5 tips to make the most out of a writing workshop

Writing can be something many prefer to do alone, but for others, being able to share ideas and feedback with fellow playwrights is an important part of creating a play. So today we’re taking a look at how to make the most out of workshops… 

Often trying to create a play just sitting on your own at your desk can leave you either lacking motivating or with a serious case of writers’ block.

Workshops allow you to not only learn the skills a playwright needs, from structure to creating pacey dialogue, but also gives you the chance to flesh out your ideas further by sharing them with others.

Paula David of The Write Network runs The Page to Stage workshops that takes writers through the process of creating a first draft. She told us how, “As a playwright I’m aware of the need to see a new play on its feet during the creative process.”

“The journey to become a writer can be a long and lonely one. Workshops are one way of helping writers on that journey by giving them knowledge, support and a safe place to explore.”

As such a valuable tool for playwrights, it’s important to make the most out of workshops, so here are our top tips:

1- Know where to look

You may be reading this thinking you’d love to go to a workshop, but where do you even find one to go to? Great question! And also great news, as LPB  are running some next month, from lyric writing to writing for TV, and we’d love to see you there.

Other wonderful places to look are: Papatango theatre, Soho Theatre and Arcola Theatre. It’s also always good to check the website of a theatre you love just in case!

You can also find out more about Paula’s Page to Stage workshop mentioned above here. There are also the Raising Our Voices workshops run by Aime Taylor (posted about on here), which are for playwrights from the LGBTQ+ community, and we’ll be chatting to Aime a bit more later in the article…

2- Find the right workshop

Now you know where to find workshops, it’s about choosing the right one for you. A two hour brainstorm has a very different feel than a sustained 10 week course that encourages you to develop a play.

Both are fantastic, but if you come to one expecting the other, you’re bound to be disappointed. Figure out what would be most valuable for you and look for workshops based around that idea.

Time and cost are also important factors when looking at workshops.  Aime of the Raising Our Voices workshops told us how important it was to make her workshops free and accessible.

She said: “I wanted to launch a project that would support writers and makers right from the beginning of their process to getting their work onto a stage or platform. I wanted to create something that was free to come to and flexible for people that have to work day jobs around their making.”

3- Don’t be afraid to speak up!

I’ve definitely felt scared to share my ideas and work before, especially with other writers, because what if it’s just not good enough?

But if you feel like I do, workshops are probably the best place for you to go to. Getting to be in a room of creative people sharing ideas might sound daunting to begin with, but it’s a great environment to gain confidence in. You can learn from other writers, who will also learn something from you!

As Paula says, workshops are “a safe place to explore, make mistakes, share and get feedback.”

It’s easy to be intimidated, but something I always have to remind myself is that there are no stupid questions; workshops are about making you a better writer, so ask all the questions you’ve got!

4- Come brimming with ideas

Some workshops are about helping writers create a first draft. Others can be about learning particular techniques through writing exercises, or just about having writers meet to share ideas.

Whatever the workshop is about, it’s good to have a rummage through that dusty desk drawer beforehand and see what ideas you’ve got hidden away. A lesson on structure could ignite an idea about that short play you wrote years ago, giving it new life.

At the back of my notebook, I have a short sentence scribbled down for every idea I’ve had or piece I’ve written, because I never know when creativity will strike, and which play it will strike for.

Being in a room full of other writers is certainly the place to get those creative juices going, so don’t just take one idea with you.

Aime told us how important it is “to read through your own work before attending and think of  what you may like to focus on during the workshop. Go in with questions, be prepared that they may not all be answered, but it’s good to have some ready. Take a notebook and pen, make notes, jot things down.”

5- Know it doesn’t end at the workshop

When workshops end, it feels a bit like the end of school, a sort of bitter sweetness as you say goodbye. But the benefits of attending a workshop don’t just end when the sessions end.

“I have attended quite a few workshops myself and they have all been inspiring and informative in their own way. I have gained confidence, writing buddies and a valuable skill set from attending,” Paula said.

The community of writers you’ve become a part of is an incredible resource, and just like Paula found, you’ve now got writing buddies you can continue to share ideas with and can even work on projects together. Don’t be afraid at the end of the sessions to suggest you continue to meet up.

Can workshops help me get into the theatre industry?

In providing writers with confidence, feedback and a community, workshops can be really helpful for aspiring playwrights.

For Paula, they were incredibly important: “I had my first short play read at the end of a series of workshops in Brockley a few years ago. It gave me the confidence to keep writing. I have had my plays performed at Stratford Circus and Rose and Crown pub theatre. Over the past four years I have written and produced three of my own plays.”

And it’s because workshops helped her so much that she created Page to Stage, with Paula telling us, “Workshops have worked for me and I would like to help others on their way.”

Though Aime noted that there can be costs and other barriers that prevent playwrights from attending workshops, she had a similarly positive view.

“They are great opportunities to meet and make friends with people, and build connections that may lead to future collaborations.  I’m a great believer in talking about your work with people, and making them aware of what you’re doing.  In my experience it’s these conversations that can lead to things happening.

I also think you always learn something new at a workshop – sometimes they’ll blow your mind for the entire duration, sometimes you’ll walk away with a new perspective on something, or perhaps a new way in to start writing, but they will always change something and hopefully inspire you to head home and write more!”

But it’s important to remember that workshops are about improving your skills as a writer, gaining contacts and receiving support – all vital things, but not a guaranteed way of getting into the theatre industry.

Don’t be discouraged if you’re finding it difficult to get that foot in the door, you’ve just got to keep getting to know people and improving your writing, and slowly but surely things will start to happen.

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