Creative Listening

The second day of the two day workshop, but there was no writing, only listening.  That was a surprise!

In the morning, we were blown away by a 2 hour performance, no other word for it, by Iain (M) Banks, who shared with us his interesting and highly entertaining writing autobiography.  The Wasp Factory (hear him talk about the book here ) was his first published book, but he had refined his work before then through several other books,  papering his walls with rejection letters.  He is impressively passionate about his Science Fiction, but The Bridge is his favourite of his books.  Must read more of his work!  What came over most of all was his remarkable energy and enthusiasm for writing, his skill with words and images, his passionate determination from an early age to be ‘a writer’, his professional commitment to, and organisation for, his writing and a strong sense of a man who stands on his principles. There was a lot of laughter, many stimulating tales and we were greatly entertained as well as informed.  But Iain Banks is one-of-a-kind, so we fledgling writers will not be following his example any time soon, or any time at all for that matter. 

After that morning, the rest of the day was somehow an anti-climax. Alan read some of his work, encouraged some chatter about where to position work and discipline in writing, peppered with favourite quotes on the art of writing from different authors.  The contributions of other members of the team were often insightful and occasionally very practical such as Eve introducing (some of) us to The Elements of Style – an essential manual for novice authors (thanks Eve.. and all the others in the group)… but it was all talk and no action, nor any writing, other than those little notes I make to keep focused, to stay alert.

Part of me participated respectfully in the dialogues and part of me observed, as a teacher, how the group interacted: whether or not individuals got what they came for; who talked over others; who steered the conversation and who did not take part at all.  A naughtier part of me imagined a short story based on the group – that could have been fun, imagination running riot.  As a teacher I would have probably set up a much more structured engaging experience. with some technical writing exercises and peer-group feedback.  Yet it was interesting that the very laid-back style of the rest of the day – not focussed, not driven towards ‘key outcomes’ – left a lot of room for each individual to get into their own space, and perhaps stimulated individuals to pick out those key words or ideas that will matter individually to them.  It was an ambiguous essentially aesthetic opportunity rather than training in production line technique.  I think I liked that, but will I use the insights and enthusiasm generated in that brick-walled room, on those hard wooden chairs, to become the ‘writer’ that Alan and Iain empowered us to be?


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