Friday, 9 December 2016

Gerard Beirne workshops on writing process at Carn Lodge, Ramelton, Co. Donegal

This is my first blog post in what seems like a very long time. I'd stopped blogging and writing fiction so that I could concentrate on finishing a doctorate. I can still scarcely believe that I’m through on the other side of that; needless to say, I’m both relieved and grateful to have completed it. My project was about the teaching of writing in higher education academic writing centres. I combined both my professional and personal interests in writing to sustain me through the process.   

With that in mind, I was really pleased to participate in a series of creative writing workshops with Gerard Beirne just days after finishing my dissertation. They were in Carn Lodge, Ramelton, Co. Donegal and were organised by Denise Blake and Maureen Curran. Little did I realise the connections I’d make with Gerard’s suggestions around writing fiction, and particularly with his concentration on writing process. 

Ideas around writing process play a large part in how many academic writing centres teach academic writing to student writers in different disciplines. Gerard Beirne's workshops reminded me of how the process of writing is similar across  many different forms of writing genre and style - including both academic and creative writing. The process approach is based on the premise that professional writers use processes that involve various forms of drafting and re-drafting. In other words, good writing is not penned, or typed, in one mighty draft from the mind of a genius writer; rather, good writing comes from time spent on drafting and re-drafting - from a first attempt through to a series of re-writing tasks.

Gerard explained, over three sessions (on poetry, fiction and publishing), that each drafting should be focused on predetermined tasks designed to improve the writing.  He then outlined some exercises that aid drafting. In the fiction session, he recommended (among other things): interrogating our choice of point of view, including consistency; and also, analysing fiction into constituent scenes to question their purpose and effectiveness. Instead of getting us to practise our writing, he asked us to think through our writing process. He then challenged us to reflect on how effectively we have been re-drafting our work. Do we practise good writing strategies, or do we simply repeat poor practices?  Do we have a rationale for what we re-draft, and do we work effectively at our drafts? The sessions I attended were on fiction and publishing, and they were enlightening, enjoyable and informative.     

What I particularly liked about Gerard’s philosophy was an idea that I share i.e. writing skills can be taught. We may all start at different levels, and we may each reach different levels, or destinations, but we can all practise and improve our writing skills. What that means in terms of writing success probably depends on what we value as success. More importantly, there are conventions, guidelines, processes and ideas, that if shared, and practised, can help to improve our chances of becoming successful writers (whatever that means to us).

I would highly recommend both Gerard  Beirne's approach and his workshops.

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