After I took the three sessions from the Northwestern’s free community workshops, I told my sister I was marinating. I don’t think I’m quite far enough away to give an object view of the sessions, but if I wait, I’ll probably forget it all.

The sessions were led by the students from the MFA program. What I didn’t realize was that this was their first time to be let out into the wild, so to speak. They were in their program to learn how to teach writing and we were the guinea pigs.

The sessions consisted mainly of the tactic that I use when I meet someone for the first time and have no idea what to say: I ask them a LOT of questions about themselves.

What do you think is a good way to show someone’s character in a non-fiction piece? How do you kick writer’s block? What types of endings are there? No, no and no. I’m there to be taught. I don’t want to hear what Joe Blow next to me thinks. I want to hear examples from you, the teacher. That is certainly not to say that teachers are the be-all-end-all, that they carry the only key to the literary world. However, if I’m attending a class/a session/a workshop, I do expect the person at the head of the room to have some experience and wisdom to share. That’s what I came for.

In a classroom setting, I can see how this would work. They were opening up the dialogue, getting people comfortable…and then they would have a semester to be the expert. However, we had an hour and spending half of it getting a feel for the room or getting us to be comfortable by expressing ourselves felt like wasted time.

I also know there is no silver bullet. Many things in writing are subjective so, one could argue, hearing from a bunch of different people would be more helpful…you get a wider selection of opinions and options. That is not what this felt like.

Let’s take the writer’s block session. I’ve read numerous articles on how to overcome this, so I probably shouldn’t have expected anything earth shattering, but I was still hoping for something substantial. Instead, the instructor went around the room and ask what others did when they got writer’s block: change scenery, listen to music, people watch, free-write, meditate… Then she passed around different images and told us to write for 20 minutes (we were already about 20 minutes into the hour). Then, for about ten minutes, people read what they wrote. That’s it.

No elaboration on what to do next. If I get writer’s block, what is this specific inspiration kick-in the pants supposed to lead to? HOW does one apply this? Is it best to do this exercise independent of your story and then come back to the piece I’m working on? Or am I supposed to work this image into what I’m already writing?

These kinds of exercises are interesting, but they don’t usually unclog the problem I’m having with my work in progress. Getting inspiration on a new character isn’t what I need when I’m stuck on a specific section of the book.

I was prepared to write while at the sessions…they were labeled workshops after all. I just expected less audience participation and more sharing of experience and leading.

All that said, I’m glad I went. I did pick up a few new things (look at the clothes of the person you’re interviewing…ie don’t blow by the telling details just to get to your questions) and it was good to re-enforce some others (changing your routine/perspective helps others overcome writer’s blog).

And when people shared what they wrote, I was blown away with the excellent writing. I’m encourage that there are so many talented writers out there…and also a little worried about all that good competition!

For kicks, I’ll post my workshop material later this week.


7 thoughts on “Marinating

  1. Jackie

    I was looking forward to your post on the classes! As you know, I agree on all counts. I appreciated the instructors’ interest in keeping the classes interactive, but with so little time, we probably would have benefited more from an hour of solid instruction — and perhaps tips on how to follow up with those exercises post-class instead of taking up valuable class time doing them.

    Totally agree about the image writing class. The more I think about that one, the more disappointed I become. I wanted her to explore how we could use these prompts to create fully formed bodies of work (or at least get us started on that path). I also would have loved tips on using image inspiration in a more unconventional way, the way some of the writers in the class did. It seemed like lazy instruction, at best — something anyone in the class could have taught without much prep work.

    Eager to see your workshop material!

  2. bethfinke

    Ooooo, I wish I’d “warned” you a little before you toook off for NW. Then again, since these are new teachers, I guess I figured you never really know what you’ll get. Hope you filled out an evaluation…?

  3. Jackie

    Yes, I’m glad I went. I think there’s always something gained from being surrounded by talented people who want to write — there was just a lot of untapped potential.

  4. Thank you for posting this! I was curious. 🙂
    Some of it sounds a bit more like what my writing group would do on a biweekly basis than a seminar. Maybe it was aimed more at people who aren’t in writing groups/haven’t readbooks about the subjects? Anyway, great to hear that you were able to get something out of it. 🙂

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