Shaun Levin

Led by Language

In Writing, Writing Workshops on April 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm

In a workshop. I think of these sessions as workshops, as a place to explore, rather than an arena in which something is taught, which the word “course” implies, as if there is a way, a course, a right way and a wrong way. People bring a lot of anxiety to the beginning of a workshop. An an expectation to be told. To be told how to do it and also to be told they can do it. That they have what it takes to be a writer. A lot of people say at the beginning that they want to find out if they can do it, if they’ve got what it takes. Very rarely do people say that they want to find out if they want to do it. Some of the anxiety at the beginning is the fear about what others will say, that everyone will be better than me, that I’ll make a fool of myself. How many of us have had our creative endeavours ridiculed or rejected? How many of us where told we didn’t have what it takes to paint or draw or write or dance or sing. And then what happened to that joy, that joy we once had, and that desire to sing, to paint, to dance. To write. Some people bring to the beginning of a workshop a long history of wanting to write and not doing it, or doing it in secret.

There is a lot of enthusiasm at the beginning of a workshop, an urgency, a willingness to dive in. With that, often comes a hungry desire to learn, to try new things. Many people are open to the magic of writing, to doing things with words they didn’t know were possible. It’s exciting to witness people enjoying their own writing. And yet, that enthusiasm can also come with an ignorance of what it means to write, what it takes to be a writer. Often it is those people who come with the greatest enthusiasm who do not return to the workshop after the first session. I think it opens up something fragile inside them. It opens up a great yearning and makes it visible to them, and to everyone else. They witness their own hunger and either realise how insatiable it is, or that it is murkier than they thought it was. That somehow there is something perverse in this desire to create, to write. Maybe they see that the desire to write isn’t about writing, but about something else, and they prefer to remain with the desire to write, rather than to actually write. Because to write is to touch on all the other things that want to be brought to the surface, to make themselves known.

And then there are those people who come to a workshop just to see what it’s about and they keep going, they write and write and write, and change their lives to make room for writing. Some leave their jobs. They go to more courses, a residential here and there. The beginning is full of unknowing, but also, often, an exhilaration that yes, I am finally doing it.

At the beginning of a workshop I like to take it slowly, to do some work in pairs, in small groups. I like people to think of the workshop as a safe place and a fun place. I like doing playful exercises, for people to see that writing is about playing, that with all the seriousness involved in embarking on big writing projects – like a novel, for example – you have to be prepared to play and to be open to the unexpected, to let language lead you sometimes, to let language take you into story, to let words derail you, to realise that there are words being sent up from the unconscious because they are e beginning of a thread, a rope to hold onto and pull and see where it carries you.


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