Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Writer's Workshop

Drawn by Pyon_Pattebayo

Judith Allnatt, author of A Mile Of River and The Poet’s Wife, visited Nottingham Writers’ Club to host a workshop. I'd read and loved her books, so I was looking forward to her visit.

After introductions, Judith started the session with an ideas generator. She suggested writing a list of different characters, locations and objects. By choosing one of these at random from each list, a basis for an idea will appear. Another suggestion was to pick an arbitrary word from the dictionary. Just open the dictionary and point!

As a warm up for the grey matter, Judith suggested describing someone you know in terms of a piece of music, a colour or an animal.
The group moved on to flow writing. We wrote for ten minutes without stopping to think. We scribbled down anything that came into our head without crossing out or editing. Quite a feat, even for ten minutes! After the allotted time, we read over our paragraphs and underlined ideas, phrases and words which we found interesting and could use in the future.

Next we concentrated on mind-mapping and clustering. We chose a word which we wrote in the middle of the page. Using lines (like a child’s drawing of the sun) we wrote words which were connected in some way. For example we chose the word, tower. From that word we mapped over thirty more, including vantage point, Pisa, inferno, suicide, vertigo, sniper, injury, hair. Mind mapping helps the writer to dig deeper and find a new view point.

Judith explained that a writer needs to have a two-sided approach to their work. They need to be spontaneous and creative, but also be a ruthless analyst and editor. The pitfalls are that the writer can become too flippant or censor too harshly. There is a fine balancing act we writers must find.

For our next writing challenge, we all chose a post card from a selection which Judith had brought with her. We had to study it and make notes on what struck us about the picture. The mood, the atmosphere, the colour and textures. We imagined what sounds were present and what was unfolding beyond the boundaries of our picture. Moving on, we conjured up ideas of what had happened before and after the event we were looking at. This exercise was extremely helpful in developing a story with depth and vision.

I find workshops invaluable for picking up new ideas from established writers. I also find it heart-warming that published authors are happy to selflessly share their knowledge with new writers.

I'd love to hear from any writers, publishers or agents who'd like to visit us at Nottingham Writers' Club to talk about their expertise and work lives. We're always delighted to welcome new speakers and learn from their experiences.


  1. That sounds such a valuable workshop, Ange - I've used postcards with a group of disabled people when doing a workshop with them. They had to choose one of the pictures to inspire them to write a poem - and they did! We're going to do a similar thing at our own writing group this session. Anything to get the creativity flowing!

  2. This sounds wonderful Ange - what a great group you have going. Like you I think there is so much to be gained from workshops and I find it's the same when you run them too - you always find new inspiration. If you want a writer to come and talk about editing and publishing your book on Kindle - I am that woman! Nearly there - cover designed now copy edit finished just changes to enter - very excited

  3. Hi Rosemary. It was an excellent workshop. I especially like the idea of writing non-stop for a time as I am a devil at being distracted!
    Good luck with your writing group's session. xx

    Hi Avril. That's wonderful news. You've worked so hard and you deserve every success. I will email you regarding your very kind offer! xx

  4. I love workshops, the ideas flow once the creative side comes alive. They are a great place for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Trying new ways of working is often invigorating too.

    You also meet lots of other writers,many of which are happy to share tips and tricks.


  5. Hi Maria

    You also meet new friends! We first met at a workshop and now we've met for coffee twice. Let's hope the rain stays away next time!

    Ange xx