Teaching creative writing: from Dún Laoghaire to Listowel

 In Diary, News

I recently facilitated an eight-hour course in Creative Writing for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Libraries. Most of the participants had never written anything before. Some had, but had reached an impasse and were unable to work their way around it.
You’ll find some of their comments sprinkled throughout this post. Here’s the first:

‘This was one of the best workshops I ever attended, thanks to Catherine. She was organised and focused and the interest and attention she gave to everyone and their stories was phenomenal. Her tips for unlocking and unblocking were inspiring. A wonderful experience.’ Fran

I love the whole process of teaching. I find it stimulating and energising. I learn just as much as my students as they learn from the workshops – and from each other.
This year at Listowel, I’ll be facilitating a course for those who are determined to write.
We have, at the time of writing this, four places left.

‘I enjoyed this four-session course. The teacher, Catherine, was always helpful and encouraging. She got me to start writing instead of dreaming.’

Listowel Writers’ Week, now in its 48th year, will kick off on the 30th May and run until Sunday the 3rd June. http://writersweek.ie/

I had my very first experience of creative writing workshops at Listowel in the late nineteen seventies – as a participant. That was during the earliest years of this festival which has since grown to be one of Ireland’s most-loved literary celebrations, packed with workshops, competitions and author interviews.

Listowel prides itself on having something of interest for everyone and over the years has inspired a loyal and devoted following. Among its best attributes in my view is its ability to retain its air of friendly intimacy, despite having grown and expanded so much over the past almost five decades.

‘Excellent course – really would love to attend a continuation if possible! Very good structure. Appreciated being given tasks to complete and noted how Catherine listened carefully to each contribution. A star performer!’

I’ve long been familiar what it’s like to be on the other side of the table – the student’s side – even though I’ve now been on the facilitator’s side for more than twenty years. I’ll never forget those early workshops at Listowel: the excitement of being there, the terror of What am I doing here? and the friendly support of the other participants who, I soon learned, felt every bit as nervous as I did.

‘I thoroughly enjoyed the four weeks of Catherine’s course. A wonderful, dedicated and indefatigable teacher…please let me know if Part Two materialises!’

This is a topic that is often debated: Is it really possible to teach creative writing? Isn’t the ability to write innate, something that cannot be taught?

‘Best creative writing course in which I have participated. Began and ended promptly – nothing to disturb the flow. Helpful hints on ow to structure our work: characters, plot etc. Thanks, Catherine, for a great four sessions.’

Rather than asking whether or how writing can be taught, I have another question, one with a different emphasis.

Do you want to write? Do stories scratch away at you, or poems invade your dreams, or childhood memories write themselves inside your head? Do you find it difficult knowing where to start, fearing the pitfalls that might lie ahead, wondering even if you’re good enough to try?

That’s where creative writing workshops truly help: as a kick-starter, as a motivator to continue, as the place where you really begin to understand that nothing leaps fully formed onto the page: that all writing is rewriting.

‘I found Catherine’s course very inspirational. I didn’t think I could write – but Catherine’s prompting of putting one word after another on the page surprised me and worked. Thank you.’

Why not make this the year that you answer your own questions about writing? You’ll meet others in that same boat. You’ll engage in exercises that will help unblock the creative process. You’ll learn about structure and character development – from your own work and the work of others.

Above all, you’ll enjoy the process.

Because that’s what these workshops are all about: focus on the process and the product will take care of itself.

And this final comment is included just for fun – it’s directly quoted, but made me laugh:

‘Eye hath not seen nor ear heard…such excellence, patience, commitment and real interest in teaching the art of writing to this April group. Ms Dunne merits what Sam Johnson would call: ‘Hyperbolical Encomiums’.

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Getting Ready for Listowel June 2018

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