Sunday, January 19, 2014

Calling All Creative Writers: Get Inspired at Gotham Writers' Workshops.

If you have any interest in writing and you live in or have visited New York City during the past 20 years, odds are you have seen a flyer, advertisement, or course catalogue for “Gotham Writers’ Workshop,” a private creative writing school operating in New York City since 1993.

I recently dropped in for a Friday night “Write-In” session at Gotham Writers’ headquarters in midtown Manhattan. Every Friday night from 6:30-8:30pm, Gotham Writers’ offers a creative writing, brainstorming and socializing session at 555 8th Avenue, between 37th & 38th Streets. There is also a recurring Saturday afternoon “Write-In” at TwoMoon CafĂ© in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Friday Night "Write-In" Class at Gotham Writers' Workshop
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my Write-In as I entered a small classroom alone with my notebook around 6:15pm. Several writers were already there, socializing and bonding over mutual interests, or rendezvousing with acquaintances they had clearly made from attending past Gotham Writers’ courses. A few others sat nervously playing with their cell phones or perusing Gotham’s Winter 2014 Program Schedule, not yet ready to make eye contact. Finally, as 6:30pm drew nearer, our instructor, Alexis, began the introductions. About half of the writers in a room of approximately fifteen had participated in a Write-In before, while the rest of us were first-timers. A second class of approximately the same size was also working nearby. As I found out later, at least one person was "on holiday," and had found the Write-In by searching on-line for drop-in writing courses. 

After our introductions, Alexis explained how the Write-In was structured. She would provide us with a writing prompt, a word or phrase we could use for writing inspiration, though we were free to not use the prompt. We would have fifteen minutes to write about anything we wished, and then we would have the opportunity to share and discuss. There were two main rules: consider that anything you hear from another writer is fiction, and provide only positive feedback to encourage maximum creativity. The stop and go writing format was like a great brainteaser, or mental exercise, and there was a welcome twenty minute wine and snack break in between the writing sessions, included in the cost of the Write-In.

The first writing prompt we received was “freeze”. I took this literally, and within fifteen minutes had written two short poems about feeling “frozen,” metaphorically of course. At the time, writing quickly, I was sure that my poems were unfinished and unpolished, and required more work. However, the comments I received at the workshop helped me to realize that both of my vignettes generated full and interesting images for a reader or listener, and did not need anything more. Our second session prompt was "held breathe," a phrase that I also took somewhat literally, as I embarked on a short story about an experience two pre-teens have by a pool, while challenging each other to hold their breathe underwater. I hadn't written creative prose in years, yet, surrounded by fiction writers, I felt  inspired to do so. I did not finish my story in the allotted fifteen minutes, but I did finish it that evening when I returned home. 

There was enough time for each person to share once, and as we shared what we had written, it became clear that no two people had interpreted the prompts in the same way. For example, stories from the "freeze" prompt included a humorous dating anecdote, a poignant Holocaust tale, and a sweet short story about a child contemplating misbehaving during Christmas, but fearing that her mother would alert Santa. In just a short time, some of the writers created very complex characters, and while much of the works written that evening could stand alone, several could have been a springboard for longer compositions. 

The instructor herself was very helpful in encouraging us to share and discuss our work, and she provided helpful feedback to each person who chose to read aloud. In a room full of strangers judging me, I felt surprisingly at ease, and I appreciated that others the room were not shy to share what they had written. Every person contributed to the discussions at least once, even if just to give a comment or praise. Having others compliment my writing style, pick out certain words or phrases that created an emotion for them, or tell me how they related to my work was very satisfying. I was especially taken aback when an unexpected revelation in the last line of one of my poems caused everyone in the room to gasp.

If you have writer's block and need a little push, if you want to exercise your brain (and your pen/computer/tablet), or if you just want to meet other writers, the Write-In is a fun, productive experience. You can register in advance or just drop-in (cash only at door). It's $20 for one session or $45 for a three session pass, payable at the door. Interested in a longer writing endeavor? Gotham Writers' Workshop offers a wide range of writing courses as well as on-line classes. For a limited time, enter code "SAVE20" to save $20 on a writing class package.

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