by Rana Asfour
'The Abu Dhabi Writers' Workshop' marked its one-year anniversary last week with cake and huge cheers during its weekly evening meet-up in Labrioche Cafe, Khalifa City in Abu Dhabi.
The free workshop, which meets weekly, is the brainchild of London-born writer and accredited writing coach Janet Olearski, and has in its first year alone amassed a following of over 700 members online. For the past year, the workshop has not only come to represent a source of creative inspiration for BookFabulous, but on a personal level it has turned out to be a place for blossoming friendships and a learning curve with regards to different cultures as people of different nationalities join up because of a shared passion for the written word.
I look back with fondness at my first evening at the workshop. I probably spent more time in the café’s parking lot than I did at the actual workshop deliberating in my car for a good 30 minutes whether it was for someone like me; someone who had for the past twenty years done most of her writing within the solitary comforting confines of a tucked away desk, earplugs in place, oblivious to the outside world. How on earth would I be able to produce anything imaginative and creative amidst a room full of strangers? Why was I doing this I asked myself? What was I hoping to gain?
I did, after 30 minutes, make it out of the car. All that remained was to walk up the few steps that led into the place, ask for Janet’s table and proceed with the formality of introducing myself. However, I still couldn’t get myself to do it and lingered for a few minutes more by the entrance to give this further thought. It was crazy. I was a writer, with years of writing under my belt. What was I so afraid of?
Here’s the thing: When it comes to blogging as much as there appears to be a lot of accessible public writing going on, it nonetheless is an out of sight, concealed act. In general, you post a blog entry. You wait – indefinitely - for comments. If and when they come, the good with the bad, you are pleased. When one or two comments are more scathing than usual, it hurts but not that much. End of the day there is a kind of detachment from the authors of the comments. They are anonymous entities born of the digital world, floating in a vast invisible and remote space inside the computer.
But joining a workshop is not only putting you face-to-face with other writers but it also means you’ll be expected to deal with face-to-face criticism as well. I’d been a book reviewer for a few years now, how ready was I to expose my ‘imperfections’ and be at the receiving end of the critique?
I now truly believe that at some point in this internal discourse, a heightened awareness of the drama with which I was approaching the situation kicked in proving to be the deciding factor. What better place, I argued with myself, than a creative writers’ workshop as an outlet for my never-ending internal dialogues such as the one taking place at that moment? With that thought I pushed open the café doors and the rest as they say is history.
Nearly a year later, I am still there. Many of the members who started out have now been published (see Here & Here & Here) or are in the process of publishing their work. My writing has gone from strength to strength and I’ve managed to finish a few short stories, in large thanks to Janet’s insightful mentoring as well as the constructive feedback, encouragement and support of the workshop members. Being part of this group has helped me learn so much about myself as well as about my writing.
Although the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop is a casual social meet-up of writers, it is also, all about seriousness when it comes to the craft of creative writing. The meet-ups centre around fiction writing, are well organised and follow a pre-planned format (devised by organiser Janet) so that it is clear from the start how the evening is going to proceed. The feedback is constructive, not harsh, aimed first and foremost at drawing the best out of the participants. The workshop is proving a great opportunity for networking and learning about the nuances of the publishing industry as well as a great place to pick up reading recommendations (see below), find out about writing resources as well as book festivals and competitions.
So, if you’re thinking of joining a writers’ group my advice is this: Go for it! Because no matter how natural writing may feel to you and no matter how good you think you are at it, there is always room for improvement. A workshop can help you get the most out of a natural talent by opening up your mind to new and varied tips and techniques through interacting with a built-in community of people who, like you, love writing and are eager to improve their craft as well as offer you advice on yours.
They do say that writing is a solitary act, but who wouldn’t want to spend the time hanging out with creative buddies too?
‘You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will’
― Stephen King, ‘On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft’
In a writing group already? Let BookFabulous know all about it by posting in the comments section!