The first step for us is to move away from the teacher-led classroom and to start thinking of a writer-led workshop. A writing workshop is a collective venture, a supportive environment, and a do-it-yourself space for tinkering with language, for playing with narratives, for delighting in literature. You come to the workshop as a committed reader and writer, you set your own learning goals, and you take from it to the best of your own abilities. The operative word here is ‘you’.
The instructors of the workshop enter this process as fellow-writers and play the role of moderators who facilitate productive conversations and bring to the table a slightly more experienced perspective. The only way for a writing workshop to be an inspiring and worthwhile experience is for every single participant to come with an open mind and positive attitude to the workshop process, and stay consistently engaged throughout the semester.
Structure: Our workshop has been divided into two components: the first is a weekly reading hour and the second is a three-hour long session of responses and discussions on the writings of the participants.
Our reading hour is a time to turn a solitary act of appreciation into a communal experience. This is also an opportunity to talk about important writers and styles and genres outside the context of the longer weekly sessions. The reading hours will be open to any genre in any language or time period. The ideal scenario is to keep an open reading hour where anyone can bring texts to share with the class, where the choice of texts to read (as well as discussions that follow) are organic and spontaneous.
Submissions: Submissions to the workshop will be in turns. Feel free to submit any piece of writing that you have written in the past and would like to revise, or any writing that is still on the anvil.
Genre: You can choose to work on any genre of your choice – short fiction, long fiction, poetry, drama, creative non-fiction (memoir, literary journalism, personal essay, travel writing, biography, narrative history, feature articles etc.). You can also choose to work on more than one genre through the semester or just stay with a single format/project. If you are unsure, please consult with the moderator early in the semester.
Language: There is a joy to writing in the language that one thinks in that cannot be replicated elsewhere, so we hope you will write in languages other than English if you want to. Do consider talking about the translation process as much as the writing process. We are happy to spend class time discussing the literary minutiae of translation, as they do tell us much about the current reality of literature in India.
Feedback: There are two kinds of feedback we should aim to give for give every submission
- read through the submission and write comments on the printout about specifics like the style of writing, the language employed, grammar, structure etc. Try and do this word by word, line by line if possible. Much useful feedback occurs at this level of detail.
- macro comments that don’t pertain to any particular line or para but about the overall approach/style/idea, plotting, characterization, pacing, tone, voice etc. These comments should be written at the end of the submission, say about 100-150 words.
Peer feedback is at the heart of every writing workshop and can be decisive in the workshop being a positive experience for everyone. Giving useful feedback is an art. If you like something in the submission, anything that find particularly effective as a reader, make sure you say so clearly and support it with reasons and textual examples. If you think anything in the submission can be done differently or better, word it as a suggestion, as something you might consider doing if you were the writer, or ask it as a question to the writer. The workshop should be a space for dialogue – the writer should also be able to discuss reasons for their choices and mull on their alternatives.
If you are a writer who is receiving feedback in the workshop, it can be overwhelming to hear a dozen different voices. Listen carefully to all the voices but then filter them to hone in on the ideas/responses that are most convincing to you. Trust your own judgment above all. When you leave the workshop room, you should be able to walk away with suggestions that you think are most useful to your work and keep them in mind while you revise or write the next piece.
There are no hierarchies in writing workshops – no good writers or bad writers, just writers, and the only distinguishing quality is sincerity. The goal for the semester is to be and stay sincere writers, to learn and grow in our craft. This is about writing and creativity, and ‘you’. Happy writing!