Friday, 12 September 2008

Writing as inquiry: an experiential workshop

The last session I got to at BAM was on writing, run by Daniel Doherty. It was called an experiential workshop, which seems a bit of a tautology to me, as I assume that workshops will involve gaining a bit of experience - hence the work bit of workshop. He started by quoting
"How can I know what I think until I read what I write"
or something like that, perhaps from Richardson. I understand this and that's why I need to talk to people about my research because otherwise I don't know what I'm thinking. I don't know what I'm thinking until I hear what I say.

Then he gave us a 10-minute free writing exercise with a starter of
"My writing garden of Eden is when ..."
Free writing is when you just write, and keep writing for a predetermined time, disregarding spelling, grammar, punctuation and legibility. You write, even if you get stuck and have to write, "I'm stuck, stuck, stuck and don't know what to write, and why is everyone else writing so much and I'm just dribbling on and on and on".

After ten minutes, we stopped and discussed. I've never read my writing out to people before and no one else in there had done free writing before. I think the exercise surprised some of us. Some were initially shy, but eventually more of us volunteered to read our work. It revealed an insecurity that seemed surprising for such competent academics. They described earlier experiences of literature and teacher expectations. One said that at school she'd been reading a novel, when a teacher told her:
"You won't need novels where you're going!"
Another, going through some difficult times at home was reading "Grapes of Wrath" and realised that it spoke to him, despite being decades earlier in the 1930s, resounded with his experiences of mines closing and unemployment in his town in the 1980s.

We had a few minutes for another exercise, starting from
"As I write my physical/emotional responses..."
I found this harder, perhaps because I couldn't visualise in the same way as with the first starter, but also when we read back, I discovered that people responded better depending on their styles. One wrote how the feel of the pencil and its sound going over the paper mattered. And that initiated some discussion on preferences for hand writing or typing at the computer. There's advice here on using the computer for free writing.

Dan gave us what he promised - an experiential workshop.

Perhaps readers of this blog could try their own 10 minute responses to these two prompts. I'll put mine up another day.

(Laurel Richardson and Elizabeth St. Pierre). 2005. Pp. 959-978 in Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln (eds.) Handbook of Qualitative Research (Third Edition).
Also see Richardson's book here.

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