Some thoughts on writers' workshops and today's ghost story

IMG_1251I’ve been reading a lot about the value or lack of regarding creative writing workshops this year. Most focus on whether or not “writing can be taught” citing publications and famous coteries that existed at pricey and difficult to enter universities. Few mention workshops for those who lack funds, connections, or academic credentials.

I don’t know, but maybe skipping out on life for a few hours in order to attend to writing for writing’s sake shouldn’t be a mark of privilege.

I’m not slinging any nastiness toward people in MFA programs, if anything graduate success rates turn those who enter them without today’s prerequisites into brave individuals. It’s the encroachment of professionalization into every branch of the humanities that worries me more. Why are MFAs cited on the backs of more and more books? Why are some writing conferences even requiring them, as if you have to have a resume to create?

We used to be a culture of writers. Just look back at those letters written during the Civil War, or by your grandparents, and you’ll see that it wasn’t just the gilded who could turn a phrase.

And maybe when people participate in a writing group or sign up for NANOWRIMO, or scribble poetry in their notebooks, it’s just a matter of doing what comes naturally. Think about it. In a year when public rudeness is being both celebrated and lamented on a massive scale, shouldn’t we be happy that a few people are quietly trying to bring a little more integrity and accuracy to their self-expression?

That reason alone should be enough to show that yes, writing can be taught, not necessarily as a path to book contracts or publication, but to the communication skills we’re losing as a result of being time starved and painted in corporate happy face throughout most of our waking hours.

Therefore, if you are considering joining a writing group, don’ t think about publication or literary success. Understand instead that you will never have a better opportunity to see your work, and yourself through other people’s eyes. It isn’t therapy. It’s more honest than that. For a few hours each week you get to throw your own idiosyncratic and vulnerable self, your fumbling vowels, and screwed up punctuation before a group of total strangers and see how they land. Take it for what it is and relish it. It’s an increasingly rare opportunity.

On to today’s ghost story. Here is Bram Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest”. Originally part of the novel, “Guest” was published as a prequel after Stoker’s death. It’s a fantastic story and if you live in nearby, the Orange County Museum Contemporary Art sells mini bound versions of it in their gift shop for less than two dollars.

It’s free here.


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