Why do people come to writing workshops?

When you talk to non-writers, they often assume there could only be one possible reason for coming on writing workshops, and that’s in order to become a published author. I find this assumption rather odd.

It would be like saying the only reason a person might take piano lessons would be to become a concert pianist or piano teacher, and the only reason for joining a football team would be if you want to be a pro footballer.

My observation as a workshop provider is that it’s a rare participant who signs up because they want a new career. I mean, of course that may be something that develops down the line, just as playing the piano or football might eventually lead to career opportunities if you find that you love it enough to want to practise and practise – but in the first instance, it’s all about pleasure.

Most people come to workshops because they want to see if they’ll enjoy it and, if they do, to build their skills so they can enjoy it even more.  It’s about the adventure of trying something new and the joy of learning – which a survey of adults a while ago found many people rated above the joy of sex. True story!

Writing is an opportunity to explore your inner world, to become more aware of everything around you, to find a voice for your thoughts and feelings. It makes life more interesting, more meaningful, more manageable, more beautiful.

The unexpected bonus for people new to workshops is the sense of community that builds very quickly through sharing and discussing writing in a group – lots of new friendships and writing groups begin in workshop situations.

I write for publication but, like almost every writer I’ve ever met, I did loads of writing before I ever thought of being an author and a lot of the writing I do today is experimental and not intended for publication.

There’s the writing, and then there’s the job of being an author. Most people in workshops are there for the writing, though it’s always a buzz when, as a consequence of building their writing confidence, they start to send work off and get things  accepted for publication or placed in competitions.

pinetumgardens
My favourite recent workshop was led by Penny Shutt around the picnic tables at Pinetum Gardens

I personally love going on writing workshops and I take the opportunity whenever I can, not because I want to find new opportunities and ideas for publication but because it’s almost always an enjoyable experience.

Why do you go to writing workshops? Has your motivation changed since the first one you went on?

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15 thoughts on “Why do people come to writing workshops?”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with all of this, Jen. When I took my first creative writing course with you, ten years ago, I loved it so much I went on to experience many more. That first course opened my eyes and I haven’t stopped writing since! Dare I say, it’s almost like an addiction. I can’t imagine my life without writing now. I believe that writers who don’t go to any workshops or belong to any writers’ groups are missing out on so much fun. And like you say, you never know where it will lead..

  2. Very well put – love the analogy of the piano lessons! The very wide range of writers (experienced and otherwise) that we had at our poetry workshops in Hayle – led so well by you!) proves this…. everyone was there for a different reason – and what wonderful work they produced

    1. That mix of experience is fruitful for everyone, Susan – we did get a lovely collection of poems from the Hayle writers, and I’m looking forward to hearing them read at the candlelight vigil

  3. I’ve been writing commercially for years: brochure copy, speeches, websites etc. But took part in some of Jen’s workshops to explore creative writing for children and had an absolute blast! In fact, laughter is one of the key takeaways from my time spent with Jen.
    Four years on I wish I’d taken part in Jen’s courses years ago as the principals of writing fiction are incredibly powerful when applied to other forms of communication. Exploring a theme or writing a picture book is the skill of clear explanation & the ability to engage readers emotionally in less than 1000 words- if this standard was applied to all political speeches I guarantee we’d all be much more well informed!
    Writing also helps deal with strong feelings and very therapeutic to write a letter to someone who you’re angry with or hurt by. The process of getting it all out and then burning the paper of flushing it down the loo in tiny pieces is oddly satisfying.
    There are a million reasons for writing other than becoming an author so I recommend you give it a try & embrace whatever comes 😍

    1. Yes, yes, yes – I love all this, Sarah! The skills of writing fiction – or indeed poetry, non fiction and memoir – can boost our ability to communicate effectively in every area of life as well as understand and process the full range of our experience. Remembering you two on the Arvon course, like the naughty ones giggling at the back of the class, always makes me smile! 🙂

  4. Agree with everyone else. I love going to writing workshops. I have just had a lovely week away with Cinnamon Press on their bi-annual 5 day writing retreat and have already booked up for the next one in March along with good friends I’ve made there.
    So it is for friendship, for encouragement and for the joy of writing.
    I also run writing workshops and I would say everyone who comes on them, or at least nearly everyone, is out to enjoy writing for writing’s sake.
    And I loved your comment about writing being the only thing that people think that people only do to be published but never see it with anything else 🙂 X

  5. I believe people attend writing workshops or conferences for a variety of reasons: to hone their writing skills; to connect with other scribes (and realize they’re not so weird after all); to understand the publishing industry; and, yes, with thoughts of, perhaps, turning their writing passion into a profession.

    I attended my first writer’s conference as a 19-year-old second-year college student in September of 1983. It was held over a weekend at a university in Dallas, Texas. I was surprised by the number of people I saw. The place was literally crowded! The cost of the event had almost prevented me from going, but I thought it might be worth it. I was right. The conference was no mere exercise in dreamy expectations and surrealistic boosts to one’s self-confidence. There were brutally honest discussions of how to get published and what to expect from both agents and editors. At a time when most writers still used typewriters, one principal workshop listed the exact needs of then-standard manuscript formatting. Altogether, organizers had featured everything about the literary profession – from cover letters to postage to synopses. Guest speakers were book agents, representatives from actual publishing houses, and published writers. They held nothing back and sugar-coated even less. It was insightful and enjoyable.

    I would love to attend another such event, just for the sake of understanding how the publishing industry has changed, as well as commiserating with other writers. I’m on the threshold of self-publishing my first novel, but I know there’s still much to learn. I’m not a people person by any means, yet visiting with others who enjoy the work of actually putting thoughts and ideas into written form is always a pleasure.

    1. Your comment highlights, for me, the difference between writers’ conferences and writing workshops, Alejandro. Workshops, being practical writing sessions, usually involve people sitting at tables, which naturally limits the number of participants, and most workshop providers have a ceiling, typically up to about 15 people. In a writing workshop it’s usually about the writing, rather than the business of being published and current market trends etc. Having said that, some organisers here do use the terms interchangeably and it may be completely different on your side of the pond!

  6. Thank you for sharing this Jenny. My motivation from the first time I ever attended a workshop has definitely changed. When I was younger and a more impatient, I was driven by this need to “find the secret” to publication. It took away from the enjoyment I had when I just wrote for myself.
    What I learned over the years was that if I am not enjoying the writing, then how can I expect my reader to enjoy it.
    I have been published by others and self published as well since those early days. My portfolio is a pick and mix and I love it. I love that I didn’t box myself into one category.

    That is why I now take writing workshops. To explore and be free. Also, it is a great way to meet new people and experience creativity outside my office.

    1. Yes – all this! And if we didn’t enjoy it, why would we keep doing it? I’m practice school – it all starts from love. Loving writing means you keep writing and keeping writing means you build your confidence and find your unique writing voice.

      1. Absolutely Jenny. I am reminded of one of my best friends who trained as a speech therapist and after years of practising it, he realised he really didn’t like it. He retrained as a chef and everything in his life changed including his confidence. He went from introvert to being more sociable, to eventually meeting a woman that would become his wife. He told me on the eve of his wedding (I was best man) that it was all down to finally doing something that he enjoyed and that made him enjoy everything else. I think so much of his story resonates with writers. We have to enjoy what we are doing.

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