A writer friend of mine recently confessed that she found the idea of a small group workshop with an established author intimidating. Although she had already self-published several novels, and was no stranger to criticism and feedback, the thought of sitting at a table with a ‘serious’ author and a handful of other writers and exposing her work for immediate scrutiny was too daunting to consider.
Most writers suffer from some degree of imposter syndrome. The highly competitive publishing industry, the need to be active on social media, and the personality traits that attract you to writing in the first place all conspire to create self-doubt. We are all guilty of comparing ourselves to others and, at least in our own minds, coming off second best. It’s no wonder the thought of attending a workshop run by a writer we admire can make us feel vulnerable.
In the last couple of years, I’ve overcome this feeling and attended several workshops and short courses. In fact, I’m rapidly becoming a writing workshop junkie. The benefits of workshopping far outweigh the mild discomfort I still feel at the thought of looking stupid in front of an idol. Here are the reasons you too should consider attending a creative writing workshop, and a few suggestions for tracking down the best ones.
Reasons to try a creative writing workshop:
- Set up good habits from the beginning: The first short course I attended was the Creative Writing Stage One course at the Australian Writers’ Centre in Sydney. Over two intense days, Pamela Freeman walked the group through the basics of character, point of view, story structure, and descriptive language. The basic building blocks of creative writing, if you like. Pamela is a terrific teacher and generous with feedback, and I still refer back to those notes from time to time.
- Learn a new skill from a master: When I began to try my hand at flash fiction, I had no idea what I was doing. After some beginner’s luck, my stories began to flounder, so I attended a workshop at Varuna with Melissa Goode and Barry Lee Thompson. They opened my eyes to the strengths of flash fiction, and how to make your work stand out. I regularly refer back to my notes from that workshop. And, as an added bonus, I got to work in Varuna’s famed lounge room and try a piece of Sheila’s delicious ginger cake.
- Work on a specific weakness in your writing: Sometimes wrangling a first-draft novel into a workable structure can feel like shoving a king-size doona into a single-bed cover. At that point, a workshop like Kate Forsyth’s ‘Storytelling Magic’ at Writing NSW was exactly what I needed. Kate is strong on story structure, the hero’s journey, and the science of engaging an audience. Many valuable lessons were learnt which I continue to apply to my work with variable success.
- A creative kickstart: Other workshops are more free-form, more playful and creative. I love these for triggering surprising insights into my own work, for reminding me of the joy of writing, and for the occasional eureka moment they inspire. I’ve been fortunate to attend two of these lately, with literary stars Kathryn Heyman and Stephanie Bishop. These talented, award-winning writers were fabulous, inspiring teachers, who pushed me to think more deeply about my characters and enrich my work in the process.
- Feel a sense of belonging and validation: One thing all writing workshops have in common is the opportunity to meet other writers. Other writers get you. They know what drives you to keep writing through failure. They are your tribe, and meeting them makes you feel less alone. Community is important.
How to find writing workshops in Australia:
- Australian Writers’ Centre and other private courses: A google search will unearth countless opportunities to participate in private writing workshops, from The Faber Academy’s one day programmes to Catherine Deveny’s inspiring Gunnas workshops. Although pricey, they are less of a financial and time commitment than a long course and often feature the distilled wisdom of an excellent teacher.
- The writers’ centre in your state or region: In my region, Writing NSW and Hunter Writers Centre both run regular high-quality creative writing workshops. Search for opportunities near you. Face-to-face workshops are the best, but some also offer online learning if that suits you better.
- Varuna and other residential writing facilities: A fabulous opportunity to undertake classes in inspiring locations.
- Writers’ Festivals: Look out for workshops in festival programs. These can be high quality and good value.
- Local libraries: Keep an eye on your local library’s events. In addition to free author talks, many run free or inexpensive writing workshops.
- Eventbrite: A fabulous app which allows you to search for opportunities in your area and purchase tickets or register for free events.
Have you been to writing workshops lately? Which ones would you recommend?