06 May 2021
Posted by Natalie Young
In her essay ‘Prides: An Essay on Writing Workshops,’ Ursula Le Guin suggests that a successful workshop is less about the facilitator or instructor and more about the group itself. 'The circle of people is the source of energy...and the process of the workshop, depending on mutual aid, simulation, emulation, honesty, and trust, can produce an unusually pure and clear form of that energy'.
Observing the so:write Women Writers for a couple of sessions before I started as the new facilitator, it was clear to me that I was experiencing this process and energy that Le Guin writes about in her essay, and I’m immensely grateful to be joining such a diverse and talented circle. I’ve inherited from a much-loved predecessor a space of acceptance, respect, and encouragement where women come together twice a month to talk and share and practice and work. And when, in our first session today, we discussed past and future, it was the spirit of the group – the fellowship and support – that everyone most wanted preserved. We talked about our goals as writers, and there were hopes of finishing a novel, of submitting some poems or pieces of fiction, of completing drafts and developing works in progress, and of finding an agent, while for others it was more about clarity and direction, confidence and time. For one or two, the goal was just, and rather beautifully, ‘to write more’. Of the sessions themselves, some wanted less chat and more writing time, while others felt that the chat was valuable and a source of information. So we talked about the possibility of starting 15 mins earlier for those who wanted more of the chat and this may be something we can look into over coming weeks and months as well as work out whether to have an online and an in-person workshop when the in-person workshops resume in the autumn.
From there we moved on to looking at what I call the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ conflicts that a writer faces on the heroic journey to - and along - the page. I suggested that the ‘external’ might be to do with elements of the craft, with plot, structure, character development etc - as well as the battle with time, the fending off of children, partners, parents, work commitments, emails, social media… So might the ‘internal’ conflicts, I asked, revolve around the inner critic, the conscience - that pesky sense that we ought to be doing something else - as well our past experiences and childhood, the unconscious and our emotional life? And where is creativity in all this? Is it external or internal? What, really, is our creativity? Does it have a shape? Is it something we are driven by or something that comes from without when we are feeling a particular way or quietly absorbed in something else?
Then we talked and made some notes about animals in literature, and how often creativity and animals seem to be combined in the writer’s mind, thinking of the birds and butterflies, the cats, fish, beasts and bears that have inspired stories and poems since the first stories and poems were told and written down. We looked at the famous frog haiku by Japanese haiku master Matsuo Bashō, and I shared the R.H Blyth translation:
The old pond;
A frog jumps in –
The sound of water.
So different, in emphasis and sound, to the Allen Ginsberg one:
The old pond
A frog jumps in
And we looked at a couple of extracts from ‘spill, simmer, falter, wither’, the visceral and tender first novel by visual artist and writer Sara Baume, about a man who rescues a one-eyed dog and all that then happens to them as they try to find their way together.
From the writing exercise that followed, spider-webs were wrecked by human carelessness while snakes slithered in and out of thickets and sharks lurked in the dark. There were dependable, lumping Labradors, both a source of gratitude and, it seemed, concern, and there were creatures that lulled, were threatening in some way, and many that shifted and transformed, even turning from ducks into well-stocked larders, which was perhaps the stand-out imaginative leap! A few of us worked on a haiku while some let rip like the narrator of Baume’s novel, running like a crazed one-eyed ratter down the hillside, leaping in and out of, and indeed falling down, rabbit holes.
It can be fun and inspiring to get a sense of creativity as creature, just as, perhaps, we are reminded of our social needs in community and fellowship. I’m not always, or often, a fan of a tidy ending, but since we’re on workshops and creativity and animals, it does seem appropriate to circle back to Ursula Le Guin here, and end this post with her image of a pride of lions at a waterhole:
‘They all hunt zebras all night and then they all eat the zebra, growling a good deal, and then they all come to the waterhole to drink together. Then in the heat of the day they lie around rumbling and swatting flies and looking benevolent. It is something to have belonged, even for a week, to a pride of lions.'
Are you interested in joining our upcoming next online SO:Write Women workshop? You can find information about registering and the dates of our monthly sessions below:
Thursday 11am-1pm SO:Write Women
Weeks 1 and 3 of each month, led by Natalie Young
A group tailored towards creating, sharing and celebrating women’s writing in a safe and supportive environment
For sign-up details please email email@example.com
Natalie Young has worked as a journalist and creative writer for twenty years. She is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, one of which has been translated into several languages and is currently being adapted for film. She is working on her third novel with grants from Arts Council England, the Royal Literary Fund and the Society of Authors and works as a freelance editor and mentor.
You can find out more about Natalie and her work at www.natalieyoung.co.uk and read about SO:Write Women in our blog at www.artfulscribe.co.uk/blogs