Thursday, 5 November 2009

Writing Advice: Creative Writing Workshops.

Creative Writing Workshops.

by Guest Blogger Miriam Halahmy: Author, poet, workshop facilitator, writing mentor.

Writing is like climbing out of a murky pool into a marvellous horizon.
Jon P. Skylight workshop.

I find the workshops encouraging and the comments on our work interesting and constructive.
Kathy Gilbert.

My background tutoring workshops.

I write fiction and poetry for adults and children, as well as feature articles and book reviews. My new novel, HIDDEN, will be published in October 2010 by Meadowside Books. Find out more about my books at

I have run creative writing workshops in a variety of settings for over fifteen years bringing together my background in education with my experience as a published writer. In my workshops I aim to encourage and support developing writers at all levels. Participants in my sessions range from budding novelists to those who want to explore areas of their personal lives. One man in a workshop for homeless people told me that writing was the only thing which stopped him from screaming out loud in the street.

I have run workshops for refugees and asylum seekers, ex-offenders, young adults and migrant workers. My workshops have featured in Literary Festivals and at writers’ conferences. I run regular weekly workshops in North London and many of the participants have been working with me for several years. Some of the writers have been placed in national and international writing competitions, such as the Bridport and the International T.S. Eliot Short Story prize. Three have published full length works - one novel and two autobiographies.

What is the difference between joining a critique group and enrolling on a tutor-led workshop/class?

One of the main differences is that a good tutor will provide experienced and honest feedback as well as the encouragement to progress, which is not always the focus of a writers’ critique group. A tutor-led workshop can often be the best place to get started and to build confidence as a writer.

Ruth Kris writes, It’s humbling to see how talented some group members are – this can also be slightly off-putting too.

Ruth is not alone in feeling like this. Adults find all creative learning settings very exposing. Many feel self-conscious and think everyone else is much more talented. A tutor-led workshop can help to develop the confidence to believe in your own writing.

Mary Masaba, who has begun to publish fiction, comments, Miriam was the first person to tell me to keep the faith as she was sure that sooner or later I would be published. It has happened!

A tutor-led workshop is also the place to study the essential craft of writing which a writer can miss out on if they have only ever attended critique groups. There are always arguments raging about whether or not you can ‘teach’ creative writing. You can of course stimulate and inspire someone to write but you can also give them the tools to craft their writing and shape their work into a finished piece. Tools such as establishing and holding a point of view, developing a character, redrafting and enriching the work. Examining these tools within a tutor-led workshop can provide short cuts for writers who may otherwise flounder for years finding their way into writing.

Helen Henson says, The class stimulates my creativity and inspiration, gives me insight into my own capabilities, helps me understand the point and purpose of various styles of writing.

There are no restrictions on joining a tutor-led workshop, unless it is a certified university or college course. By contrast many critique groups understandably like to vet prospective candidates. They often ask for submission of work in progress and then invite candidates to attend a trial session, to see it they would fit in with the group, before offering a place.  Many people join a tutor-led workshop because they have not written anything since school but have a strong desire to write creatively.

Ann Raven has written poetry for several years but had never attended a workshop before. She writes, The benefit is to share ideas. Until now I had no idea if I wrote schoolgirl drivel. I find the tutor to be inspirational, since my knowledge of writing is limited. My last formal lesson was almost 40 years ago.

Working with an experienced tutor in regular weekly sessions can be the proving ground for the developing writer. The tutor’s role is to create a supportive, confidential atmosphere, which allows honest, but kind feedback. An experienced tutor will be able to suggest further ways to develop the writing.

One participant writes, The workshop is stimulating without being pressurised and is fairly relaxed, which is conducive to creative writing. It provides some sparks which one can develop.

Tutor led workshops often provide elements missing from a critique group. The tutor will naturally take the lead, organise the session, encourage everyone to participate, provide writing exercises and texts which demonstrate specific points on the craft of writing and model good critique techniques. The tutor can also provide information about the writing industry such as submitting work for publication and how to get an agent.

Leonard Abrahams, who writes prose and poetry and has attended my sessions for several years comments, It helps me to become an effective writer and shows me literary options I would never have worked out for myself.

Top ten problems voiced in my writing workshops.

1.  “I have no time to write.” Many writers find it difficult to settle down to writing for a sustained period of time. I recommend doing half an hour a day.

2.  “I just can’t get started.” Try some stream of consciousness writing, starting with, ‘I remember......’ Keep writing for three minutes and don’t stop. It helps to loosen up the writing muscle.

3.  “I have writer’s block.” See no 2 - but also try writing a question at the top of the page, ‘What do I want to write?’ and then write the answer. Keep going asking more and more questions and writing down the answers. A good way to unblock.

4.  “Why can’t I be inside everyone’s head?” We work on choosing, establishing and holding a point of view, or multiple viewpoints - a tricky subject.

5.  “Writers shouldn’t use their own life in fiction.” Why not? Most writers do.

6.  “Computers are impossible.” All writers struggle with technology at times. I encourage people to keep within their comfort zones and learn new skills slowly. I have a number of writers who will never use a computer.

7.  “Everyone else is so much better than me.” You’re not the only one feeling that. Try to focus on where you are and how you can improve your own skills.

8.  “I can’t write dialogue.” Yes you can! Just see it as a craft technique which can be practised and learnt.

9.  “I won’t submit, I can’t bear rejection.” Fair enough. There is no pressure to try and publish. But if you are ambitious then learning to cope with rejection is part of the journey. It gets easier.

10.  “I can’t decide what to write.” That’s what the exercises are for so try out lots of different things and see what really grabs your interest.

To finish with,
The lift to my spirit from the class lasts until the next group experience the following week.
Martyn Kempson.

The support from the tutor is a real spur to sitting down and making yourself produce a piece of work for the next week.
Jo Rogger.

Sustaining a writing life is a tough choice. I believe that writers can make the journey easier for themselves by engaging with other writers, in critique groups, in one to one mentoring situations and on tutor-led writing courses. Tutor/writers have firsthand experience of the industry and have experienced the ups and downs of the writing life. They know the long and often hard road to publication and have specific experiences which illustrate what to expect.

Sharing your work with professional tutor/writers makes you see your writing in a very different light. It helps with the redrafting process which is the essence of all writing. Tutor led workshops I believe help the ambitious writer move towards their goal of becoming published.

There are many different kinds of tutor led courses, from one day workshops, to weeks away in exotic locations, to regular weekly classes in your local arts centre, right through to university tutored courses, with recognised qualifications at the end.

Choose your setting carefully, don’t be afraid to move on if you have not found the right tutor and once you have begun, the journey suddenly becomes much easier. You are not alone anymore and a whole new world of writing will open up to you.

For more tips and inspirations for sustaining the writing life, follow my blog, Miriam Halahmy on Writing

And you can follow me on Twitter where I comment on writing on a daily basis:

For more information on my writing and my workshops, go to my website,

Another good resource is

Good luck and Happy Writing!


Helen Peters said...

This makes me want to rush out and join one of you workshops straight away, Miriam! I feel very blessed to be part of your critique group and get the benefit of your tutoring experience.

Arnold said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I

would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have

enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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