Maybe it’s just me… In praise of the writing workshop

I’m still getting my head around the news last week that I will have a collection coming out. It’s made me reflect on how exactly I got here and so in case it’s useful to anyone else (although mostly so I can understand it) I thought I’d take a look at some of the things that helped me achieve my dream. Writing workshops were the first thing that popped into my head, so I’m going to start there.

I am a part of two writing workshops – one with three incredible fiction writers, Richard Buxton, Tracy Fells and Bea Mitchell-Turner, and the other with the wonderful poet Raine Geoghegan. They both give me different things and I wouldn’t be the same without the patience, support and insight of these talented people. Each workshop meets once a month to share and discuss works-in-progress. Usually cake is involved. You’d think that was the best part, but for me it’s the chance to read some amazing writing from my fellow workshoppers and to get their guidance on how mine can improve.

Workshops can teach you not to be too precious about your work – you may have written a line that you love, but if no one understands it then you might have to give it a rethink. What you write as a result will always be better. Of course, this only works if kindness is a pre-requisite. If you know all feedback is only meant to help you then it stops you taking it personally and you can focus on the work. It doesn’t mean writing by committee – the decision remains yours, always. Often the feedback I get is split – some people love something that others don’t even understand and in those cases, I have to trust my heart and the poem. Feedback doesn’t take control out of your hands – knowledge is power and the more knowledge your fellow writers share, the more power you have to make your work better.

I appreciate that I got very lucky in my choice of workshop participants. We started during the dissertation for the MA when we all wanted to help each other along. We have all been through the same supportive workshop process at the University of Chichester – and the tutors’ advice on how to run a workshop has been some of the most invaluable in my writing career. I feel fortunate that the people I work with on my poems are people that I also count as very valued friends. We don’t just talk about the work, we cheer any success and offer words of condolence and encouragement when things get tough - not just with regard to our writing, but all aspects of our lives. Even if I have nothing to report but a string of rejections and a half-written sonnet, I still get the chance to read some great work (and enjoy a slice of cake) and that’s worth the world to me.

Regular workshops are also great for keeping you on track. Nothing improves my production rate more than the ever-efficient Tracy sending over her latest early or kindly Raine telling me how much she’s looking forward to our catch up. Writing can be lonely, as can studying for a PhD, but these regular reminders to complete work are great motivation and help to make sure I don’t get lost in the enormity of what I’m trying to achieve. 

I know there are a lot of horror stories about workshops and clashing egos – and believe me, I know how painful they can be. It’s worth taking the time to find the people who are right for you, and those are people you can laugh with, people who put kindness over competition and above all, people who know the importance of cake.

Apple Water: Povel Panni
By Raine Geoghegan