It’s back to school for the kids. And, thankfully, it’s back to in-person workshops and conferences for writers. Some workshops are still virtual, but more and more, we’re seeing hybrid programs where participants can choose to view from home or sit in the classroom.
But it’s been a while, writer. Sitting in your jammies with your camera off has allowed you to be a relaxed participant in virtual events. Maybe too relaxed? Here’s a quick primer to get your head back into the game of learning.
1. Physical comfort. The temperature, acoustics and furniture are seldom within the control of the facilitator. Dress in layers to cope with hot/cold. Bring your own water, bring a small cushion if hard chairs bother you. Pay attention to housekeeping information, location of bathrooms, break times and so on.
2. Follow the health guidelines. If the facility or the presenter asks you to mask, do so. If you are not comfortable without a mask, you are fine to wear one even if everyone else is not. If social distancing is required, don’t be that person who will only sit in the third row, aisle seat, even if it means disrupting social distancing.
3. Keep it simple. Avoid covering your area with pencils, pencil sharpener, highlighters, pens, three journals (in case you fill them?), personal fan, five resource books on the topic, water bottle and coffee travel mug. All that stuff can distract others – and maybe, you too. If you need to have them close at hand, put them in the knapsack and pull them out only when required.
4. Quiet snacks. As above, unwrap the hard candy or granola bar during breaktime to avoid being a distraction. As presenters, Gwynn and I can attest to how noises can disturb others while we’re speaking or in the quiet time of writing exercises. Crunch. Crackle. Pop!
5. Be tech-savvy. If you want to work on a laptop or tablet, make sure it is charged and bring your own extension cord if you need to plug it in. Never assume there is Wi-Fi available. And for Pete’s sake, turn off the cell phone. Or at least, put it on silent because others will likely hear “vibrate.” If you must check it occasionally for a vital reason, be discreet.
6. Consider going “low-tech.” In other words, writing by hand with pen/pencil on paper. We are used to our laptops and tablets, but there is a physical connection with our hands on paper that is missing with the keyboard. Laptop text arrives neat, spaced perfectly and with autocorrect. Getting messy with a pen in an exercise can lead to amazing results.
7. Ask for permission to record the workshop. Do not assume it’s okay otherwise because it isn’t. Not every facilitator is comfortable being recorded and we hold the copyright on our material. Indeed, your workshop colleagues may also not be comfortable knowing their questions and comments will be recorded. Better yet, ask at the start if notes/handouts will be shared with participants.
8. Do the exercise. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it or think it’s too hard. In fact, it’s important to challenge yourself. You are here to learn and part of that process is to try new approaches, to stretch your pen. And don’t be smug about how this exercise is so basic, you can do it without thinking. The point of all exercises is to tickle your brain. Drop the smug and pick up the pen.
9. Ask questions. Do your homework on the topic and/or presenter/facilitator. And prepare at least one question that shows you’ve done so. No question is a dumb question because it’s likely that at least one other person in the room is wondering the same thing as you. Maybe the presenter didn’t explain it enough. Maybe your experience is different from what is suggested. An unasked question doesn’t get an answer.
10. Be open to the ideas and experiences shared by participants. As teachers, we always learn new things from participants. Even those just beginning the writing journey share remarkable insights and approaches. As participants in workshops, Gwynn and Ruth realize that there is a wealth of knowledge among colleagues and we are eager to learn from them. “I don’t agree” shuts down people. “That’s different to my experience” shows you’re being thoughtful. “I never thought of that before. Can you explain a little more?” opens the door to sharing ideas, inspiration and resources.
C’mon writer, get that writing brain engaged and dive into new networking opportunities. Some workshops, like Ruth’s 3 Steps to Creative Writing series this September at the Haliburton County Public Library, are completely in person.
Organizations like The Writers’ Community of Durham Region are hold hybrid meetings this year. And conferences and festivals, like the upcoming Whistler Writers Festival in B.C. are also going hybrid. Or go all in-person at the Haliburton Arts Council’s Bookapalooza, an all-day, all-genres trade show for readers and writers on September 24.
And there’s a wealth of workshops happening this fall at the Northumberland Festival of the Arts, with a full immersion in all kinds of arts events and workshops. With Gwynn Scheltema-Anderson as Chair, you can imagine the offerings are diverse and exciting.
So, examine your comfort level, prepare what works for you and, if you can, get out there to feed your muse and fire up your pen.