity.
        I hope my reports also encourage people to become interested in the assistance available from certain institutions and individual leaders/tutors/mentors – I’m still astonished if people claim that “writing is a lonely business”.
        Especially with all the networking IT can give us, there is surely little excuse to “be alone out there”.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I suppose there’s the cost implication – some of the workshops/courses are pricey if you’re on a low-income. Online courses are often free but then there’s the cost of being online, owning a computer. I think, as well, that it can feel lonely when no-one seems to ‘get’ your writing. And, of course, sometimes solitude can make a person more productive (that’s certainly the case for me!). It’s brilliant that you write reports about and raise awareness about what’s on offer. I must get back to doing some more of that, myself. Again, Christo, thanks for commenting.


  2. I agree entirely. If it hadn’t been for the group feedback and discussion during Open University creative writing courses, I would not be looking at tottering piles of my poems and computer files by the hundred. Isolated in rural Normandy I take every opportunity ging for sharing, workshopping, reading, and always come away energised to write more and better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Viv. It’s terrific to hear your endorsement of the OU’s courses. I’m so pleased they’ve been successful for you. There are some good online courses available now, too, which have been useful to me (West Wiltshire can feel pretty isolated, as well!) but I don’t think you can beat face-to-face for effectiveness and, of course, for making friends.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As a Poetry Business writing day addict (averaging 10/12 monthly meetings a year) and now a regular at Almaserra Vella in Alicante, I can only say that without them I’d write nothing. It’s the business of high-pressure time-limit tasks without the possibility of self-conscious reflection that surprises me again and again into discovering that I know things I didn’t know I knew. I’ve found myself writing about witches, hangmen, owls, the Fall of Man, Noah, Milton’s daughter’s, crofters, the death of a son, grandparents I never knew, girlfriends, snow, frosts, crucifixion experts, Ted and Sylvia, crofters, dead princesses, Vikings….and on and on it goes. I’ve had competition winning poems out of these workshops, and I’ve put three pamphlets together. Add to that the business of reading workshops where I’ve learned from the acute editorial eyes and ears of the Sansoms, Jane Draycott, Mimi Khalvati, and the sharp responses of all the friends I’ve made on the courses. The very first and only Arvon residential course I went on was a disaster, and my MA course was a waste of time. But the thing is, you stick at it. May you all have my wonderful good fortune.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your list of things you’ve written about is a poem in itself! Yes, the sticking at it, that’s the trick. Thanks for a wonderful comment and your kind wishes. I’m excited about finally meeting Peter Sansom when I take part in the Aldeburgh Eight Seminar in November. I’ve been carrying his ‘How to Write Poetry’ book for years.

      Liked by 1 person

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