What to Expect at the Workshops
For well over twenty years the format of the workshops (both Fiction and Memoir) has proven to boost the literary skills, creativity, and confidence of writers of all levels of experience. The workshop is comprehensive but also nurturing and a lot of fun. Following short talks about craft, with examples handed out to make those talks clear, participants are given writing exercises. Once completed, sometimes in, sometimes out of the classroom, participants are asked to read their work aloud in small groups. All writers are encouraged to read at least one of their writing assignments to the entire group but no one is pressured to do so.
The workshops have been offered in colleges, writers conferences, and holistic learning centers (such as Omega, Esalen, and Kripalu), and classroom sessions lengths vary in length, usually two-and-a-half to three hours. No two workshops are ever the same. The structure of the workshop, the lecture/talks, the writing samples and exercises have evolved over time. Because the focus is on the participants’ writing (rather than ‘expert advice’ from the leaders), each workshop is a reflection of those who take it. Criticism is never harsh or judgmental. It is geared to helping each writer improve what she/he has written, not what the ‘critics’ in the class think they should be writing. To the extent that there are fixed rules, it is required only that writers attempt to help, and never shame, other writers.
Writers often ask if, instead of exercises given as assignements, they can read aloud to the group a piece that they have written previously, for instance, an excerpt from an autobiographical novel, or memoir, in progress. The answer is yes …IF… if the excerpt-in-progress fits the length of the assignment–a one-page beginning, for example–and if it suits the subject matter of the assignment, i.e., a page of dialog.
Many of the class exercises can be found in the book, So You Want to Write–as is far more information than can ever be delivered in a workshop situation–and sometimes participants do the exercises before the workshop begins. All well and good, as long as the piece fits the length and the subject matter of the writing assignment.
We laugh a lot in the workshops. We get to know each other well. We, the ‘teachers,’ often learn a lot from the participants because they bring so much life experience they want to write about. We all take our meals together, talk about writing and our lives, and sometimes–as at the Omega Institute or the Rowe Conference Center–the food is great! None of us get a lot of sleep. But lots of writers take the time (and take the risk of ‘outing’ their work and ‘daring’ to open it up to the comments of others) because they’ve come to a standstill in their writing life and need a boost, an injection of energy, contact with other writers, some cold hard truth, or advice about how they might get published.
At the end of every workshop we offer participants the opportunity to join a private on-line Facebook page called Memoir Lab in order to continue working with the writers they have met at the workshop. This is totally voluntary. Although many lose interest, others continued to nourish their writing through on-line community. A surprising number of former students have published their work in literary magazines, or with independent, university and even mainstream presses. Some have likened the workshop to a ‘writers’ bootcamp.’
Thousands have joined us over the years.