I just returned from a particularly horrible writing workshop at the Toronto Public Library. Nothing against the writer who ran the workshop; she did the best she could. It was the writers who brought this session to a brand new low. If you're like me and you're also addicted to workshops, then you'll recognize many of the participants as the usual suspects: the bitter, unpublished punks; the very old, very determined memoirists; the awkward introverts; and the token insane woman – who sat next to me, of course – and who, every 20 minutes or so, barked like a dog in the grip of a nightmare. (There were some lovely people, too, of course. But they're no fun to write about.)
The theme of today's workshop was breaking through barriers to writing. You know what one of the barriers to writing is? Thinking and talking too damn much about writing instead of actually writing.
Until today, I’ve never truly been honest with myself about why I’m so drawn to writing workshops. I say I’m doing them for social reasons, you know, to meet more writers, to feel less isolated in what is a very isolating craft. But does an actual socially-driven writing workshopper spend hours trolling the Internet for free seminars? Does she constantly refresh her literary event app (and yes, this exists) to make sure – 100% sure – that she isn’t missing out? Does she make desperate phone calls to librarians begging “Please. PLEASE. Can you fit me into this workshop? I NEED this workshop.” Of course not. This is the behavior of a person using writing workshops not for social networking or developmental opportunities, but as a crutch. This is the behavior of me.
And afterwards, after the workshop is over, have I learned something deep about the art of writing or my process? Have I made new literary connections? Have I broken down creative walls? No. All I’ve got to show for it is a backpack full of fucking pamphlets and three hours of wasted time. Time that I should have been using to write.
This is not to say that other writers may not benefit greatly from writing workshops. It's just that for me, at this stage in my "career," I know exactly what my problem with writing is: not writing.