Yesterday I taught an all-day workshop at Hugo House in Seattle. With set-up, lunch, bio-breaks, and post-mortem evaluations, such events run about seven hours, and they are exhausting for everyone, instructor and students alike. The students are concentrating hard, boiling down into their notes the essence of what is said , trying their best on the writing exercises. The instructor is, frankly, both performing (trying to be interesting, even riveting) and teaching (trying to pour whatever she has learned from thirty years of writing and publishing directly into the minds of people just starting both). By the end of the afternoon we all looked limp. I was hoarse. The coffee was gone.
Does any of this help beginning writers? I think it does, or I wouldn't do it. The trouble, as someone once said of advertising, is that I have no idea which parts help which students to what degree. I watch their faces, listen to their questions, try to shape the material to where I think they are. But there are fourteen of them and I'm not a mind reader and who actually knows?
Yesterday's workshop was "Planning Your Novel." We talked about genre, point of view, setting, character development, beginning situation, where to begin the story, plotting, and the commitment and pacing of writing a novel. Maybe it will be of use to some of them. But I will never really know and, in truth, neither will they. Did that author begin her successful novel in that way as a result of something she learned in my class, or would she have done so anyway, or was it because of something she learned elsewhere or of the phases of the moon or what?
These are mysteries. But, then, so is all of writing. So much of it comes not from planning but during the process itself -- unbidden, a gift. From somewhere.