Writings from a recent workshop

The Life Writing workshop I present is usually three hours, occasionally five. It’s highly participatory – I have written in my memoir how when I started back in 2013 I thought I may be stronger at the participation than the writing skills part of the workshop – and while there is naturally enough no compulsion, participants are invited to share their writing for feedback.

To be of value feedback needs to go beyond acknowledging a piece or writing as being ‘good,’ but identify what it was that appealed, or connected with the reader (or listener). And likewise, if a piece of writing has weaknesses, effort needs to be made to highlight what might overcome the weakness.

I generally aim to have people writing within 15 minutes of the workshop start time. And it starts by starting with a free writing or stream of consciousness exercise on a topic of interest. This is right brain writing without analysis. Logic or grammar do not matter: the aim here is quantity, not quality. Within that piece of writing (where gobbledegook is widespread) there will be at least one rough gem, which can be polished throughout the rest of the workshop.

After the first warm-up exercise we move from quantity to quality, beginning with finding an opening, or narrative hook to the chosen rough gem. Various exercises and discussions that focus on descriptive detail, sensory language and dialogue follow this. The final exercise, which incorporates the writer’s adage, Show Don’t Tell, is a reflection on participants responses to the workshop. This begins with the first awareness of the workshop and includes the thought processes and feelings in deciding whether to attend, expectations and then the experience of the workshop itself. This is immediate, everyone has the experience to readily do this. And there is a whole 15 minutes to do this.

During August and September 2023 I presented the Life Writing workshop 12 times through parts of south-east South Australia and south-west Victoria. I would like to thank Sharon, Kath and Phillipa from the Stawell workshop who have provided the following pieces written as the final reflection. These are first drafts, written within 15 minutes as the final exercise

Share the Luck

The scent of Spicy Chai was the only exciting interlude to a typical monotonous day. Clouds had covered the mountains as thickly as the heavy curtain drop on a stage. There was no joy out the window as even the birds had bunkered down out of the wind.

Looking for relief from the howl of wind she turned to her device; mindlessly scrolling past perfect lives, pouting lips and someone’s hard rubbish for sale on marketplace.

Her thumb stopped on the screen and scrolled back. In “Life there is Luck”; another corny affirmation from one of the sites her psychologist recommended? This one grabbed her interest though – Life writing a creative non-fiction course at her local library.

            Too much money, she thought. No cost – the advert purported.

            Clash of dates, she thought. Checking her diary, the date was free.

            No good at writing, she thought. All levels welcome.

Enthusiasm bubbled up from the bottom of her stomach. She knew from previous experience that if she didn’t act now she would lose the fleeting optimism. Drawing a deep breath in, she wrote the number down on the back of an old envelope.

Flicking screens, she dialled and nervously awaited the response. “The Stawell Library welcomes your call. Our Office is unattended at the moment. Please leave a message and we will get back to you. “

Milliseconds passed as her thumb went to cancel the call, but somewhere in her depths she found some courage. “I am interested in attending the Life Writing workshop.” Name and number left.

She doubted the call would be returned and resigned herself to another broken idea.

A message on her phone showed up less than 24 hours later. “You are booked in for the Graeme Gibson workshop on 5th September at the Stawell Library.”

What had she gotten herself into? Near panic, she called a friend. She needed someone to hold her hand if the workshop held more regret than luck.

Sharon Warrick © 2023

How did I get here?

Ping! A new message popped up on my phone. My neighbour has always communicated such enthusiasm for creative pursuits that it was hard to ignore this invitation – A Life Writing Workshop with Graeme Gibson in the Stawell Library.

“Hmmm, I should be working in Horsham that day, let me think on it and I will get back to you.” Some part of me was intrigued with the idea that I might follow my own advice and take some time to do ‘me’ things, but it wasn’t until I heard that my office was being rewired that day that I could make a guilt free choice to clear off for a workshop.

My usual cold feet didn’t eventuate as I expected. I found myself chooffing through my chores in the morning with time disappearing fast.

Finishing the last of my jobs, I jumped in my car and of course, was caught immediately between tourists and trucks travelling along the highway, frustratingly slowly. Remembering to breathe, I slowed my expectations to appreciate my view as I passed golden canola fields and the great Grampians Range. The kilometres flew by and at last I arrived at the little mining town and parked.

Entering the library with my neighbour, we found ourselves directed to a small meeting room overlooking the lawn. We were immersed in a smiling and friendly environment, and any feelings of uncertainty bubbling to the surface quickly dissipated as we explored streams of consciousness and reminiscence, and bravely shared our narratives.

Kath Heading ©  2023

Final reflective piece

Stretched out on my grey velvet chaise sofa, having a quiet night in. It was such a small box in the paper, I might have missed it: PRACTICAL WRITING WORKSHOP WITH GRAEME GIBSON, STAWELL LIBRARY – next Tuesday. I checked my schedule. Yes, I was free next Tuesday afternoon. This was just what I needed to start my writing project – a book about Mum.

Out to lunch with a friend on Saturday, I turned down an invite to a birthday celebration because that very morning I had booked into the writing workshop.

On Sunday, when I publicised the workshop with my writers group, I was secretly relieved that no-one else was coming. You can kill an idea by talking about it.

By Monday I was already planning to do other things while in Stawell. Pick up Chinese take away from that great Chinese in Main Street. I googled Graeme Gibson – to find he was married to Margaret Atwood, and died in 2019!

On Tuesday, unexpectedly the Ararat Post Office was closed for the day.  So I could post that parcel in Stawell too. Having rushed through a GP appointment, I arrived at the library with minutes to spare. I saw some cultured types gathered in the foyer. As I approached them, the librarian said, “No, the workshop is in the back room.”  I headed off as though to Outer Mongolia.

Philippa Hale © Spring 2023

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