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Writers' Workshop

August 28, 2004

Writing is a lovely but often lonely art. Working on a project alone can be like talking to oneself. Even more troubling than midnight doubts can be a lack of constructive feedback. A solution that I explored recently is a writers' workshop.

I was invited to do a presentation at the “Why It’s Great” Writing Retreat at the World Fellowship Center in New Hampshire. Going to a camp on a lake with loons for a week sounded great. But how to usefully share what I do as a writer was another matter.

Fortunately, there was an experienced writer-in-residence, British novelist Jill Dawson, who teaches creative writing. And the workshop organizer, a seasoned writer named David Vigoda, had enlisted a dozen or so participants seriously honing their writing.

A creative exercise presented by Jill set the tone for the workshop: Write a brief description of a common object on a slip of paper, then write a word describing one’s approach to life, then randomly mix. The result was delightful, thought provoking. “Truth…opens inward and outward,” was one I particularly liked.

Reading and listening to pieces other writers were working on—a poem, short story, chapter of a novel—had a similar electric effect. Lively discussions flew around the room on the fine points of story telling. (For those who wanted a close reading of a work-in-progress, Jill conducted one-on-one critiques with a deft eye and ear.)

And, at the core of the sessions was a relaxed atmosphere in which to read evolving work to a sympathetic audience. In my presentation, I talked about growing from a GI in Vietnam to a peacenik challenging that war and discovering a talent for poetry and journalism. And I read some of my poems illustrating how I’ve developed my writing into a job I enjoy, a fulcrum of social activism, and my means of navigating passages through stormy times.

The rewards for me of this summer venture included discovering a wonderful corner of the world, selling some of my books, making a new circle of friends, and learning how to conduct a writing workshop.

For further information, check out www.whyitsgreat.com

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