Today’s question is: do writing workshops qualify as procrastination?
You have 4 hours to answer. Sorry, I’m in exam mode (and I recently discovered the strikeout button on WordPress. It’s even more fun than brackets, which were my previous faves).
Yes, I’m in exam mode. Not for myself, but for my daughter: someone has to think about the Big Bac. All she seems to say is, “T’inquiète,” (don’t worry) as she heads off to another overnight party.
“What? Shouldn’t you know it all if you’re teaching it?”
(Someone always asks an awkward question)
Early on in my part-time work as an English TEFL teacher, I realised that teaching is all about learning. At work, I know what the correct answer is. But as a teacher you have to explain why it’s the correct answer. So I spent my early teaching years studying the rules of English while simultaneously teaching it – and repeating, “I’m not sure why that’s the right answer, but I’ll find out and get back to you.”
Writing is similar: you read a story and know it is good. If you’ve got oodles of raw talent, you may even write a good story. But why does a particular story work? What techniques has the writer used? That’s where writing craft guides, workshops and courses can help.
I spent years poring over writing books and experimenting with techniques, often with my amazing writing group of the early 2000s, Lumineuse. For the last few years I’ve been concentrating on writing novels, so it wasn’t until I was asked to lead a workshop last year that I returned to my creative writing guides.
Once I opened them, the memories surged back. I rediscovered concepts I’d struggled to understand before. This time, with ten more years’ writing experience, they made much more sense. I could think of my own examples to the models they presented.
I bought a couple more guides – just in case a modern technique had been discovered.
I read them. (It hadn’t).
I re-read my old guides. I took notes. I put on my wetsuit and surfed writing blogs such as Emma Darwin’s excellent This Itch of Writing.
Writing? Ha, who needs to make the effort of writing when you can spend your time learning about how you should be writing instead? It’s much less painful. More inspiring. And, yes, it makes sense. If you read enough about the craft, surely you’ll absorb the information and the literary bestseller will flow from your keyboard?
Procrastination warning bells jangled.
I sighed, closed my guides and went back to the blank screen and the infinite possibilities of the keyboard.
Then, a few weeks ago, my date with Kate appeared on the “God, it’s in 3 weeks’ time” horizon.
Kate Rose – co-founder of the Charroux literary festival, workshop leader, Bookish Lunches organiser and poet extraordinaire – had invited me to do a session as part of her Meraki writing business. She holds monthly writing events so that us poor English writers in France aren’t so isolated.
I’d chosen to talk about how to take a character and write a story based on him/her. I wanted to explore this because I regularly see beautiful writing and great characters, but it’s much more unusual to see a story that works well.
I looked at my pile of writing guides and my pages of notes.
I looked at the document on my computer: the final scene of my current novel…
A week later, I guzzled a glass of champagne to celebrate the end of my first draft, and set to work preparing the workshop ‘From Character to Story’.
I soon discovered that preparing a workshop is like editing a novel draft. I had to cut, cut, cut. There was so much I could do, but I wanted the participants to take away a concept that would make them think about how to approach a story.
My final plan was ambitious. I know from giving talks about writing and from my English teaching lessons that you always need more time than you think. I was in danger of rushing through the concepts. I would have to be strict with timing. I would have to take a whip and punish anyone who asked too many questions.
(I love strikethrough)
The day of the workshop arrived.
I wasn’t ill. My car started. No aliens whisked me away to another planet during my journey to Champagne-Mouton.
There was no escape.
I switched from writer to teacher mode, and the workshop began.
It was fun to meet everyone, hear about their writing projects and listen to their story scenes. Many thanks to Kate, who was a brilliant host and kept participants supplied with drinks and a delicious lunch – as well as following the workshop. The attendees were generous with their feedback, so I hope everyone learnt something useful.
Oh, and in answer to the exam question: workshops are not only a great place to learn about writing, they’re also an ideal opportunity to chat with other writers and shape your work. That’s certainly not procrastination, is it?
Kate is a writer, poet and creative writing coach. She lives and works in South West France. She is co founder of the bi-annual Charroux Literary Festival, attracting international bestselling authors and poets. She has been published in a range of magazines and anthologies. Through her business, Meraki, she offers one to one coaching and writers workshops.
She would love to hear from you and can be contacted at: