Friday, August 5, 2011

Francine Prose and Writing Workshops

Favourite bits:

On editing your own work: "Writers need to ask themselves -is this the best word I can find? Can a word or phrase be cut without sacrificing anything essential?"

On dialogue: "Our characters should speak with greater economy and certitude than we do. Unlike us, they should say what they mean and get to the point."

On details: "God is in the detail....detail reassures the reader that the writer is in control and isn't putting us on."
Prose quotes from Kafka's "Metamorphosis" -
"He was lying on his hard, as it were, armor-plated back...his numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk."

The meticulously described image of the shape of the insect convinces us Gregor Samsa has turned into a beetle.

In particular, Prose's thoughts on writing workshops grabbed my attention.

"It's learning to write by committee which is insanity." Prose singles out the MFA Creative writing programme for mention: "If you're going to spend 2 years and $80,000, I'd think a million times before doing it." Her main beef with workshops and writing courses is that you are following a tutor's lead in how to write and capitulating to the views of participants. Writing is a solitary activity. Producing words to suit the tastes of a group is "actually quite dangerous" says Prose.

For me, the most enjoyable bit about attending the writing course or workshop is the social aspect, the meeting of like-minded people, something Prose acknowledges and describes as "invaluable". Writing workshops are fun and I've thoroughly enjoyed any I have done. But do I learn anything other than attaching the seat of the chair to my backside is the way to write?

I think not.

What are your thoughts on writing workshops or courses?


Karen Jones Gowen said...

I have never gone but I would love to. Especially those that have cabins out in some secluded area, allowing the writers to have solitude to write, communal meals and workshops. I read about a few like that and think it would be so inspirational! This concept appeals to me more than a massive conference with a ton of people.

Mari G said...

Hi Karen
Love the sound of the secluded area, or writers' retreat & the "meet up" for evening meal...have never been either but would like that one. Always enjoy the workshops just not sure if I ever really 'learn' anything much.
Thanks for stopping by!

Debbie said...

Hi Mari,
I agree. The best thing writing workshops have done for me is to confirm what I knew at the back of my mind wasn't working. As for the reason why - isn't that up to the writer to work that out for him/herself? Surely at the end of the day we have to be true to ourselves, not that nameless, multi-viewed 'committee' out there. Debbie

Mari G said...

Hi Debbie
I've been to workshops where what was taught in one was contradicted in the next. Being true to ourselves really is the only way to get the words out & sitting on that chair & just doing it.
Nice to hear from you.

Susannah said...

I have never been to a writing workshop or course but I think, like you, that I would most enjoy is meeting like minded people.

I love your 'favourite bits' and as I am currently going through yet another edit! of my nanowrimo novel I can really identify with the advice. It is amazing how much can be cut!

We are all unique and have our own stories to tell and I reckon the best way is to sit down, trust your instincts, then let it flow. Write in your own way, your own voice, and then hone and refine once you have the story down and something to work with.

We can all learn to improve technique, but the 'stories' - well they are our own.

Good post Mari. :-)

Mari G said...

Hi Susannah
Just back from holidays & lovely to hear from you.
Yes, I really enjoyed the Prose tips (wonder is that her real name?!) & am trying to put them into practice.
Good luck with novel...sounds like you are making lots of progress.

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