Don’t Become A Workshop Slut

workshop1Years ago, I was in New York taking a writing course. It had me inspired and excited so much so that when I found out that I could register for another workshop at the same school, I shared the news with my instructor.  I told her that I was originally planning to go on a trip to Argentina, but I wanted to stay committed to my writing and to learning so could put off the trip to another time.

She looked at me for a moment and didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then she said one of the best pieces of advice she received from a former writing teacher herself was, “Don’t become a workshop slut.”

According to her, she learned that a workshop slut is someone who continues to take workshops and classes in writing or whatever field they are passionate about, but they never actually sit down and give themselves the space and time to … just… well, write!

She reminded me that in order to write, you have to experience life. And in order to experience life, it is important to travel, and meet different people, and put yourself out there to be open to roads that you didn’t even know you were meant to go on. THIS is what gives you the juicy material to make your writing come alive for your reader. They want to feel your life experience in your words, so that they can connect to it for their own lives.

workshop5.jpgBut how are you going to create this connection when most of your time is spent in classrooms and workshops that can never replace real life?

Go to Argentina, she told me. Engross yourself in the sights and sounds and smells of Buenos Aires and its people. You won’t be able to help but to paint pictures of you experiences in words on the page, because you will want to capture it and share it with others.  She understood the power of words, but also the power of living, of being right there in the middle of it. She knew how the writing just comes when you experience something that profound or intense or exhilarating.

She also seemed to know, I think, how at a certain point, we have to make the learning our own. Whether we are writing, dancing, singing, or creating of any kind, we have to allow ourselves the space to make our own mistakes, to feel it in our own bodies, to go through the cracks in our own voices and find ways to correct this. To practise without our instructor or a class or a workshop so that what we have and haven’t actually learned becomes clear. And we know which questions to ask and what needs work.

workshops8Our teachers won’t be there forever. Yes, their words, their influence, their encouragement can be.  But we are the only ones who are with ourselves every moment of the day. So my take on what I learned from this instructor’s words was to not make classes and workshops and other teachers our crutch. Instead, learn to stand up on our own two feet, even if we have to fall several times to get there.  Learning from others is important. It can set up a strong foundation and also be a good source for continued development and inspiration.

But relying on this too much can be detrimental.

Instead, spend time in a music or dance studio practising one or two or three steps that you learned from a class or workshop.  Work out what it feels like to dance or sing or play that instrument without your teacher around.  Turn away from the mirror and just go into yourself to feel what your teacher really meant when he said, “Use the floor,” or “move from your core,” or “expand your body from your head all the way to your toes.”

What does that really mean and feel like for you?

You can go to classes to learn. Learning is important. But it is when you ingrain the learning in you through trial and error, when you become your own teacher and student, that the learning sticks for the long term. It is at that point that you no longer need to take another workshop as if that is the only means for you to progress. You just do it to get a fresh perspective and meet other people passionate about the same subjects. Perhaps to keep you accountable.  But not out of desperation that that is your only solution.

workshop6

The real learning and progression to the next levels come when you explore on your own and trust your ability to grow from habit, practise and just living it.

When I look back on the things that I have really learned, it’s because I put time into figuring them out and breaking them down on my own, after being introduced to them in a class.  When I get stuck and don’t feel improvement, it’s usually from not taking this time to work things out independently.

dance studio

Pick one thing you feel frustrated about not improving on. If you are taking classes in it, take one lesson from the class and break it down into small steps or blocks. Put aside some time to work on just one of those series of steps. I bet you that what you learn from the time and energy spent in piecing those parts together, into your own body and muscle memory, will surpass the learning that you thought you could only receive from your teacher in your class. Go be your own teacher!

 

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