Saturday, November 10, 2012

My name is Emily and I'm addicted to writing workshops.

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you're also addicted to workshops, then you'll recognize many of the participants as the usual suspects: the bitter, unpublished punks; the very old, very determined memoirists; the awkward introverts; and the token insane woman – who sat next to me, of course – and who, every 20 minutes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. 


  1. Haha. Classic WS stories.

    My take on workshops is this: Sometimes there are a waste of time, sometimes they're helpful. Even when they suck, they help you build a thick skin which is essential in our biz. And when they're helpful, they're usually helpful either because 1-2 people appreciate your writing, which gives you a little confidence. or because 1-2 people have declared a war with your writing (cf. building a thick skin). And when you're really lucky, 1-2 people make suggestions that actually make your story/chapter/memoir better, even if/when you tell them to fuck off + reject their suggestions for like a year. And when the writer leading the WS is really good, usually s/he is the person who gives you some of the most insightful comments. But it's hit or miss. I mean, from Tom's WS, I learned that I'm a badass. From Aimee's WS, I learned that I have a lot to learn, especially with the physicality of characters + the consequentiality of their decisions. Both helped me in diametrical ways. In the beginning, years before USC, my WS's were hit or miss + (this sounds totally elitist) + I find that entry-level WS's tend to be the biggest pain in the ass because you not only have a bunch of people trying to be writers, but you also have a bunch of people trying to be critics. While WS value is a crap shoot, it's always better I think (when it is good) when the people there are at least comfortable with the format of workshop + their roles as aspiring writers trying to improve manuscripts, which usually only happens after they have either become deeply self-actualized, published a decent amount so they're not trying to prove anything any more, or after they've gotten over their shit. Of course, we may not be so lucky. On the other hand, sometime you luck out + it makes you a better writer.

    Maybe it's time to sign up for a real writer's conference later on in the summer, once you've already written a lot of new stuff + are finally looking for critical feedback? Just a thought.

    Peace, Blessings,


    1. Your writing workshops sound great! I've only been to one workshop that actually did any real workshopping of a story or manuscript. (I did, however, go to one that workshopped the first sentence. But don't get me started on that one.)
      I really do use these things as a way of avoiding the hard work of actually writing, which is really really pitiful. I think I need to go cold turkey for a while. Unless...Is there a patch or gum for writers trying to quit workshops?

  2. Hi Emily,
    It's funny you should mention your addiction to workshops. I'm researching personality types came across a reference to one category of personalities (blue) in which "workshop groupies" are commonly found ... you are not alone!

    1. That is so cool, Evadne. Much of that blue personality description does sound like me! Except for the "eternal optimism" of course. :)
      (And btw, hi Evadne! I hope your writing is going well.)

  3. Hilarious. Thinking of getting the literary events app, thought I can see the dangers that lie down that path.