Running a Creative Writing Workshop

A few years ago I did the PTLLS qualification (Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector) and this week I finally got around to putting it into practice by running my first creative writing workshop. It was organised by FOLIO Sutton Coldfield, held at my local library and free to participants. Planning a creative writing workshop

On the agenda was creating haiku and writing letters to magazines. I chose these two topics to give a mix of writing for pleasure and for profit plus the pieces were short enough to complete in the two and a half hours allocated to the class. And I already had a basic lesson plan for the haiku section from the ‘micro teach’ I did as part of PTLLS.

The participants were a lovely group of people. The workshop had been billed as ‘An Introduction to Creative Writing’ and most had done either none or very little writing before but they were all enthusiastic. Because we only had a couple of hours together, I chose to do a very quick, basic ice-breaker to start the session. I produced my large, bright orange (imaginary) energy ball and we each said our name as we pretended to pass it around the room and take a burst of energy from from it.

During the workshop I deliberately set most of the writing exercises to be done in pairs so that no one felt put on the spot or awkward if they were struggling to get going. We worked up to writing a haiku by looking at examples, having a pictorial prompt and jotting down ad hoc words and phrases before trying to craft them into the syllable count of a haiku. Similarly, we looked at how to analyse a magazine letters’ page including things like word count, subject matter and tone of the letters printed, before trying to craft a letter ourselves.

There were a few learning points that I took away from the workshop:

  1. Running a creative writing workshop is like an iceberg – i.e. 9/10 of the work is the invisible preparation done beforehand in creating the exercises, handouts etc.
  2. It’s very hard to construct a lesson plan with accurate timings about how long each part will take. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a cue from the class – are they still busy writing or are they staring bored into space? During the coffee break the class started asking questions about how I tackle my own writing, this meant the break ran over slightly but I decided that was OK because we were talking about the different ways authors tackle novel writing, which had some benefit to the class participants.
  3. It’s worth asking participants to complete a feedback form at the end of the session in order to find out how it went (phew! all positive comments!) and what subjects might be popular in future workshops.

After running only one workshop, I don’t profess to be an expert on teaching creative writing – however, I know someone who is! If you’re looking for further information or advice on running creative writing classes, I suggest you take a look at Start a Creative Writing Class: How to Set Up, Run and Teach a Successful Class by my writing buddy Helen Yendall.

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  1. #1 by Anne Harvey on January 24, 2019 - 11:44 am

    Brilliant to have the details, Sally, especially the link to Helen Yendall’s site. I will make sure I look at that. Funnily enough, today I received details of short course on running your own workshop from Derbyshire County Council so I will check that out as well. I feel inspired!

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on January 24, 2019 - 1:23 pm

      The Derbyshire CC course sounds interesting. Best wishes with whatever you do – let me know how you get on, Anne.

  2. #3 by juliathorley on January 25, 2019 - 8:41 am

    Well done! All I can say is that it gets easier, the more you do. I agree about the timing thing; it’s really difficult to judge how long things will take. I find the same in my yoga classes. You just have to go with the flow.

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on January 25, 2019 - 4:16 pm

      Thanks, Julia. One of the participants was a yoga teacher and wrote a haiku about yoga that she was going to read out to her yoga class.

  3. #5 by Helen Yendall on January 25, 2019 - 5:51 pm

    Thanks for the mention, Sally! Most kind. I agree that it’s very difficult to judge how long things are going to take! I think that’s what makes teaching creative writing so interesting – you’re kept on your toes the whole time! An exercise that you think will take 20 minutes might take half that time if a) you don’t have as many people in the class as you’d expected b) hardly anyone wants to read out or c) they all just write a couple of lines, when you’d been hoping for a paragraph or two! I learned early on to try to ‘go with the flow’. As long as you’ve got lots of spare material up your sleeve, so that you never run out of something to do, it doesn’t really matter.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on January 25, 2019 - 7:15 pm

      You make some good points, Helen. And yes, I agree about having loads of stuff prepared, just in case!

  4. #7 by blogaboutwriting on January 25, 2019 - 5:52 pm

    Thanks for the mention, Sally! Most kind. I agree that it’s very difficult to judge how long things are going to take! I think that’s what makes teaching creative writing so interesting – you’re kept on your toes the whole time! An exercise that you think will take 20 minutes might take half that time if a) you don’t have as many people in the class as you’d expected b) hardly anyone wants to read out or c) they all just write a couple of lines, when you’d been hoping for a paragraph or two! I learned early on to try to ‘go with the flow’. As long as you’ve got lots of spare material up your sleeve, so that you never run out of something to do, it doesn’t really matter.

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