This is a guest post by Dr Sophie-Louise Hyde.
Earlier this year, and as a representative of The Student Wordsmith, I was invited to deliver an introductory workshop to members of Nottingham Writers’ Studio. It was the first time that I had delivered one in a few months, since my days of teaching Creative Writing at Loughborough University, and (if I am being completely honest) I was a little nervous.
Throughout the workshop, I adopted a very ‘human’ and friendly approach—being open, honest, and encouraging when you’re meeting new writers with varying levels of confidence is really important—and this struck a chord with Kristina here at The Writers’ Cookbook who has since commented on the warmth in my style as a workshop leader.
While running a workshop is always going to be daunting (even if you are considered to be a seasoned pro!), this exchange reminded me that we’ve all been there. We’ve all felt nervous and like we’re about to scale an impossible mountain; whether that’s running a workshop for the first time in a while or reading in front of large group of people you know!
So, to help you through if you’re planning on running your own workshops anytime soon, we put our heads together and have compiled our top 5 things to remember when running your writing workshops.
It might seem obvious, but you would be amazed how quickly even the best laid plans can fall apart.
Make sure you have a comprehensive plan of how you want the workshop to go; that includes what you need to do before the workshop, timings, contingency plans for anything from the exercises being too easy to people not turning up. While it might not be something you want to think about, it’s all part of the process!
I find having a set of guidelines or notes for each workshop I run really helps me to ensure it remains focused and stays on track.
2. Set yourself sensible restrictions and stick to them
If you’ve said your workshop is for a maximum of 15 people, it is important to stop your ticket sales at 15 people (after all, there’s no reason why you can’t also have a waiting list in case anyone can’t attend last minute!).
Likewise, if you’ve allocated half an hour for an exercise, make sure it stays as close to that thirty minutes as possible (you don’t want to impact on your timings for the rest of the workshop!).
As the workshop leader, you are in control of everything you do with it and your audience will look to you for what’s next or when it’s time to move on, so keep that plan and any time restrictions at the forefront of your mind.
3. It’s more than just a ‘day of’ kind of thing
Be prepared to be involved with your writers before and after the workshop, too.
Some of them may ask if they can contact you via email about the work they have drafted or, perhaps, you might want to offer to keep in touch with them. It might be that they would like your feedback on their work while editing it or that they have questions before and after to ask you about what you’ve taught them. Whatever the case, you will seem much more approachable and you’re more likely to have people coming back to the next one if you’re open to extending the conversation outside those two hours in the classroom!
4. Make sure the workshop suits the audience
It can be very easy, when you’re excitedly planning your first workshop, to have so many ideas and exercises that you want to include and, suddenly, your two-hour ‘Introduction to Creative Writing’ becomes a weekend retreat to write the next Odyssey!
Remember who your audience are before you get carried away; you don’t want the participants to feel out of their depth as this may knock their confidence rather than build it.
Equally, you don’t want them to get bored if the exercises you provide are too easy.
Make it clear who your workshop is aimed at and then plan for that target audience.
5. Remember, it should be fun!
That goes for you and for your participants!
That’s not to say that you can’t be serious and in charge when the situation calls for it, but don’t let yourself slip into giving your writers a lecture.
Factor in comfort breaks, provide snacks (where you can) or, perhaps, you could suggest that you all bring something to make it a more cohesive and collaborative experience.
Most importantly, consciously and consistently engage with the group throughout. If it’s not fun for you, then it probably isn’t going to be fun for them and, at the end of the day, you want them to be inviting you back in future!
Dr Sophie-Louise Hyde is a poet, Creative Writing tutor, entrepreneur and all-round tea enthusiast based in the East Midlands. With over five years’ experience running workshops and teaching Creative Writing and Poetry, Sophie has a PhD from Loughborough University and is the founder and creative figurehead behind writing and publishing platform, The Student Wordsmith.