Posts on Writing & Ephemera

Why These Posts?

After several years teaching creative writing in classrooms at U of T’s School of Continuing Studies and at Haliburton School of the Arts, I’ve noticed patterns in the ways students get hung up or stumble.

Let’s face it, there are many voices out there that want to tell you how to write – friends, teachers, textbooks. I’m not interested in telling you how to write; I’m interested in helping you tackle problems that hold back your writing, and give some advice along the way about how to make the most of the time you give to your writing.

Chances are, nobody has asked you to write or expects you to write. You do it because you want to. This makes it one of the most important and fragile things you have: Important because you want to do it, fragile because there are no outside pressures demanding that you do it. At the same time many outside pressures want your time: work, family, friends, life.

So if anything I write here proves useful, I’m pleased. If nothing is useful, I understand. Don’t get frustrated. Keep writing, and use whatever works.

 

Ken MurrayWhy These Posts?
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The Hidden in Plain Sight Truth of Writing Workshops

I’ve been around writing workshops for more than ten years, as a participant, student, teacher, and moderator. High among the things that can make a writing workshop work or fail is the approach taken by the participants.

In workshops that work poorly or barely at all, people are keen to hear what others have to say about their work, but are reticent to reciprocate the effort. It creates a strange forum: Everyone waiting to hear about themselves, with none (or few) willing to put in the effort needed to provide useful observations on the work of others.

The point being missed: You will learn more about how to write well, and more about how to improve your own writing, by putting as much effort as you can in helping others to do the same. If you attend a writing workshop and are faced with a piece of writing that is very good, it is your job to explain how and why it works, likewise when a story is not working at all it is for you to point out, in clear language, where and how it breaks down (these moments when a story stops working are often opportunities in the piece which the writer has not explored). When a story falls into the middle ground where most stories-in-progress are found – neither very good nor very bad – it’s your job to articulate what’s working, what isn’t and why.

This is a technical job, not a matter of opinion, nor a place for pontification.

And the hidden in sight truth of it all: You gain as a writer by putting in this effort, and you will often gain more from this than you will from hearing other people talk about your writing. Put in the effort, the effort will pay off.

For those of us who teach creative writing classes, part of the job is to build an environment that encourages students to make these efforts, to teach how to observe and understand a story.

Ken MurrayThe Hidden in Plain Sight Truth of Writing Workshops
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