Writing workshop kills interesting topic with boring academia

Writing workshop kills interesting topic with boring academia

David Patterson
June 5, 2013

Went to a workshop on writing last weekend that was offered through a university. Wanted to see what approach it would take. It was touted as addressing the breaking down of the walls between fiction, memoir, poetry, and emerging trends in journalism and other nonfiction writing. The idea behind the workshop was that the various genres were cross-pollinating as the barriers between them were coming down. Sounded interesting, but what something sounds like and what it turns out to be can quite different.

To begin with, the person who was supposed to lead the session on journalism didn’t show up, and no effort was made to substitute some other nonfiction topic. I realize that this was a last minute no-show, but well run workshops always have backup plans in place, particularly when the no-show is the only person addressing a subject area.

Okay, that’s my first gripe. Now comes the big one.

This was one boringly academic workshop. For the most part it was made up of college English department members who trotted out their egos and retread classroom lectures. There was little or no juice in the content presented. In fact the word content is hard to apply here since the poets and memoirists wanted to put form ahead of–what’s that word again, oh yeah–content. With the exception of the keynote speaker, who is a best-selling novelist, the presenters seemed to have no clue about reaching out to readers other than their peer group academics.

I had hopes for the memoirist, but she turned out to be so caught up in her self-developed theories and phraseology, that having been bored to distraction, I left her session and went to one about poetry, prose poetry, and lyric essays. That was a trial beyond belief as the presenter spent her entire time splitting hairs about which was which and why one was most assuredly not the other–academia at its worst.

All in all, the workshop lacked any sense that readers needed to be seduced, surprised, and excited by writers.

Every presenter was a published writer. That’s one of the reasons I had hopes for the workshop. But when push came to shove, the presenters reverted to the shelter of the ivy-covered walls of academia to nitpick norms and forms. As a group they succeeded in performing a soulectomy on writing.

I can’t imagine any of the attendees, inspired by what they had heard, chomping at the bit to get back to their keyboards and pens at the end of the day. This was a conference that should have come with a warning label: “Listening can be injurious to a person’s creative energy.”

1 thought on “Writing workshop kills interesting topic with boring academia

  1. Karenbike

    I went to the same conference and while my interest is not in non-fiction, I did have hopes for the memoirist. I didn’t come away with any fresh ideas or even any renewal to start writing. The presenter did have a useful list of books to peruse. The “panel” at the end of the day was a rehash of the things the presenters had said earlier in the day in the break out sessions. They were not presented with a question or challenge for each of them to answer and debate. The panel was a wasted opportunity.

    Instead of getting revved up to write from this workshop, I am now taking a free online class offered by the Cuyahoga County Library on how to write children’s books. It’s easy and fun.


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