Tagged: Four Elements

Workshops for 2020: Food, Water Ways, Earth Works

In 2020 I’m continuing the ongoing series of new Four Elements workshops with Kellie Jackson of Words Away.

Four Elements workshops follow a holistic approach, using mindfulness techniques and placing a strong emphasis on play and experiment, while also addressing practical matters of craft and the business of publishing. Each day-long workshop considers the symbolic powers and perspectives of the elements: fire for the energy it creates, water for the feelings it evokes, earth for conjuring up the material world, and air for the way in which it structures the world and brings clarity to our thinking. We also discuss ways to balance all four elements in our writing, as required.

We held the first new workshop last month; in Finding Your Fire we paid particular attention to how the power of fire fuels our intention and charges up our voices, with one session devoted to crafting dialogue, which is perhaps one of the most striking ways to add a spark to our writing. We also looked at many ways in which fire appears in writing.

Writers sometimes overthink our work (too much time spent in our own company?!), and we all gain something from getting out of our own heads, and to do so it often helps to work with creative materials other than words. So we are also inviting guest gurus to lead sessions during each day – practitioners who bring in fresh (and elemental) perspectives from different fields in the arts. In the pic above, guest firestarter Kate Beales is showing us how techniques from theatre help summon up fiery energies to empower our writing. In other workshops we’ll gain insights from teachers or coaches from the worlds of illustration, dance, and poetry.

I usually circulate brief writing assignments as well as reading suggestions in advance, so that everyone comes prepared. And of course there is plenty of writing during the day, and afterwards too, as I provide writing prompts and resources, as well as follow-up notes with plenty of suggestions for further writing and reading. We also make time for brief meditations.

Our workshops are attended by published authors as well as beginning writers, and the spirit is engaged and collaborative; it’s good to observe community forming and writing partnerships developing.

If you are interested, below are the dates for the next workshops – my Forthcoming page also has more information, and you can find booking details via the links below:

* Saturday 8 February 2020, 9.45am-5pm Water Ways: A Four Elements Workshop on Feeling, Tone and Perspective – our guest wavemaker is artist and author Sally Kindberg

* Saturday 21 March 2020, 9.45am-5pm Earth Works: A Four Elements Workshop on Description and Action – our guest earthshaker is dancer and coach Claire Dale

* Saturday 16 May 2020, 9.45pm-5pm Writing On Air: A Four Elements Workshop on Structure, Form and Focus – our guest aeronaut is poet and performance artist Bhanu Kapil (more info and booking link to come)

* June 2020 (date to be confirmed), 9.45pm-5pm
The Four Elements of Editing (more info and booking link to come)

Also, on 26 January 2020, 2pm-5pm, I’m leading Writes at the Museum with Food – Bigger Than The Page, my rescheduled Sunday-afternoon workshop on food in writing at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Inspired by the V&A’s recent exhibition Food: Bigger Than The Plate, it will explore all sorts of ways in which we use food in writing. I might even wear a pinny.

Have a good holiday break – and I hope to see some of you in the new year. Let’s see 2020 as the beginning of something good – in our writing, in the world.

Workshops for Autumn 2019: Four Elements, Food, Fire

Here towards the end of the summer break comes a post with info on writing and creativity workshops I’m leading in the autumn:

* Saturday 28 September, 9.45am-5pm
Everyday Magic: The Four Elements of Creativity, at London Bridge Hive, in conjunction with Words Away

* Sunday 13 October 2019, 2pm-5pm
Food: Bigger Than The Page, at the Victoria & Albert Museum

* Saturday 9 November, 9.45am-5pm
Finding Your Fire: A Four Elements Workshop on Theme and Voice, at London Bridge Hive, in conjunction with Words Away

You can follow the links above for further information plus booking details (and early bird rates for Words Away workshops), but here is a little more background on each of them.

First, I’m very excited to be teaching at the V&A for the first time. The 13 October workshop is inspired by a truly innovative and highly recommended V&A exhibition called Food: Bigger Than The Plate.

I’m not sure the writing experiments we’ll be doing will be as wild as some of exhibits you’ll find there (communicate with a tomato! coffee cups made from … coffee grinds! plant pots made of … cow shit!) – but we can try. We’ll consider some of its themes of composting and trading and cooking, and we’ll pay particular attention to food for its symbolism, and its ability to evoke the senses, and its power to conjure up memories. Food can play a central role in many types of writing – not just cookbooks and food writing, but fiction and poetry and memoir and film and stage. Fancy a madeleine?!

Oh: and the V&A classroom is AMAZING. Not that that is the only lure, of course.

I’m also excited to be working with Kellie Jackson of Words Away once more. We’ve worked together before, and I think we are a good team. On 28 September, we are revisiting Everyday Magic, the workshop based on the Four Elements I’ve run several times before. And later in the autumn and then into the winter, spring, and summer I am expanding this into four entirely new workshops devoted to each of the elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Air.

I developed Four Elements workshops as, in my work as a book doctor and editor, I find that one of the greatest hurdles for writers is overthinking. This shows up in any number of ways that can lead us away from the act of creation: cluttered prose, procrastination, self-consciousness, neurosis, comparison, destructive self-criticism. Writers often need to get out of their heads, and their own way.

With that in mind, Four Elements workshops invite writers to gain fresh (and less overthought?) perspectives on writing: its energy (Fire), its emotional qualities (Water), and its ability to conjure up the material world (Earth). And then we return to thinking about writing with greater clarity and focus (Air). Working holistically and symbolically, we can expand our sense of what our writing can be.

My inspirations and touchstones for these workshops are varied: tarot, Jungian archetypes, meditation, contemplative approaches to learning I encountered at Naropa, inspiring teachers such as Lynda Barry and Natalie Goldberg and Bobbie Louise Hawkins and Jack Collom and Austin Kleon. Also: reading. I do plenty of reading, and I’m always thinking about the Four Elements as I read. I usually assign short reading and writing assignments to be completed before class so we have a common foundation for our discussions and activities. Our readings nearly always include, among others, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ by Annie Proulx; it’s only 10,000 words, so everyone has chance to have read it, but it gives us so much to talk about. And it’s such an awesomely good story.

So we shall be looking at craft, using examples from the readings, but we mostly shall try to avoid getting too schoolroom about such matters; lots of writing courses focus on technical aspects of writing, including our own series of masterclasses, and one of the aims of Four Elements is to find different routes into writing that are intuitive and avoid over-intellectualising. So, for example, we shall seek out the fire in a piece of writing, and use that lens to consider and feel how that energy is achieved – particularly through doing writing ourselves. There will be plenty of prompts and writing experiments to try in class and to take home.

The four new Four Elements workshops will also feature sessions led by guest gurus whose work in various fields in the arts invites further perspectives on creativity. We hope to have a firestarter from the world of theatre coming along on 9 November, and then poets and other artists coming to other workshops later.

The workshops are interactive; it’s always valuable to hear what other writers have to bring to our discussions, and I never fail to leave a class brimming with fresh ideas people have raised, as well as, e.g., lots of reading recommendations. There’s always something new to learn. And we get a great variety of people coming along: published writers and absolute beginners (no such thing!), and everyone in between; fiction writers, journalists, poets, writers of nonfiction, screenwriters, people trying new forms, other types of artist.

Each workshop stands alone – Everyday Magic (28 September) serves as an overview or an introduction, but it’s not essential to taking one of the other Four Elements workshops, and you can sign up for any as you wish, as they are designed to be self-contained. We continue with Finding Your Fire (9 November), when we will explore ways to bring energy into our writing and our practice, and pay particular attention to theme and voice as well as the symbolism of Fire. We’ll follow with (titles tbc):

Feeling Your Way: Water – emotion, tone and perspective (January tbc)

Grounded in Action: Earth – character, action and description (March tbc)

Clear Thinking: Air – symbol, structure and form (May tbc)

And in June we hope to repeat the successful masterclass The Craft of Revising, which is a daylong intensive on self-editing and revision.

Kellie interviewed me about some of my inspirations for an earlier version of Everyday Magic, and in addition here are reports on that from both Kellie’s blog and my own blog.

And meanwhile I hope you have had productive summers. I feel very smug, as without planning to do so I read War and Peace. And yes, it can be read in ten days (I was on holiday, mind). I very much enjoyed the Anthony Briggs translation – have to mention that, as I dipped into others, and though I gather it’s not for purists I found this translation the most fleet in the reading.

I so often make new year resolutions to read X or Y (this year it was more sf and fantasy, um), but I always end up feeling I’ve let myself down. But this summer I read War and Peace! And it is GREAT. Now, 1,400 big hardback pages later, I understand the raves. And, too, I FINALLY read Portrait of a Lady and David Copperfield too – both as audiobooks, in fact.

I hope to see some of you later in the autumn – at workshops, or at other events such as Words Away salons.

Meanwhile, back to the garden, where I’ve also been busy this week. Chrysanthemums always welcome the autumn, don’t they?

 

Everyday Magic Workshop, 18 November 2017

On Saturday I led a workshop called Everyday Magic: The Four Elements of Creativity in conjunction with Words Away. It was the first time that I had done this workshop as a day-long event, and I was also particularly excited to teach a Four Elements workshop in London for the first time; a peculiar and unexpected thrill came from teaching something that I am passionate about in the city that I love. Totally in my element! And maybe after all London is finally my home town.

I was very pleased with how the day went. A super bunch of writers came – many of them very experienced and published writers, and all of them passionate and engaged. Through readings and discussion, we freed up our writing by seeking out and activating the four elements of Fire, Water, Earth and Air. Much of the work involves making space for our Observing Minds, giving our Thinking Minds a rest and not worrying about judgment and outcome. I am a big believer in drafting, but the editing comes later. For now: create! Generate writing, and let sparks fly.

We put this into practice with some fun exercises too. The idea of play is important, which might involve some relearning, or unlearning. I especially enjoyed the pass-around stories, which proved how shiny and brilliant writing can be if we create conditions that let ourselves be spontaneous; the collaborative element also makes them good exercises in letting go of attachments.

London Bridge Hive was an excellent space for a class.

We all need our own writer’s shrine, and here was our impromptu one for the day.

We also all need our own Little Mys, or trickster spirit guides. (Though maybe not the sweater vest and scarf next time?! And maybe not clutch the back of that chair quite like Larry Grayson?! Shut that door!)

I produced a little pamphlet of exercises and inspirations …

… as well as some bookmarks. Maybe I’ll become a bookmark publisher.

Among others, that quote from John Keats and another from Zadie Smith came up in our discussion:

It was a long day, but we all kept going, and you know what they say about time flying … Thanks to everyone who came and made this such an enjoyable day.

And special thanks to the wonderful Kellie Jackson of Words Away for helping get this event off the ground. We hope to run this workshop again in the new year, and are thinking about holding some others. Contact Kellie via Words Away to express your interest – and also to take a look at some of the guests at their forthcoming salons. See you there!

(Update: we are running this workshop again on Saturday 21 April 2018 – more information here.)

Everyday Magic: Future Attractions!

Writing is often described as a form of magic – alchemy. Tor Udall spoke about writing in these terms just last weekend at the Festival of Writing. Something gets transformed, spun out of a few ingredients: pictures and sounds we hold in our mind, memories, yearnings, random happenings, pen and paper. The imagination is fed, and creates something. Yes, this really is magic.

Sometimes the imagination needs a spur, though, or to free itself of clutter or anxieties or other forms of self-consciousness, and this is why I have developed Four Elements workshops for writers keen to find fresh approaches in writing. Using Fire, Water, Earth, and Air for a framework of readings, reflections, and writing experiments, they are inspired by many things, such as mindfulness practices, tarot, and my practical understanding of publishing, but mostly they are fed by our love of books and stories and writing.

On Saturday 18 November, I am really excited to be collaborating with Kellie Jackson of Words Away to offer Everyday Magic: The Four Elements of Creativity as a one-day workshop at London Bridge Hive.

Kellie hosts, along with Emma Darwin, the very wonderful Words Away writers’ salons at the Teahouse Theatre in Vauxhall. This series has quickly established itself with engaging guests and a great crowd of regulars. Kellie is a lot of fun to work with, and we are excited about this workshop.

If you are in/near London, do think about coming along. We are hoping to get a good mix of people attending.

You can read some more about the inspirations for this workshop in this interview I did with Kellie.

And you can book a place here.

York Festival of Writing 2014

York2014

Just back from the York Festival of Writing. Well, I came back on Sunday, but I’m still decompressing on Thursday, all afizz with emails and Twitter and words and ideas.

The only thing that I really don’t like about York is the fact that you don’t get chance to spend time with the dozens of wonderful souls you meet. A fleeting hello to Ruby whom I met two years ago and now see daily on Twitter, someone else who told me her sentences had improved, a fantasy writer with a very rich new landscape, a few shy people I’m sorry I had no chance to speak to, lots and lots and lots of new faces and voices and writing. A dirndl, Buzz Lightyear, many dogs, survivors, and heroes. I need Hermione Granger’s time-turner, except I want it for socialising rather than swotting.

I did meet Matt Haig (and very much look forward to reading his forthcoming memoir), and it was fantastic to hear Antonia Hodgson’s keynote speech, full of daydreams and resilience, both of which writers need in abundance (far too many of the former and not enough of the latter, as far as my own writing is concerned, I realise). Antonia’s tale about a prison guard (involving one of her authors, not her …) brought pricks of tears to my eyes.

The best story of the festival though involved the racism directed towards blue vibrators by sex professionals. It’s one of those real-world tales that proves that truth is stranger.

Lots more, but there’s only so much a mind and a blog post can hold. What I can remember of links and the things I failed to squeeze into various workshops are described below.

But before I go: thanks SO much to Writers’ Workshop and all who dwell there. They really care, and given the scale of the event I never fail to be impressed by their organisation and friendliness, and their ability to attract participants who’re both practical and inspiring whether they’re presenting or coming along as delegates. The Writers’ Workshop really is the best at what it does, and it is an honour to be asked to take part in their events. Thank you.

 

TELL ME A STORY: THE ART OF NARRATING: MINI-COURSE

It’s all about the voice, darlings. Take any dull material and wrap a sexy voice around it, and that’s going to be an improvement.

This was a great group that really warmed up (I think I was rambling a bit at the start – sorry). A lot to cover, and I didn’t get through it all, but the room was smart and responded to the readings in meaningful ways, and I also ended up talking some about plotting (not plot), which is a particular passion of mine.

The exercise on voice began with Elaine Kingett’s ‘How To Be A Writer’, which was in turn inspired by Lorrie Moore’s ‘How To Become A Writer’. In another screen, I am penning my own (it might be a bit TMI and ranty, but I might post it once I’m done).

I also used the opening of Zoë Heller’s Notes On A Scandal.

And thank you, peeps, for allowing me to indulge my inner Julie Walters via my outer Alan Bennett. Put another bar on.

And here is the original blog post that was a starting point for this workshop: Tell Me A Story.

 

SHOWING AND TELLING AND STORYTELLING: WORKSHOP

We have to show as well as tell in our writing, but Show Don’t Tell is a myth that needs busting; we need to storytell.

Here is a link to Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Hills Like White Elephants’. In all our discussion of what takes place in the opening (nothing, but lots too), we never got round to mentioning that the story expands into a particular dramatic situation – one that also never gets explicitly discussed within that story. Showing, not telling.

We listened to the start of ‘Brokeback Mountain’, which as far as I am concerned is one of *the* great pieces of fiction, and (note) only takes 10,000 words or so to work its magic. Showing and telling and storytelling.

While we are on the subject, let me share Annie Proulx’s splendidly hatering write-up of the Oscars the year that Crash (a film I really hater too) won Best Motion Picture over Brokeback Mountain. Fantastic example of voice and tone.

 

HISTORICAL FICTION: GENRE PANEL

Emma Darwin, who chaired this panel, is remarkably eloquent and inspiring and brainy, but unlike many other brainy people I know she can translate brainy into words the rest of us understand and relate to. She really has such a wide range of knowledge too.

Some things that came up: it’s still all about the voice. And character. No such thing as rules. Legal matters aren’t always clear-cut but involve degrees of risk. Have you thought of writing nonfiction? And we all love Sarah Waters (my fave is Fingersmith). I also recommended Kate Grenville’s Searching For The Secret River (to read after The Secret River). I perhaps should have made my recommended read Game Of Thrones.

A question I wish I’d myself asked the editor (Sophie Orme) and agent (Jamie Coleman) – who both seem very bright and brainy too, but I’ve just spent less time in their company so can’t gush so much – is perhaps a question that could be posed to other agents and in-house editors, and booksellers too. Fashions come and go within genres and without, and a few things I read as book doctor this year felt very much in the vein of historical blockbusters I read in my youth such as Gone With The Wind or The Far Pavilions or the blockbusters of Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford. And I wondered if my points of reference were old-fashioned? Whither the historical blockbuster? Where or how does that sort of book get placed in the market and with readers now, relative to, e.g., reading group fiction (which, I know, is quite a vague name for a wide-reaching description). I think I need to do a bit more research myself, and maybe I’ll blog on that one day.

Perhaps too that is an answer for writers to find themselves, for sometimes it is in making something new that something successful and exciting is created.

 

THE FOUR ELEMENTS OF CREATIVITY

This is the third time I’ve run a workshop on this topic at York, and this year I actually passed my tarot cards around for the first time. I have fun with this topic, stretching ourselves beyond words and the conscious mind. For it is in reaching towards the ineffable and delving into the unconscious that we make writing not only instinctive as a process but whole as an outcome.

I never got the name of the writer who cleverly identified the characters of The Wind in the Willows with the four elements: Mole as earth, Rat as water, Toad as fire, Badger as air (think I got that right – but correct me if I’m wrong). Yes, we can draw on the four elements for archetypes too.

The piece I used in class to illustrate the use of the elements is ‘The Colonel’ by Carolyn Forché. I did register a few doubts in the room when I said that writing (probably all writing) has a purpose, even a political purpose, relating that to Fire. Entertainment is a purpose, and that can be – perhaps even emphatically is – political (think carnival, think subversive). Is there a piece of writing that isn’t political? If you’re not changing the world with your writing, are you just reinforcing the status quo? ‘Discuss.’ No answers to that one, but exploring that matter in the work can make the writing bold.

Also, we listened to the piece first, without reading the words. For writing is a bodily experience in that way too: it might be invisible, but the spoken word is a material thing (Earth), and generating spoken words is a somatic practice too.

 

BOOK DOCTOR ONE-TO-ONES

A few common things that came up this year:

* I found myself suggesting to several people who were writing fiction that they might try nonfiction for their content, and vice-versa. Oh dear – I hope I’ve not derailed anyone. But usually projects were at early stages, and in that case I assume most anything is available for discussion, and there were reasons to put these ideas out there. But don’t blame the editor! There are any number of complications in this area (legal, ethical, aesthetic), and it’s something you have to tussle with sometimes.

* And you can’t have it all.

* Prose style and voice are often what define literary fiction. It’s all about the voice. It’s all in the telling.

* Less can be more.

* In fiction (and narrative nonfiction), establishing a mood and impression is often more important than explaining things. (Less can be more.)

The books on writing I recommended most are: On Writing, by Stephen King; Steering The Craft, by Ursula Le Guin (which is going for silly prices online in the UK, suddenly – are my recommendations outstripping the supply?! we need a British publisher!); and Sin And Syntax, by Constance Hale.

 

AND

Lots of other things to say and follow up, but they need separate posts. Look out for: integrating feedback (especially when it seems contradictory); agents, and how to address them (however you like?), and whether they need photos (no); different types of editing; when is a poem not a poem; the small press option. Etc., etc., etc.

I’m also thinking of starting a regular/weekly agony uncle/problem page about writing and publishing: watch this space (or the menu above).

Thanks again to the Writers’ Workshop, and it was lovely to spend time with everyone there.

Cheers!
Andrew