Does a real writer stop taking writing workshops?
Today’s post starts with a question from a writer named Annie.
The Story Intensive, the most I have paid for an online program, got me out of my "writing block”… I finished a story's first draft through it. It was longer than any of my shorter flash pieces I had ever written. It made me feel like a real writer because I didn't know why I was not able to write "those" longer pieces.
Since then, I have gone on to explore other online courses, shorter, less intense, smaller price tags… I wrote last night thanks to the Writing Practice session.
My question is: what does it mean if someone continues to seek out such avenues to get to writing?
mean, is one a mere hobbyist (not that anything is wrong with that) if one keeps signing up for courses in order to write?
When is it a crutch and when is it a ladder?
I am in a position to dish out $100 bucks here and $150 there over a period of time because I work full time. Ironically, that’s also the reason I can't seem to get into my rhythm of writing.
This is my answer to Annie:
Writing without any social support is really hard.
Like you’re alone in your head for days on end, just wondering if you actually can die of loneliness, just wondering how healthy it is to make this shit up, and just wondering if you did actually make this shit up, or if you just copied down your life or worse someone else’s life, or maybe you’re just feeding your delusions and neuroses and then advertising it to whoever reads your drivel.
— From This Accident of Being Lost, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
We know writing can feel edifying, freeing, and imaginative. We write because we love it! But let’s be honest: it can also be weird, lonely, crazy-making solitary work.
While writing requires solitude, and loneliness happens, we don’t have to feel lonely all the time. It doesn’t make us more real or good. Workshops are one place that we find other writers doing the same thing — and this is stimulating, refreshing, and nourishing for a writer of all levels.
Ruth Ozeki recently spoke at the AWP conference about a course she took with Karen Joy Fowler, and what she learned from working with her. These authors are both award-winning novelists. Learning doesn’t stop.
If writing workshops help our writing — we’re actually learning, stretching ourselves, getting out of our grooves, keeping our promises, and evolving as writers — then why does it matter?
The writing process is not shaped like a pyramid, with the master at the top. What if we see the process as a spiral, instead? With the arm of the circle travelling around, revisiting old places with new, wider perspective, continually learning and expanding while circling the core of your true nature.
You don’t have to do this alone. Writing without any help doesn’t make you more of a “real” writer. It doesn’t make you any more original or talented. Suffering doesn’t make it more pure. That’s a dangerous myth: toss it.
At some point you might want to explore writing residencies, retreats and colonies instead of classes, where you still get to write with other writers, but have lots of time to do your own solitary work. Look at The Banff Centre or Hedgebrook for examples. Both of these programs — and many others — also offer bursaries and financial aid.
You’ll know when you’re ready for a residency, because eventually you’ll start to crave it. Do what you can afford, in money and time, pay attention to what feels good for you and your writing, and trust wherever your spiral leads you.
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