HOW TO START A WORKSHOP AND KEEP IT GOING

Okay, who am I to give advice on this? I started my own workshop, and we are going on our 3rd year, and we meet at least 2x each month, every month. So, I feel a bit successful at this workshop thing.

What is a workshop anyway? Well’p, a workshop is a meeting, basically, for writers to get together to share, and get constructive criticism on, their writing. You’ll often hear actors talk about “the work.” I think creative people have trouble justifying the time spent in creative pursuits, and so they like to attach the word WORK somewhere, to something. It is important, when you write, to share your work, because you are so “in-your-head” when you write that you will never see what you have written clearly until you share it with someone else.

When you start a workshop, the first thing you have to do is find a place to hold it. I have a large kitchen table that my husband, Dave, made by nailing long boards to the top of an  Ikea picnic table. We are both madly in love with Ikea. In any case, this makes a good place for people to sit, have a spot to write, and put a coffee cup down. You may choose to have it at a coffee shop, or a library, but wherever you have it, it has to be a safe and stable place. I live in a little development in a small town, so my house is not a scary place to come into if you don’t know me. I do, though, have pets, and when I advertised the workshop, I included that information.

The next thing you have to do is to decide on a day and time when you will be able to be at your own workshop (you are running it, so for at least 9 months you will have to attend every meeting!). Pick a day/time that is good for you. If people can’t make it that is okay, you will find folks who can. I do mine every other Sunday (barring holidays and etc.) at 1pm ’till about 5pm.The end-time depends on the group size. And, come to think of it, what size group should you have? 10, in my professional opinion, is as high as you can go and keep things chummy and manageable. More than that and it will take too long, people will not get enough attention, and crabbiness will ensue.

Then you have to find other lost souls like yourself to join. Where I live all the little towns are Facebook crazy, so I posted annoucements there, in my library, and in the coffee shops. I opened a hotmail email named for the workshop, and used that as my contact information so that I could safely screen out anybody obviously wacky without giving away my location!

You should decide on what kind of material you want. I said fiction (novel/short story), poetry, and memoir. I didn’t want non-fiction that was not memoir because I am not interested in that, nor do I feel qualified to offer commentary on it.

Once you have found other people who want to participate, it is time to hold the first meeting. Ask everyone to bring 5-8 pages of material to read, and enough copies of it for each person to have one. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you get 10 people, or a slow reader, it could be more than enough! Another good reason to keep it to 10 or less people: less photocopies to make!

For your first meeting I recommend that you have both food and drink for everyone. Not booze, but coffee, tea, water, snacks, muffins, that sort of thing. I love to cook, so I made lunch. I absolutely fed people I had never met before, in my kitchen. I really want to write, and write often, but I do not do so without a nice hard deadline waiting for me, so, in my mind, food and drink is a small price to pay to lure people into making me write! Food and drink make everyone more comfortable, and for the first time it will be awkward, so any comforts are a good thing. Make sure, if hosting at your house, that you bathroom is clean and available. Nervous people pee a lot.

During the meeting, we let each person read his work while we look at our copy. Reading the work aloud is important, as the writer gets to “perform,” and knows that someone has heard her writing. We spot our own mistakes when we read aloud too!

For your first 9-12 months of meetings, I recommend that you continue to host, and provide food or snacks. I also recommend that you encourage people to say what they like about each others’ writing. It is okay, at this stage, to have some light critique, or suggestions for improvement, but, again, your goal here is to create a group that will keep going and going, and you won’t get that by giving heavy edits. You are teaching each other that you will all be respectful and friendly. This is important. Writers need to feel safe to share because we are, by and large, introverts. Let love rule.

If you make it to a year, wow! Amazing! Celebrate! We had a party, and I made something on Cafe Press with our name on it to give to the members. I really wanted people to feel that they are important to me, and a member of something. Why? Again, because I want them to stay, because I need them to help me keep writing.

Once you make it to a year, I think you can feel safe to ask for some things from the members. I asked for people to rotate food duties. It has been really nice, because we are all fairly good cooks, or shoppers (sometimes people bring something ready-to-eat from the grocery store, and that is perfectly lovely too!). I continue to host most of the time, though we do occasionally go to someone else’s house. What you cannot do is nickel and dime your members. If you like them, and you are enjoying the group, then you have to not worry if the food and hosting duties are not equally spread. What you want is for the group to continue, and everyone may not be financially or otherwise able to contribute food or host on a regular basis. Remember, you are getting a whole writing community that comes to your house! I have 2 absolutes though. #1. if you bring your work, you must bring copies for everyone. #2. you can miss a meeting here and there, but you cannot just pop-in a few times a year as you feel like it. You do not want your group to be treated in that way, so the folks who want to be in must be willing to make copies, and commit to attending. It is a sign of respect for each other.

If I think of anything else, I will add it to this post. For now, go forth and hunt thee down a workshop!

Good luck, and enjoy!

mw

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s