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How to make a writing workshop work

Running Writing Groups course directors Victoria Field reading from her memoir Baggage

Writing groups have never been more popular, and therapeutic writing practitioner Victoria Field is an expert in how working together can help us extract our highest potential. Here, she introduces our new course, Running Writing Groups.

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It often seems that writing is necessarily a solitary pursuit, even when it’s done in public places, such as Jane Austen writing in the corner of a Georgian drawing room or JK Rowling in an Edinburgh café. The only way to complete that book, poem or screenplay is to put in the hours at the coalface of the notebook and computer, word following word.

Yet now, the writing workshop is ubiquitous.

I didn’t attend a writing workshop until I was in my mid-thirties. There was something of a pressure cooker atmosphere in the room, and a sense of common purpose that was energising and exciting. Not only did the experience convince me that writing was my path, but it also led to a parallel vocation in sharing the magic of writing with others. I use the word ‘magic’ deliberately, as there is something mysterious in the shared consciousness of a writing workshop.

In recent decades, there has been a proliferation in courses and workshops aimed at writers of all levels of experience and types of motivation. At university level, according to NAWE (the National Association for Writing in Education), over 80 institutions now offer MA courses, up from a mere handful in 1990. At a community level, every town or city has a mixture of private and public writing workshops – some organised for profit, others peer-led, some focused on publication, others a vehicle for socialising or personal growth.

What actually happens in a workshop also varies considerably. Some critique works-in-progress, others are structured so that participants generate new writing. The intention of the group may be to improve literary skills; to use writing to give insights, such as reflective writing for professionals; or improve health and wellbeing in the writer.

The facilitator may be an experienced teacher, coach or therapist with expertise in writing, a published writer sharing their skills, or they may have a combination of different professional and personal experiences.

For writers, the chance to lead a workshop is appealing for several reasons. Firstly, it can get you out of the house! On a practical level, workshops can also be a source of income. Teaching can ginger up our own practice and make us interrogate our values around writing in order to convey them to others. Writing workshops are a chance to spend time with others who prioritise working with language. The learning is always two-way.

However, the experience may not always be positive. Giving to others may deplete our own creative resources, employment practices might not be ideal, participants may be problematic or actively dislike us, and there may be any number of other niggles or concerns.

Anne Taylor and I have both been participants in many workshops as well as having trained in, respectively, coaching and the therapeutic benefits of writing. We are both published writers with an abiding interest in how writing and wellbeing work together, and have devised the Running Writing Groups online course to explore all the above – and we hope, to inspire you to devise your own workshops and deliver them successfully.   

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Victoria is a writer and poetry therapist who’s worked in therapeutic writing for over 15 years. She’s an accredited International Federation for Biblio-Poetry Therapy Mentor-Supervisor, and course director of our Running Writing Groups online course. 

Visit her website www.thepoetrypractice.co.uk, or follow her on Facebook.

Find out more about our Running Writing Groups online course here.