Whaaaaat? No Writing on Wednesday post? Well I was going to write about the next section in On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner (see last Wednesday’s post for Part I) today. The section on “The Writer’s Training and Education.”
But that was before. Before I flew to Denver to visit my grandchildren. I’m staying at my son, Jason’s house, for a couple of days. Jason and his wife, See, have two girls, Grace (3) and Anna (2). I brought them 4 puzzles as pre-Christmas happies. So far I think we’ve worked those puzzles about 10 times each! (Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Dora Explora, and Dinosaurs.)
Okay, maybe I’ll share a few words for my writing buddies. Since I did NOT get an MFA in creative writing (one of the options Gardner writes about in this sectioin) I’ll only mention a few things he shares about writing workshops.
I’ve participated in about a dozen of those, including the Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop in Oxford, every June since 2007. And I’ve organized a couple of writing workshops, like the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference (with Neil White and Kathy Rhodes), and the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop. Neil, Kathy and I are working on plans for the 2013 Oxford Conference, May 2-5. More on that later.
Why does the beginning or emerging writer need to attend workshops? Gardner says, “a writer needs social and psychological support” and that a workshop “fills you with nervous energy, makes you want to leave the party and go home and write.” But what does Gardner say a good workshop actually does? And how do you know if you have a good workshop leader?
“In a good workshop, the teacher establishes a general atmosphere of helpfulness rather than competitiveness or viciousness…. Good workshop criticism is like good criticism anywhere…. In a good fiction workshop one recognizes that even if a work seems bad at first glance, the writer sat writing and thinking about I for a fair amount of time and deserves a generous response.”
I always leave a workshop with that nervous energy, and inspiration. The workshop leaders and my fellow workshoppers usually help me believe in myself, which is essential for the arduous and lonely work of a writer.
So, how should one approach the learning environment at a workshop? Gardner says:
“What the beginner needs to learn is how to think like a novelist. What he does not need is a teacher who imposes his own solution, like an algebra teacher who tells you the answer without showing how he got there, because it is a process that the young writer must learn: problems in novels, unlike problems in algebra, may have any number of solutions…. Basically what teachers need to teach students is not how to fix a particular story but how to figure out what is wrong with the story and how to think about alternative ways of fixing it.”
This has definitely been my experience in the fiction and creative nonfiction workshops I’ve attended. And also my experience working with a freelance editor this past summer on my novel. So, I highly recommend writing workshops for those of you who are working on a novel, a short story, an essay, a memoir, or any kind of writing. While I’m waiting to hear back from literary agents on my novel, Cherry Bomb, I’m starting another novel, and continuing to pen essays, so I hope to submit some of my new work to workshops next May and June. Hope to see some of my readers there!
Tomorrow I’ll head over to my daughter, Beth’s apartment, to hang out with Beth and her husband, Kevin, and their (7-month-old) daughter, Gabby for a couple of days. Then on Friday, “Pops” is flying in to join us for the weekend. I’ve got lots of fun plans, including “Cocktails and Canvases” (we’re having sangria and painting peacock feathers!) with my daughter and daughter-in-law on Saturday (and some Christmas shopping for clothes for their girls) and “Disney on Ice” with See and her girls on Sunday. I’ll post pictures some time next week.
And next week’s Writing on Wednesday post will be about Part III of Gardner’s book, “Publication and Survival,” so stay tuned. Don’t you love the holidays?