Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Creative Writing Courses

An author I know who also teaches creative writing (CW) is currently engaged in a bit of reflective practice on the whole business of teaching and is asking friends, acquaintances and anybody connected with CW if they’d to help.

If you are on a CW course, if you have ever taken one or if you CW courses and you have a few moments, it would be great if you could have a look at the questions below. Any answers would – I know – be very much appreciated.
Just pop them in the comments box and it will be scanned daily… I’ve kicked off with my own responses.

1. Have you ever participated in writing workshops? If so, did you find them useful? How and why or why not?

2. If you teach, do you use the workshop format? Why or why not?

3. In your experience, is the workshop a good use of time on a course?

4. To your knowledge, are there creative writing programmes that do not utilise the workshop?

5. In your opinion, are workshops a necessary part of any undergraduate or postgraduate programme?

[PS - In response to Tim's question in the comments section about what 'workshop' means, I elicited the following answer:

Yes, 'workshop' is a weird word in that people use it differently. But a practical bias is right, specifically toward 'peer critique', e.g. members of a class looking at each other's work, guided by the leader... Hope that helps!]


Alis said...

My answers:
1. No, I've never taken part in any writing workshops. I'm one of those 'leave me alone and I'll work it out for myself' people...
2. I have run numerous courses, though never on CW. I have always found that workshops are where you see whether all the things that you've been trying to teach people have actually taken root in their understanding or whether they were just sitting there nodding sagely so as not to upset you. They also - I think - help people to understand how much they have grasped and how difficult it is to put theory into practice. Then you're on hand to try and get them out of the jams they've got themselves into, or to explain something you hadn't fully elucidated.
3.I definitely think workshops are a good use of time on a course. They are often a bugger to prepare as they demand a lot of foreward-thinking (more than just teaching the theory) but essential if you're teaching anything which is going to have a practical application.
4. I don't know the answer to this.
5. It would be presumptuous of me to answer this one as I've never participated in a CW course at any level either as tutor or tutee, but if I was the sort of person who would look for such a course (see answer to 1!) then I would assume that those with workshops offered more practical help (and surely that's what people are looking for in doing a CW course) than those which did not.

Hope that helps!

Tim Stretton said...

Always the person to ask a stupid/awkward question - what do we mean by "workshop"? As things stand I'd have to answer Q1 "I don't know", which somewhat impairs my ability to answer the others...

I've been on several creative writing courses with a heavy practical bias but I'm not sure if this is the same thing...

Alis said...

Good point, Tim. I shall enquire...

Alis said...

Hi Tim, in case you've come straight to the comments, I've just put the following on the blog:
'Yes, 'workshop' is a weird word in that people use it differently. But a practical bias is right, specifically toward 'peer critique', e.g. members of a class looking at each other's work, guided by the leader... Does that help?'

Tim Stretton said...

Now buttressed with a definition, I can respond:

1. Yes. The distinguishing feature of the courses I went on was that the work was produced "during the lesson", rarely more than a couple of hundred words. The emphasis was on trying things out rather polishing a finished product.

2. I've not taught CW. When I teach local government finance (lucky me...) I use a mixture of presentation and workshop.

3. Feedback on 2. suggests the workshop elements are the most useful. This tallies with my experience as a participant.

4. Nothing useful to say here!

5. I think they must be a valuable learning tool in this context. The exposure to others' half-finished, and inevitably flawed, work is as useful as the critique you receive on your own.

Alis said...

Thanks Tim - I'm sure your responses will be appreciated.

David Isaak said...

1. Workshops can be great. I attend a weeklong intensive every June, and it's one of the highlights of my year. The instantaneous feedback and the give-and-take in a good workshop are thrilling. Furthermore, it's easy to see the defects in unpolished work--one can learn a lot from reading other writers first and second tries.

That said, I was in one very bad workshop (and promptly bailed out). A bad workshop is like a hideously dysfunctional family.

2. I teach short courses on occasion, but the subjects I teach tend to be rather technical; not writing-oriented at all. Nonetheless, I find the hands-on workshop format to be a vital counterpoint to the lecture format even in my area (which is computer simulation models of energy systems).

3. A good workshop is invaluable. But when they aren't good, they range from a waste of time to downright damaging.

4. I don't know of any. Certainly that's the MFA model prevalent in the US. What can be hard to find is a good novel workshop, as opposed to one focused on overprecious short stories.

5. I can't imagine what sort of format a writing program would have if workshops were excluded entirely. It would be like science without a lab section, or art without a studio section, music without performance and practice...

Alis said...

Thanks, David. I agree, it's hard to imagine a CW course without the workshopping.

KAREN said...

I've found workshops very useful in the past, especially starting out, but like David have been on a bad one. The tutor admitted she was only there to supplement her income!!