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Monday, 29 April 2013

A Taste Of My Own Medicine

I recently led my first ever workshop for adults. The focus of the workshop was on writing and performing for children, and I led the participants through some of the writing exercises I do in the classroom (you can see some of them here). The purpose of this was both to explore some possible techniques for producing writing for children, and to access the child-like element within oneself.

Only two people showed up. This could have been extremely awkward, but (for me at least) it wasn't. What it meant was that the session was extremely informal, and had the feeling of a friendly, albeit focused, chat. It also meant that, for the writing exercises, I assumed the role of additional participant as well as workshop leader. In other words, this was one of the incredibly rare occasions where I completed some of the exercises I am so used to setting in class. I got a taste of my own medicine.

What I discovered was that I found the exercises really difficult. I was thus struck with a renewed admiration for the children who not only complete these exercises, but do so with imagination and aplomb. Now it may be that the exercises are easier for children than for adults; some of them are pretty silly and require fairly wild flights of fancy, which in turn requires a kind of child-like lack of inhibition. It is for this reason that I think they can be of value in an adult workshop where the focus is on accessing this side of oneself. But there can be no doubt that plenty of children do find my writing exercises tough, and running/participating in the workshop enabled me, I think, to discover one of the reasons why: I felt under pressure. I felt that, because I was setting the exercise, it was incumbent upon me to produce quality work. I also felt that, because I am a 'poet' and thus an ostensibly 'able writer', I should produce top-notch work. I felt, in other words, a kind of performance anxiety. Not that it was any sort of competition, but the other two workshop participants produced far superior work to mine. (And not that this 'anxiety' was too serious - I still had fun!)

This alerted me to two things that up until that point I don't think I had appreciated fully: firstly, confidence is by no means commensurate with ability; and secondly, there is an extent to which it may even be inversely proportional to it. People who are thought to be 'able' in a given field may well find this very fact detrimental to their confidence; they may well feel under pressure to live up to (either internal or external) expectations. This was certainly the way I felt when undertaking the exercise I had set myself, and that was only a fun workshop session. I can only imagine (and attempt to remember) how much tougher it must be in the classroom.

The experience of running this intimate (exclusive!) workshop for adults will hopefully enable me better to empathise with the poor creatures who take part in my workshops...

(PS one of the participants in the workshop was Fay Roberts, a Cambridge-based poet who is currently attempting to write thirty poems in one month. She has put forward one of her workshop pieces as part of this task. It is great. Please read it here.)