Writing Workshop To Awaken the Senses

I’m glad to say that he writing workshop express is still chugging along, but it’ll be going at a gentler pace this week. I’ll be taking older people on a journey through the senses this Wednesday at Ardkeen Library in Waterford City. It’s a two-hour workshop being run as part of Positive Ageing Week. During the workshop, we’ll do activities to tap into the senses, which can open the door to powerful memories. People will discover that these memories can be turned into powerful stories, which act as a record of their lives.

Telling Life Stories

First, we’ll awaken the sense of touch. People will tell the life stories of unusual objects, some beautiful, some quirky. They’ll pick up the object, examine it, and let their minds wander, as they think of how it came into being, and what adventures it had before it came to this library. Participants will then feast their eyes on some beautiful pictures of places around the world and use those to trigger memories of wonderful holidays or days out that they’ve had.

A Feast for the Senses

I’ve written before on this blog that the orange is a demanding fruit. They work all of your senses, so they form a great foundation for writing activities. People will eat an orange and describe the experience, how it looked, felt, tasted, smelt and sounded. Then they will share a food related memory, which could centre on oranges themselves, or on a meal that was memorable for the right or wrong reasons.

Oranges
Oranges tap into all five of your senses – great for writing.

The Power of Sound

Sound can be an overlooked sense, so as we come to the end of the workshop, we’ll tune into the things that make up the soundtrack of our lives. Participants will write down their five favourite sounds, and one that grates on them. I’ll then play a piece of music and people will come up with five words to describe it. They’ll then describe a memory based on a favourite piece of music.

What do you do to awaken your senses in your writing? If you teach creative writing, do you do any exercises with your workshop groups based on the senses?

What I Hope for My Creative Writing Participants

Tonight, I’ll be manning a table at an enrolment night for people who want to do night classes at Colaiste Chathail Naofa, the further education college in Dungarvan in south-east Ireland. I’m giving an eight-week creative writing course as part of their night class programme, and after the success of the class I gave there last year, I’m looking forward to getting stuck in again.

colaiste-chathail-naofa
The college where I’ll be giving my workshop. Taken from the Colaiste Chathail Naofa website.

Each of the participants who sign up will have their own hopes for what the class will offer them, and contrary to popular opinion, these don’t always include getting published. But here are my three hopes for the participants, if I’m lucky enough to get the numbers for a class.

1.      That they’ll learn how stories are put together

Each class will cover a different aspect of storytelling. As well as the core techniques like character, setting and plot, participants will learn how to tell a story from a particular point of view, how to use the senses to create vivid description and how a story’s theme can influence its structure. Some people are bookworms and enjoy seeing how their favourite writers put together books. Others will use the techniques to add depth to the stories they’re writing.

2.      That they’ll write their own stories

This course is aimed at people who have never written before. It’s important that a course has a solid outcome, a tangible result of their efforts. In this case, I hope the outcome will be a complete story, created by the participants. As the weeks unfold, I hope they’ll grow in confidence and that they’ll achieve that outcome. Some people come in with an idea already and some find that the course activities trigger an idea.

3. That they’ll realise they have something special to say

This is the true power of creative writing. It helps people to see that they have their own unique voice, and that they have a story to tell which other people will want to hear. Exploring that story and bringing it to life gives people a real sense of satisfaction and confidence. Even if they never look at the story they wrote again, or write another word, the participants will have the satisfaction of knowing they told their own story, and that it was heard.

What reason did you have for going to creative writing classes? Were your hopes realised? If you give creative writing classes, what hopes do you have for your participants?  

 

 This course is aimed at people who have never written before. It’s important that a course has a solid outcome, a tangible result of their efforts. In this case, I hope the outcome will be a complete story, created by the participants. As the weeks unfold, I hope they’ll grow in confidence and that they’ll achieve that outcome. Some people come in with an idea already and some find that the course activities trigger an idea.

3.      That they realise they have something valuable to say

This is the true power of creative writing. It helps people to see that they have their own unique voice, and that they have a story to tell which other people will want to hear. Exploring that story and bringing it to life gives people a real sense of satisfaction and confidence. Even if they never look at the story they wrote again, or write another word, the participants will have the satisfaction of knowing they told their own story, and that it was heard.

Why did you start going to creative writing classes? Were your hopes realised? If you give creative writing classes, what hopes do you have for your participants?  

 

Three Ingredients of Blogging Success

Workshop season is rolling along, and I’m enjoying all the hustle and bustle. The next stop on the workshop express train is Dungarvan, where I’ll be delivering a content creation workshop for small businesses. The workshop will equip people with the tools to put together their own blogs and social media posts. During the workshop, which will take place on Tuesday 20 September at Dungarvan Enterprise Centre, participants will come up with a plan for their blog and social media posts. They’ll also have a chance to draft up their first posts.

From working with businesses in the past, I’ve come to realise that before they ever write a blog post, three ingredients need to be in place. These ingredients will make it a lot easier for businesses to succeed with their blogs in the long term. During the workshop, I will be helping participants put those ingredients in place, so they’ll be motivated to succeed with their blogs.  

content-creation
Ingredients of successful content creation

1.      Know Why You’re Blogging

Don’t blog because your web designer told you it was a good idea, or because other businesses are doing it. Define for yourself why you feel it’s important for you to blog. If you’re passionate about your business, blogging gives you a chance to share that passion with a wider audience. If you value your customer relationships, blogging gives you a chance to deepen those relationships by talking to customers directly. And if reputation is important to you, blogging will help you build your brand and establish yourself as a trusted source of information for your customers.

2.      Be Willing to Invest Time

The great thing for small business owners is that blogging and social media are free to use. But you will still need to invest your time, and this can be in short supply for small business owners. You need to sit down and think about how much time you have available for your blog, how frequently you want to post and how long you want the posts to be. If you set a defined period of time aside each week for your blog, you’re more likely to keep blogging. If you really don’t have time, find someone in your business or your family circle who does.

3.      Trust You’re the Expert

Another stumbling block to blogging success is confidence. You may feel you’ve nothing to say, or that you’re out of practise with writing. But you own the business. Nobody knows the business better than you, so no-one else is better qualified to blog about it than you. If the thought of writing intimidates you, keep it simple. Just write about the day-to-day happenings of your business and write as you speak. If you’re really stuck for words, base your blog posts on pictures. People love pictures, and they make your posts more visible.

What are your secrets of business blogging success? Why do you blog? And how do you find time for it in your busy day?

Teenage Writing Workshop in Waterford Library

It’s workshop season again, and to celebrate that, I’m resurrecting this blog. The first workshop on the horizon is for teenagers at Waterford Central Library. I was asked to do it as part of a programme of children’s events to celebrate Culture Night on 16 September. I had approached the library about doing workshops for younger children and adults, and those will come to pass, but first, they’ve asked me to help teenagers put a story together in 90 minutes.

Waterford Central Library
Pic from http://www.librarybuildings.info. Waterford Central Library

 

The prospect makes me gulp slightly. Trying to reach teenagers through their hormonal fog can be a bit of a challenge. The workshop is on a Friday, straight after school, when they’re probably a bit tired and fed up with being told what to do by adults all week long. Luckily, I have access to a teenager, and to get an insight into what might hold their attention, I put him on the spot and asked him straight out. He suggested that teenagers like near-future stories where the world is almost the same, but not quite.

I had been considering the possibility of devising a near-future dystopian story, so it was good to have my instincts confirmed. I also know that superhero stories are always a winner, especially with younger people. So I am devising a story set in a near-future world which is recognisable, but something vital is missing that needs to be retrieved. The teenagers will create an unlikely superhero tasked with retrieving that missing ingredient, invent the world where the action happens and decide how their hero will succeed in their mission.

After warm-ups to get rid of the post-school cobwebs, it will be time to get down to business, with activities to come up with the character, setting and plot for the story.

What If: I sense that teenagers are more driven by plot than character when they read, so we’ll start with the plot. Many great stories start with the question “what if?” I will give the teenagers three what-if scenarios, related to the upcoming story, and they will come up with three things they would do in each circumstance. For example: what if you were transported to another time?

Character Sketch: I will give the teenagers a picture of a “geeky” superhero and they will write a profile of the character they see in the picture. They will fill in the profile under various headings, such as name, age and family background. The most important heading is “Secret Power,” in which the teenagers will identify the superhero power that will help the character succeed in their task.

Report from the Future: Characters need a world to inhabit, and the teenagers will imagine they have been transported into the future world where their story will be set. They send back a report about this world, describing what they see and experience. I will guide them towards describing a world where everything looks nearly the same, but there is something missing, something that is needed to make the world a better place.

Story Spine: When the teenagers have done the activities, they will use the information they have gathered to fill in a story spine. A story spine provides a structure for a story. It consists of a series of sentences with blank spaces. The writer fills in those spaces to decide what will be included in the story. You could say it’s the bones of a story. If time allows, the participants will add flesh to those bones and write a full-length story.

By the end of the workshop, the teenagers will have created their very own story. And if I play my cards right and grab their interest, I will be rewarded by their humour, their inventiveness and their imagination.

Do you facilitate creative writing workshops for teenagers, or write books for teenagers? What do you do to hold their attention?

The Storytime Express Comes to Waterford

You’d be surprised how quickly you can put a story together. Of course, to bring it to publishing standard takes months or even years, but the basic idea can emerge in a matter of hours. I give a workshop for beginning writers to help them kickstart their stories, and after just two hours, they come out with the first draft of a story. I’ll be giving that workshop for an upcoming writing festival, Waterford Writers’ Weekend. I call it The Storytime Express. Due to the demands of the schedule, it’ll be three hours instead of two, but that will give the participants some much needed breathing space.

Overall, I hope the workshop will give people the confidence to start writing and the power to tell their own story. I also want them to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from producing a complete piece of writing that is their own creation. At the very least, they’ll come out with a story plan that they can develop in their own time.

Building the Story

After some icebreaking activities, we’ll start to build the story by creating a character, setting and plot. They’ll be given a picture of a strange looking old man and be asked to create a character for him. Then they’ll sell a destination, writing a brochure blub for a place with a wacky name. Finally, they’ll be given a headline and will write the story behind the headline. These activities will form the ingredients for their story.

Maurice Murgatroyd
The unlikely hero of our express story.

 

Planning the Story

After a well-earned break, it’ll be time to combine those ingredients together to make the story. The template I have devised for the story is that a valuable treasure has been stolen and the old man is the unlikely choice to get it back. It’s your classic quest narrative. I will outline that template with a story spine, which is a series of sentences with blank spaces for you to fill in. They’ll use the information from the three previous activities to complete the story spine.wr

Writing the Story

Now it’s time to add flesh to the skeleton of the story and to create a story with a beginning, middle and end. Depending on time, the participants spend the rest of the session writing the story. If they finish reasonably quickly, we’ll spend the last 10-15 minutes hearing the stories, and enjoying the surprise of the participants at how creative they can be in a short space of time.

 

If anyone reading this blog is in the Waterford area and likes the sound of this workshop, it’s on Saturday 7 May at Greyfriars Gallery from 10am-1pm. Visit the website for details on how to book.

Why I Joined an Editing Society

Last week, I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The SfEP is the UK’s professional organisation for editors and proofreaders, and though I’m Irish, my sources told me that this organisation has excellent resources and more opportunities. I took a long time to make the decision, for two reasons. To progress in the organisation, you need to do a lot of training, which is expensive, and I also know plenty of people who aren’t members of an organisation, but are still reputable and get plenty of work.

Still, the advice I received from respected editors burrowed in on me, so during a hiatus last week, I filled in the form. Ultimately, there are three reasons why I think joining the SfEP was the right decision.

For credibility

Membership will give my editing services a professional stamp.  It shows potential clients that I am willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to be a professional editor. Editing is just one of the writing related services I offer, but my ambition is to make it the central one. By displaying the SfEP logo, I can demonstrate to future clients that I will deliver work to the highest possible standards, and charge a fair and realistic price.

Apostrophic Errors
Keeping editing standards high.

To upskill

However much you may think you know about books and language, there is always more to learn. The SfEP gives discounted training courses to help you continuously improve, and you can also avail of a mentoring service, which gives you the chance to test your editorial skills on an editing professional.  I’ll be able to learn more about grammar, applying a consistent style, how books are laid out and how to work well with clients.

To ask questions

I will be able to use the SfEP as a sounding board for any issues I have as an editor, and to ask slightly embarrassing grammar questions without fear of ridicule. There are private forums where you can find discussions about pretty much every aspect of editing. I’ll be able to freely avail of the expertise of senior and experienced editors, and I can use what I learn to edit more effectively.

Are you a member of an editing society? How do you find it? If you’re a writer, would you be more likely to trust an editor who is a member of an editing society, or do you just trust in your good relationship with your editor?

Is Self Publishing for Everyone?

A self published author I know, a lively, go-getting character, posted on a Facebook I run about how fed up he is with the stigma around self publishing. He was published by a traditional publisher, but found he sold far more copies as a self published author. Yet he felt that self published authors like him were looked down upon for not being with an established publisher. Several self published authors then shared their positive experience of self publishing, and the general feeling was that self publishing was now a force to be reckoned with and snobbery should be set aside.

I would certainly agree with that. I self published copies of my novel after the publisher I had stopped printing copies. I did enjoy the control that came with self publishing, but I’ll still be trying for an established publisher next time. I still nurture fantasies of lunch with my editor in a swanky restaurant.

 

editor lunch
Toasting success with a future editor.

I regularly recommend self publishing as an option at my creative writing workshops. But I also believe it’s not for everyone. Here are three instances when I believe self publishing is not a good idea.

If you write literary fiction

I read an article in The Guardian which said that self publishing worked for most genres –  except delicate literary fiction. The trouble with literary fiction is that it’s quiet and understated, and needs the gentle push of  a publisher to make its voice heard. Also, unlike other genres, it doesn’t follow strict rules, so you’re creating each book from scratch. This takes up a lot of headspace. If that headspace is taken up with worries about how you’re going to get your book out, it will affect the quality of the work. Using an established publisher at least takes that concern away.

If selling gives you the shivers

Some authors are naturally quite commercially minded, and those authors tend to make very successful self publishers. As I said, you need to be able to shout loudly to be heard as a self published author. Some authors have neither the personality or the inclination needed to do that shouting. You do have to do your own publicity when you have an established publisher as well, but at least they will do the basics for you, and this gives you a leg up.

If you don’t have a specific audience

Self publishing works really well if you are writing for a defined audience. You can learn who that audience is, what they want and how to deliver it to them. You can narrow your focus and tailor your sales approach to that audience. If you write books that are very general, it will be hard for you to find people to target, and to compete with authors who know what readers they want to reach. Having an established publisher behind you gives you a platform to reach a wider audience, and from that experience, you may discover which readers favour your book.

What do you think? Is self publishing a go-to for every author? Or are there authors whose work is more suited to an established publishing model?