28 October, 2012

How did the Writer's Workshop go?

On Friday I promised to tell you more about my trip and the workshop. So, here goes.

The trip
Shinkansen interior. These are the "economy" class seats,
"non reserved". Pretty nice hey? More spacious than an
aeroplane, both between seats and in the aisles.

What I've learned is that I need help! When travelling to a place on public transport that I'm unfamiliar with, the potential of me getting lost, if I'm on my own, is pretty high. Especially if it involves trains and buses and multiple connections. No only do I need to prepare better (look more closely at the maps, lines etc.), I need to allow more time. Especially if I'm the one driving the schedule, I need to be there!

Tokyo to Kyoto is about 500 km. I'm now working on planning the next Writer's Workshop, probably in Sendai, which is a little closer than Kyoto. I'm not sure how I'll get there, probably either by train or car. But I'll be certainly asking for help if I think it's going to get too complicated at the other end.

Shinkansen trains are amazing vehicles. They go too fast for me to happily look out for any length of time. On the way down on Thursday morning I managed to start feeling nauseous (not a surprise, I'm prone to motion sickness). But they really are a comfortable and convenient form of travel, if expensive. The one way trip to Osaka cost about AU$180. And 500 km in five hours is pretty fast travel through very built up areas.

The Workshop

On Thursday at noon, I burst into the conference room, two hours after the schedule that I carried had told participants the workshop began. Trouble was, I was the one in charge. Everyone reassured me that it was okay and we carried in from there, but we did lose time and it meant I hurried through my teaching time faster than I might otherwise have done. But it was the first time I'd taught this material (or anything about writing), so I didn't really gave a clear idea on how long it would take me to get through it all.

After dinner I did a simple writing exercise with them. It included these cool photos! To my surprise it was embraced with enthusiasm and in the end everyone read their work out to everyone else, even though it was largely stream of conscious and unpolished.

At the end of the workshop I asked the participants to give me feedback on the whole workshop. This has been a useful strategy in the past and it proved so again.

I began these workshops with the vision that they would provide a retreat-type setting in which people could have time to write. However we've found that the missionaries who come want more than that. They want input on good writing and interaction with others about their writing. This group suggested more time spent giving each other feedback on each other's work as well as longer time spent on the rewriting of "bad" sentences that I have them during the teaching time. I've been surprised that people have been quite bold in sharing their work. I didn't want to force anyone, but so far no one has refused, people truly want feedback that helps their writing improve. And interestingly, the feedback usually turns into discussions about wider topics that missionaries discuss, like "How do you approach that topic with a non Christian in this country?"

It was encouraging to me that though there was a variety of writing experience in the group, everyone seemed to benefit. Hey, even I benefitted. They gave me helpful feedback in something I'm writing for Japan Harvest.

So the next challenge for me is to pull together another workshop early next year, another regional one. That's been another surprising factor in these workshops — the appreciation we're receiving for doing these workshops in regional centres.

My mindset is of a regional citizen. I grew up in a place that wasn't "the centre of the local universe". Do you know what I mean? The sort of mentality that a large city develops. And I've worked as an isolated professional in a small country town. I know what it is to be far from other resources and when everything important seems to happen in another place, a much larger place. So, my heart is soft towards those who aren't living in Tokyo. They need support too. So, it seems to me that an easily transportable workshop, such as I've developed, should go "to the people" or at least to regional centres.

If only I found travelling, and organising the details for workshops easier . . .


Tim and Susan said...

Glad your workshop went well!! Don't worry, I always get lost too.
Love and blessings!

Deb said...

Maybe you've already covered this in the past, but something I'd love to know more about is why the train system is so complicated over there? Why do trips sometimes involve 8 trains? In the big cities in Australia, even 3 trains swaps would be a LOT! What is it about Japanese cities that requires such complicated systems?