I went to a different kind of workshop today, not the ‘bring your work and expose yourself’ kind, but the ‘let’s just think about what makes a good story great’ kind. It was billed as a workshop on navigating the world of short story competitions, and how to give your story the best shot.
In the end, all this meant was reminding ourselves to write the best story possible.
It was useful. It was gentle. Vanessa Gebbie reminded me of Anna Burns – compassionate and passionate, and well able to deal gently but firmly with the crazy writer in the room. (I don’t know why, but there’s always one in every workshop I’ve ever been on. Someone who is only half willing to learn, talks loudly and for too long on the wrong end of the stick. The blessing, as one tutor confided to me, is that if you can spot that person in the room it means it isn’t you.) We didn’t have to share work, but we did a couple of exercises, one of which she called word cricket, which had an Oulipian edge to it. I set it down here for you to enjoy too:
- Start writing from a short phrase eg ‘The door opened…’
- carry on writing until the facilitator throws another word at you
- catch the word, and incorporate it into your writing
- repeat steps 2&3 for around five minutes.
Obviously it helps if there is someone else throwing the words at you so you don’t know what’s coming next. It was playful, I made myself smile, and it didn’t feel difficult at all.
I wasn’t sure it could still feel like that.
I did have to navigate some internal complications – feeling rusty, out of the game, yadda yadda – but I’m glad I went. It was a step out of my comfort zone, required effort on a Saturday, the quelling of guilt at passing over the childcare, talking to people I’d never met. It was another rung on the ladder, another hop on the way back to writing as a living, breathing part of my existence. All good.
Recommended – Short Circuit, a guide to the art of the short story, edited by Vanessa Gebbie.