The weekend before last, I did something I hate doing, especially on a weekend: waking up before 7 am. One of the key perks of my academic job is waking up at a sane hour, but that weekend I made an exception to attend a two-day writing workshop with the incredible Sheila Heti of Toronto. I learned clever ways of tricking myself into writing more and writing better; I heard about her own writing challenges and how she overcomes them; I received a lot of fun exercises to break up the humdrum of writing; and I was exposed to ways of thinking about the craft of writing that, but for this kind of workshop, I would have never considered (on this count, special shout-out to one of Heti’s recommended books, The Master and the Emissary.)
Even as social distancing has ruptured our lives, in many ways the connections between us have shrunk. Thanks to zoom, there are plentiful writing workshops for poets, fiction writers, creative non-fiction writers, biographers–you name it. You can choose an intensive style of workshop, or a workshop that runs over the course of many weeks. Classes may connect you with a luminary (i.e., the “master class”) or with a community of other writers. Either way, you will be exposed to the act of writing not just as an academic task on the way to tenure and promotion but as craft worth cultivating in and of itself. Most of these classes are fairly reasonable–in the $200 to $300 range (psst: Grad students who care about writing! Ask your mentors if they can help sponsor you with their research funds!).
These classes ask academic writers to step outside of their comfort zones to recognize that academic training does not translate into expertise in the craft of writing and to reckon with the different ways of thinking that can disrupt–in a good if disquieting way–our ingrained habits of writing and even analysis. In an increasingly profit-oriented academic landscape, these writing courses help me remember that I am a thinker–and not just a producer of the countable outputs that appear on my CV. They also remind me that my own difficulties as an academic aren’t so special or confined to the ivory tower; as human beings, we all struggle with the narrative textures, the plot twists, the emotive valence that the craft of writing brings into focus. And finally, they help me recollect my–shall we say naive? innocently endearing?–excitement about the act of writing that has been difficult to maintain as my academic career has become increasingly dominated by paperwork and bureaucracy.
I highly recommend taking a writing course of some sort if you are at the front end of a major project, or if you simply need a good jolt of constructive disruption in your writing routine–the Writer’s Studio and the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center are two excellent places to start, and thanks to the pandemic, both offer virtual-based courses. Enjoy!