Way back in September I promised you a post on the workshop I attended at the Wigtown Book Festival this year. I have been putting this off, because, to be honest, I was disappointed.
It was not because the workshop wasn’t interesting, or potentially useful, or led by someone who didn’t know what they were talking about. On the contrary, she was a young, personable and enthusiastic novelist who managed our large group of English, Scots and European men and women with confidence. So, what was the problem? I think it was me.
I have had enough of workshops. I don’t know why I keep going to them. They are consistently disappointing. I think I have reached the stage where they very rarely teach me anything I don’t know. Of course that doesn’t mean I practise it, nor does it mean I do any of it well. But I know this stuff. What I need now is to write and to read and to write some more and read some more.What I need is exposure to screeds of good writing and to make room for lots more writing practice. I don’t need any more workshops. I don’t need to be told what I can try. I have built-in, well-honed, gut feelings that I can call upon to sculpt the result I am looking for from a block of words in front of me. I need to fine tune what I already know.
I think workshops are best for aspiring writers, beginner writers, insecure writers, possibly for writers wanting to move from one genre to another and perhaps also for writers in a community who work better with the support of friends. Frequently published, experienced writers are likely to benefit from something more meaty than a regular workshop, mentoring sessions perhaps, from writers more experienced than themselves, where it’s taken for granted that all the groundwork was covered long ago.
So, back to this workshop. The remit of the workshop was “the possibilities created by breaking free from traditional, realist methods of storytelling.” We were asked what we were particularly interested in exploring:
“Non linear writing,” I said. I wanted to hear she had to say about this and what the group made of it.
“Great” she said, ” ‘cos that’s what we’ll be doing.”
Later I said to the friend sitting next to me, “what happened to the non- linear writing?”
“Well,” she said, “that wasn’t what the majority were interested in.”
I’ve done some teaching. I tell my students what I plan to cover at the beginning. I recap on what I’ve covered at the end. And if there is something I may not be able to cover I say so before the session gets underway, and why, and I try to refer people to places where they might find what are looking for, if I can’t help. But of course, this wasn’t ‘teaching’ in a serious series-of-sessions-over-time sense. It was a workshop at a festival. Perhaps it was intended to be a bit of fun. Perhaps, as usual, I was taking things too seriously and being too critical. But I wanted so much to learn something new or discover a different perspective.
Throughout this workshop we came up with idioms, sayings and common turns of phrase and imagined the consequences if these were interpreted literally. An example might be ‘It gets under my skin’, or ‘all he touches turned to gold” or ‘once in a blue moon’ or ‘be born with a silver spoon in your mouth’ and so on. We did this over and over, coming up with a range of scenarios. We did some brief plotting, writing and reading out.
I was amazed by the plots people came up with in a matter of minutes. There were some born storytellers there. And there were first-time writers there that went away stimulated and encouraged. That, you might say, is the key to a successful workshop.
Me, I had tried this idea before in my flash fiction, with some success. Certainly, given thought and a careful choice of idiom, it can offer interesting results. I can recommend it as a useful way of finding ideas for Flash Fiction which does lend itself to slightly surreal subject matter such as this. Maybe it would be work for Sci Fi and Horror stories too. If you feel inclined, why not give it a try?
No more workshops for me, though. No more searching for lightbulb moments anywhere other than in the work front of me; in my reading or my writing.
Find an idiom or other saying that interests you. Ask, “what if this were real? What would mean for people; for the world they live in. Put someone in this situation, this world. How would he or she deal with it? What might happen?”