Writing Workshops - online or offline? Bronwen Griffiths

For many years I’ve been a member of various writing groups. Most of these have involved meeting in person and then sharing work and feeding back via e-mail. Since the pandemic everything has gone on-line – for me that’s my local writing group and poetry group - and I’ve also joined a new online group where we read and feedback on work in progress. I’ve also ‘attended’ a couple of Arvon Masterclasses and ‘Novelnights.’

There are many advantages to online Zoom sessions. The cost of these sessions is usually affordable and there is no travelling - which involves both cost and time. Online sessions are also more accessible for those who are rarely, or never, able to travel. ‘Novelnights’ runs in Bristol, which is many miles from my home and would certainly not be practical for me.

But I’ll be honest – I don’t really like Zoom. For one thing I find my own face distracts me and I really don’t want to look at it when I’m speaking - and more importantly I miss in-person human contact and interaction. There is nothing like the buzz that happens in a room when everyone is writing and pens are moving across the page. The poetry workshop I attend used to take place at Rye Harbour. I can still visit Rye Harbour by myself and I’m lucky to have a lovely garden, as well as gardens nearby to visit and (at the time of writing) a nearby woodland heavenly with bluebells. But there’s nothing like being at Rye Harbour with my fellow writers and the poetry tutor Jane Lovell.  And there can be no online substitute for the Avocet Gallery’s home-made cakes.

I find being at home can be distracting. I’m worried the phone will ring or someone will come to the door with a parcel or my partner will forget I’m on a Zoom call and start asking me questions. Of course there are distractions when we are in a room together but somehow those don’t bother me as much as distractions at home. I’m also bored stupid with the same curtains, same view, same desk and same wonky, annoying desk light!

I can’t wait to get back to being in face-to-to-face writing workshops, or even sitting alone in a coffee shop writing and taking in the vibes. However, it’s important for tutors and institutions to ensure accessibility for all and that will mean continuing to run workshops online. It doesn’t have to be either/or. Hopefully we can have both.

Bronwen Griffiths is the author of published two novels and two collections of flash fiction. At the moment she has absolutely no idea what she is doing or indeed what she might be writing about although she may be travelling up to Northumberland soon. 






Peter Leyland said…
Yes Bronwen, I have now had enough of online Zoom sessions in my job and I think I much prefer the real Arvon courses to online versions. I have now got four face-to-face poetry sessions for June and have a huge box of masks, sanitisers, thermometers and so on. The interaction will be fantastic, if people turn up!
Umberto Tosi said…
I feel the same way. Zoom will do when other options are not available. But for me it's the experience, not the audio video. Enjoy.
I have avoided Zoom, because for me face-to-face meetings with other writers are essential. Not only for career development and networking (at a formal conference or course), but also for our general creativity and mental health - often simply a cup of coffee and a heart-to-heart chat in a cafe with someone who understands the peculiarities of our work is enough.

In fact, having not done any of this stuff for more than a year now, I find I am barely functioning as an author. So hopefully it will be possible for us all to meet up again soon - and (sorry, Peter) I mean properly, WITHOUT masks, hand-sanitising, social distancing, or anything else that is likely to raise the spectre of the pandemic. Because at times of rejection in what seems to be a dying arts scene, I think we'll all need a hug and a shoulder to cry on.
Debbie Bennett said…
I haven't been to my local writing group in over a year. They're doing Zoom meetings - and twice a month now instead of once - but I just can't get on with online meetings. I do enough online meetings in the day job and don't want to do them for 'fun'. Plus I no longer have my own study at home, so I'd have to go off into a bedroom or I'd be disturbing others and then if it went on late and Andy wanted an early night, I'd have to relocate ... and the hassle just outweighs the pleasure for me.
Wendy H. Jones said…
I agree, Zoom is great but nothing beets face to face conferences.

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