Friday, 11 February 2011

Guest Post - on Creative Writing Workshops

Do you have a resolution to get to a workshop? A class? A masterclass? An academy? A course?

Last month many will have signed up for creative writing classes. With every year that passes, more and more soldiers join what Patrick Kavanagh called the ‘standing army’ of Irish poets, and more legions are also added to the ranks of fiction writers, as judges of writing competitions and editors of literary journals will testify. Having attended several of these classes myself over the last fifteen years, and having experienced significant benefit from most of them, I speak as a fan. There are plenty of them on offer, from night classes in the local VEC to national organisations such as the Irish Writers’ Centre, and there seems to be no shortage of new teachers and workshops setting up shop, even during this current recession. Irish literary ambition, it would seem, is in constant supply.

As a student in classes over the last fifteen years, I have found that sharing my work with, and getting feedback from, experienced teachers and motivated peers to be very helpful, especially once you get over the beginner’s hump of taking comments on your poem/story personally. I’ve also had the privilege of leading workshops in haiku poetry for the last dozen years to students aged 8 to 80. It’s very gratifying as a teacher to see someone’s writing form - and confidence - improve and develop with encouragement and guidance.

But when is a creative writing class not a creative writing class? The solution to this koan, in contrast to Shakespeare’s rose, does lie in the name. Based on my own experience and the anecdotal evidence of other ‘emerging’ writers, the titles of certain courses or workshops smell sweeter to some prospective punters than to others. For instance, if you call a creative writing class a class, a course or a workshop, it will usually be attended by a majority of women. However, if you call it a Masterclass or an Academy, there is more likely to be a gender balance. It appears that male wannabe published writers are more drawn towards classes with prestigious titles, as are some of their female counterparts.

A parallel development takes place in creative writing groups or workshops, the more democratic - and less expensive – fora, where writers gather to share and critique works of fiction and/or poetry. These also tend to be populated more by women, with one major exception: groups (or events) which have a strong focus on performance. The prospect of a microphone tends to lure male poets and writers out of their garrets where the humble workshop fails.

The complex equation of inputs and outputs is crucial in the development of any writer, whether published or unpublished. It is interesting to note that the preferences for these seem to be largely influenced by gender, in this country at least.

Maeve O’Sullivan’s poetry and haiku have been widely published, and her first collection of haiku, ‘Initial Response’, is forthcoming from Alba Publishing in April. She is a member of Haiku Ireland, the Poetry Divas and the Hibernian Poetry Workshop. She and Kim Richardson will lead their annual residential workshop in ‘Creating from Within, Haiku and Mindfulness’, at the Anam Cara retreat in West Cork in August You can also find her on Twitter @maeveos.


Donna OShaughnessy said...

I am so glad I found your blog. I have written more this week than in several months. Many thanks for your inspiring ways

Mari G said...

Hi Maeve
Thanks for your very interesting guest post.
As a frequent user of writing workshops, for me it is the facilitator/tutor and their "back catalogue" that is the deciding factor. Also, workshops/courses offer a chance to meet up with other writers, emerging and established, another important attraction.
I like the bit about the males being attracted to classes with prestigious titles, must look out for that phenomenon!
Well done again!
Mari G

Totalfeckineejit said...

Jaysus Kate you have here the kind of sweeping statements more akin to what men tend (or tended) to say about women. When will we learn we are all just people and some of us are poets.

Emerging Writer said...

Hi TFE. I'll pass on your comments to Maeve who wrote the GUEST POST

Dolores said...

Hi all and thanks for the responses to my guest blog. Mari G makes an excellent comment about the tutor being a key factor in picking a workshop, something I should have emphasised. As for TFE's reaction, my intention was/is not to be sexist, just to relay my observations over fifteen years of attending and leading workshops. I also worked as a literary journalist for five years, with Anna Livia FM and The Event Guide, so spent a lot of time interviewing and writing about writers' groups. I have no personal gripe with any male writer. Some of my best friends etc. Maeve O'S (aka Dolores)