Monday, June 20, 2011

Some Thoughts about the Workshop

I've been thinking about the model of the workshop, how to make it better, what makes it work for the students, what makes it exciting. A lot of it is about trust, and even more of it is about doing the work. A careful and thoughtful reading goes a long way.

And then I came across this Ray Bradbury quote on the Advice to Writers website:

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.

Of course, he's right. Teachers do have prejudices. If you take enough workshops by different instructors someone contradicts someone else. We all mean to do the most good. What's a writer to do?

More than anything, I think, writers need to live, and they need to trust their guts. Live for real. Be risky. Get your heart broken, get in a fight. Have a baby. Go broke. Bleed a little, or a lot. Nothing's more boring than a story by a student who hasn't done anything. And then trust it. Trust yourself to know when you've tapped into that bloody pulp where the best stuff comes from.

Recently, I found a graffiti workshop offered at a local arts center, and I asked my teenage son -- who is fascinated by the artform and would like (with my blessing) to graffiti one wall of his bedroom -- if he wanted to take the class over the summer.

No way, he said. He looked at the brochure; read the description; weighed the possibility.

Why not?

Because, he said. I want to do graffiti. I don't want anyone to think that I learned it in a workshop.



  1. You make me want to write again. I need to live more first.

  2. Same for a good poem. Thanks for the pertinent thoughts. I teach what I want to learn. If I can stay one step ahead of my students, I am in good shape. And my students always teach me more about my the way they do it and/or the questions they ask that challenge me to be clear on my aesthetic, even the 2nd graders!