Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How Did It Go?

Last Saturday, July 9, I taught my first writing workshop. By popular demand, this post will break down that experience.

In brief, it went well. I had four attendees, and all of them were friends of mine, although only two were friends of each other. My agenda ended up shorter than the allotted time, but I added something on the fly that I think was actually more popular and useful than the planned activities. Funnily enough, the only pre-anxiety I allowed in about the workshop was "what if I have too much time and not enough activities?" In reply to that anxiety, I said, well, I'll make something up and do better next time. Et voila, that is what happened. Way to knock out that anxiety, me.

At first I was disappointed that the attendees were all friends, that I had no friends-of-friends or total strangers who wanted to learn from me, but I realize that my name is not Elizabeth Gilbert. And if the publishing butter-churn has taught me nothing else, it's taught me that you have to build a platform in order to find success in these kinds of ancillary writerly activities. Ultimately it was probably better that everyone in the room walked in expecting to support me and have a good time rather than expecting to be impressed by me. (This cool thing happened, too: my friends found each other interesting. I watched it happen. I was so pleased by this, so personally gratified. It makes me look forward to big parties with a bunch of friends who don't know each other rather than dreading them.)

So many people gave me encouragement ahead of time. I felt like I had a little cheerleading squad. I'm not saying that to show off, but instead to express amazement and gratitude. I had no idea when I announced the workshop that so many people across the country would remember when and that I was doing it, and would drop me an email or a Facebook post to say good luck and woot woot. It was pretty fantastic.

In completely unrelated trivia, I own this movie. It's terrible and awesome. 

And a similar number of people have been asking me how it went. The most useful conversation I had about how it went was with my mother, who teaches when she's not revitalizing scholarship on early print technologies. She asked me how this workshop varied from teaching yoga. I told her that teaching yoga tired me out, because I felt like I was giving myself away, whereas this gave me energy because the attendees were offering me their ideas and effort. I felt like we were sharing in each other's creativity, and I was just guiding. Part of this might be influenced by the radically new-to-me pedagogy I saw in action last semester in Dr. Higgs's class, but hey, so much the better.

I felt like we were doing a group project, but I was in charge, telling everyone which way we were going and calling out the purpose of each exercise. Which, for me and my ego, is pretty much the ideal situation: we're all making something together, but I'm the boss. (It would be dishonest to ignore this unpalatable insight about myself.)

The other thing I told Mom was that it was a lot easier to tell when the attendees didn't like what I was doing with them than it was in a yoga class. In yoga, you have to read body language and interpret breathing sounds in order to determine if the students want to murder you for including standing split or asking for another vinyasa. In this situation, the tale is told by people's faces, or whether/how they are putting pen to paper, or how they greet your request to hear what they wrote. It was much more obvious how my ideas were greeted. Reading the general energy of the room was harder than with yoga, or my intuition on that is really rusty.

Seems legit

Mom asked me about the different levels of mastery in the room and how that made a difference when teaching either thing. I said that in a writing workshop I was able to direct a broader conversation about too-hard or too-simple or irrelevant concepts, while in an all-levels yoga class I'd go over to a beginning student and give individual help or direction. The different levels and approaches in the room were a little challenging for me to cope with in the writing workshop, but in a yoga class they can be physically dangerous to the student. Navigating the problem in these two contexts just seemed different rather than one being preferable.

In the end, two of the attendees cried, so I'd call that a successful writing workshop. I'm only sort of joking. Writing cuts deep. It's supposed to. I had so much fun that I want to do it again as soon as possible, but I don't know where I'm going to scrounge up more friends to come, so I think I'll wait until the fall. Anyone interested?


Kelly Thompson said...

Love this Kat! You made me think I should do a workshop. It's scary cuz maybe no one will come. But I might could find a few friends who would!

KM100 said...

Do an online version and I'm there!

Catherine Sweet said...

Yoga-teaching comparison makes a lot of sense to me. I never got comfortable enough teaching for it to be the energizing experience I see with my favorite teachers.

I'm writing this week and not agonizing. Just making lists and doing it.
I chalk this up largely to your workshop.

Thank you!

Katharine Coldiron said...

Catherine, I am so, so, so, so gratified to hear that. Keep it up. <3