Writing Workshop Woes

I hate complaining. Really, I do. I’m always afraid that I sound like one of those people who believe customer service means they get to treat service industry employees as if they are peasants.

Like the guy tonight at Monterrey — whose idea of “asking” for more sour cream was to say, “If you don’t bring me more sour cream than this, I ain’t payin’ for it.” Really? Does that stroke your ego? Actually, Mr, Chubby McTubbypants, you might wanna lay off the sour cream. Just sayin’.

Anyhoo, about complaining, I have to say that I wasn’t over the moon about this afternoon’s Emrys writing workshop. I’ve been to three other workshops before — one of them being the $5 “Out of Your Head, Onto the Pages” workshop — and I’ve loved all of them and thought they were well worth the money. They involved at least one, sometimes two, exercises along with handouts that provided tips or examples, and I have always come away feeling revived and inspired.

Today was a little different. Our workshop leader (I don’t want to mention her name because I hold no ill will toward her as a person or writer) seemed incredibly capable of facilitating a writing workshop. She has taught creative writing and creative strategy to all ages — from preschoolers to adults — and she had some great stories about how she used writing to get through to at-risk or even learning-disabled children.

When I arrived and sat down, she asked about what type of writing we focused on so that she could make sure we covered a little of what everyone wanted to hear, and she had a two-page handout of writing tips. At 2:05, we started a writing icebreaker when she asked for random words and then told us to spend a few minutes writing a poem, some dialogue, or a scene with those words. Everything seemed promising.

Less than five minutes later, she starts asking who wants to share what they wrote. I hadn’t even finished incorporating all the words, so I kind of kept working for a bit while others read their writings and started discussing the handout.

Then Squirmy McNevercomfortable next to me kept deciding to cross her legs this way and that and decided that an aluminum folding table was heavy enough to keep her leg from sliding off the lower knee. Oh sure, her leg didn’t slide; the table did. Did I mention I was trying to finish writing?

So we’re discussing the handout, and our workshop leader goes over a tip and follows it up with a story from a school where she worked or another job she had. All that was fine. But then there were tangents about northern and southern accents or the imaginary friends we had as children between questions about how we flush out characters.

And then, the “celebrity” writer who graced us with her presence spoke. I had recognized her when she walked in, Ms. Ryobi Poet herself, and I wondered how long it would take her to mention something about what she’d done. It took her less than 45 minutes:

“Well, some of you already know who I am, but I’m a professional writer, and my question is…”

I don’t know what her question was. I was too busy trying to fish my eyes out of my skull after they involuntarily rolled up there. Like she was the only one worthy to deem herself a “professional” writer. Gah!

At 2:52, after catching a glimpse of the watch of the dude sitting adjacent to me, I thought, “Well, this has been some interesting conversation — aside from the ‘professional writer’ bit — surely we’ll get to a longer exercise here in a moment.”

At 3:15, after the table started sliding AGAIN, I thought, “Ok, enough talk, is she gonna give us something else to write or what?”

At 3:30, one of the participants took a silent but noticed (by me anyway) exit. I decided that if we were still talking at 3:45 I was going to leave as well.

I left at 3:47. Was it rude? I’m sure some of them thought so, but I was just sort of unsatisfied and disappointed. These $5 workshops had always been billed as idea generators and times when you’re actually doing writing — not asking questions about it. I can understand someone’s inquisitiveness as to how to improve his or her writing, but there’s never one definitive answer. There’s advice — and plenty of that was going around the table by a couple of people who consistently talked all over each other.

I mean, if we had all been sitting in a coffee shop as a writers’ meeting, all that talk is fine, but I just wanted more. And I’m just bothered by people who dominate conversations talking about their writing. It’s like people who learn they’ve just met a doctor or a therapist and they keep them held hostage asking about their medical or mental problems.

Perhaps I’m just being pissy or cranky, but I do feel sort of guilty about not enjoying this workshop as much as the others because I know the facilitator was doing what she thought was good, and as I said before, I don’t really blame her.

I’m glad I kept working on that first writing exercise until I felt it came to a conclusion since it was the only fiction bit to come of the whole experience. Speaking of that, here is that product. The words we had to use were flower, sprint, blue, fierce, and grackle (a type of crow-like bird).

Angela squinted on the blue flower, trying to catch the right shading in her sketchbook. Somewhere behind her, her mother called out her brother’s name. The sweetness in her voice faded quickly into exasperation. A humongous grackle zoomed by her, snagging her attention away from the flower. The fowl was followed by her brother in full sprint, gesturing like a madman to spur the bird on.

Angela turned back to the flower, now flattened into the grass. She sprang to her feet, letting out a fierce scream, pencil and sketchbook tumbling to the ground.

“Joshua!” she yelled. “You are so dead!”

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