Writing workshop basics (60–75 minutes)

James Roy

It begins with some free writing to loosen up, using picture stimuli. The students speed-write using stimulus phrases focusing on three topics — memory, observation and emotion.

Using examples from my work, I take the students through the five rules of writing well:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Write what you know
  3. Observe (using all senses, including emotion)
  4. Show, don’t tell
  5. Be brave (by starting a story and letting the plan unfold, rather than feeling that you have to exhaustively plan before beginning).

This last one is where my workshops differ from many. My personal style of writing involves setting up a character with a complication, and letting the story unfold. I’ve never been much of a planner, and I think we do our students an enormous injustice by insisting that they must plan before putting pen to paper. Some authors can teach this, but all I can teach is what I do.

I do guide the students through this process, however, talking about characters, and how their complication drives the story. I illustrate this by using a couple of pictures from The Arrival (Shaun Tan) and helping the students write dramatic monologues for a person in crisis.

This is my basic workshop. Sometimes you’ll be asked to do 45 or 50-minute workshops, which isn’t really long enough, in my opinion. This workshop is pretty much the same for senior primary kids as it is for adults, just presented in slightly different and age-appropriate ways.

Of course, workshops can be custom-designed to cover any topic, over different lengths of time. Again, presenters with more experience are better equipped to be flexible in their presentations, but you can’t shortcut that.

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James Roy

Australian writer for young people and creative writing teacher James Roy