Sometimes people ask me what to look for in a creative writing class, so I thought make a list of some of the most important qualities to look for and why.
1) attention to process/emotional support and attention to product/ craft
2) supportive community
3) good readers, and different kinds of readers in the class
4) small class size for individualized attention
5) flexible assignments, so that you can try new things and but also follow your own process and projects
6) carefully selected outside reading so that you can be inspired by and learn from works of other writers, develop your analytical abilities and broaden your vocabulary for thinking and talking about written work
7) ability to experiment, try different genres and forms, and make mistakes
8) freedom to ask for the kinds of feedback you want and not always have to follow the same format—maybe one day you want line by line edits and another day you don’t
9) time to generate writing in class in community—some people love this, some don’t but it’s always fun to get outside of your comfort zone and try something new and surprise yourself with what you can produce in a short amount of time in class
10) fun—after all, a writing class should be something that you look forward to going to each week!
I believe strongly that it is possible to find a class that provides both a truly supportive and encouraging atmosphere for writers at every level and at the same time teaches and supports the craft of writing and has a high standard for the writing and product itself.
In many writing circles, people tend to think of process and product as antithetical, and to assume that if a class is emotionally supportive it won’t also have a strong analytical and craft component.
We tend to think in terms of either/or instead of both/and. But that kind of thinking severely limits us. We get caught in old cultural dichotomies, dividing the head from the heart, the intellect from emotions, the mind from the body.
We also tend to think in strangely hierarchical and misogynist terms. Almost whenever people start making false divisions between the head and the heart, the assumption is that the head is superior and that the realm of the heart, emotions or “sentiment” is less serious and the space of “women.” Or conversely, we think that doing intellectual work prevents us from doing deep emotional work.
So it’s time to bring light to those silly biases and move beyond them!
I believe that a good writing class assumes that the emotional support is part of the analytical and craft support that is offered; after all, we’re only able to do our best work on the page, if we can listen deeply to ourselves and trust our own process.And we’re able to listen more deeply to ourselves and grow more if we also attend closely to what is happening on the page. Bringing the head and the heart together in the creative process creates a generative feedback loop in which we grow into our own authentic voice, understanding and vision.
In my classes, everything is designed to help people get to this integration of process and form.The supportive community; small class size; freedom to experiment with assignments and with form; encouragement to try new things and risk making mistakes; ability to ask for and receive different kinds of feedback, depending on the project and day; the carefully selected outside reading assignments and careful analysis of those outside texts that encourage you to expand your own limits; the generative in-class exercises and the fun we have together in class —all support you to create your very best, most daring, most honest and powerful work. These conditions encourage both emotional depth and technical brilliance.
Unlike other writing classes, my workshops are open to people writing both poetry and/or prose. And they are also open to writers with a very wide range of writing experience, from complete beginners to published and professional writers.
I find that mixing up the class leads to more exciting results for the students: rather than keep people caught in rigid categories, it allows writers to think more expansively of their work, to be explicit and honest about why they are writing, and who their readers are—and aren’t.
I have had students who have started as complete beginners in my class and gone on to publish books; I have had students who are very clear that they never intend to publish anything but are writing for their own enjoyment and growth; I have had students working on finding the shape of their first book; students finishing their third books; and students who, having recently finished a book want the freedom to play and explore again without needing to worry about publication.
Most students are writing either poetry and/or creative prose (memoir and personal essays) but the classes are also open to students working in long or short fiction.
If you’re in the Boston area and are interested in joining one of my classes, I have just a few more spaces left in each and would love to hear from you. Classes will start September 17thin my home in North Cambridge and each run for ten Mondays (excluding holidays). My morning class starts 10:00 and my afternoon class at 12:30. You can see more about the classes here.
Because the classes are small (capped at 9 people each), I like to talk to each person briefly before they join, so just reach out and contact me by replying to this email!
If you live elsewhere or if the Monday classes don’t fit your schedule, you might be interested in my online class. I also encourage you to look for other in-person classes and to ask questions before joining a class. Joining an unsupportive writing class, or a lax writing class that doesn’t take writing seriously, can set you back in your own life as a writer for years. I’ve had students join my class after having stopped writing literally for years because of a bad writing workshop experience. So before you join a class, look at this list of questions and talk to the teacher and see if it will be a good fit.
Sometimes I used to think that bringing yoga and writing together would water down both the yoga and the writing, but that was because I was still operating in a traditional mindset that wanted to keep mind and body separate.
Now I can’t quite get back into that old mindset, but I can tell you that when we bring our mind and body together, we are able to tap into our full power and authority with ease—we’re no longer just standing on one foot trying to balance or trying to sing while wearing a girdle. We get to access our full self.
Many of us know the benefits of yoga—it helps us get comfortable in our bodies.
We do this not only by stretching and building strength and alignment and re-invigorating our energy flow, but also by bringing our mind to our body. In mindfully attending to our body, we are able to break out of old patterns, heal on much deeper levels, and access new levels of energy.
Many of us also know the benefits of writing: we get to communicate our full thoughts, access our creativity and express our voice.Writing can help change our inner lives and also change our outer worlds.
And yet, many of us don’t think of the benefits of bringing yoga and writing together. In fact, usually yoga and writing are in two separate parts of our life and world, and we’re often given diametrically opposed messages in those two arenas:
In yoga class, we’re told to drop out thoughts, to let them go.
In writing class, we’re told to hold onto those thoughts, to follow them to their farthest point, to make them explicit.
In yoga class, we’re taught to let go of the mind.
In writing class, the space of the body often not only doesn’t have a place, but is subtly looked down upon.
This is an old dichotomy: the life of the body vs the life of the mind. We’re encouraged to keep them separate. This goes back to the Greeks and was codified by Descartes, who believed that the human life was defined by its thinking capacities alone.
Today more and more people are talking about the mind-body connection, but have you noticed how few spaces actually give time and attention to both?
We go to one class for one and to another for the other.
But what happens when we consciously bring you mind and your body into conversation?
All kinds of exciting things happen:
1) When you allow your mind and body to be in dialogue, you open yourself up to your deeper truths. Very often, our bodies know more than our minds. When we invite this dialogue, this deep listening within ourselves, we are able safely to listen to our own wisdom, insights and experiences. This deep listening might be challenging at first, but it ultimately allows for much greater freedom, growth and creativity.
2) When you allow your mind and body to be in dialogue, you can drop old, repetitive stories and instead access your full, authentic story. When our mind and body are disconnected, we can get caught in old, negative, repetitive stories. When we bring mind and body together, we have the power to look at our full story with greater ease and compassion. We come back to the organic life force and notice that our stories are vital, not static, and always open to change and growth .
3) When you allow your mind and body to be in dialogue, you can tap into greater energy. When our mind and body are not in comfortable connection with one another, we lose a lot of energy operating two different systems and trying to keep them separate, protecting one against the other. By contrast, when we bring our mind and body together, we become much more energetic. We can tap at once into both our ease and our power because we’re working in alignment with ourselves.
When we bring yoga and writing together, we change both our inner story, and when we do that, we change the outer story, too.
Read more about yoga and writing and mind-body integration
As I said, I hope you'll see for yourself. Join me on July 28th! The event is open to everyone, with any level of writing and/or yoga experience. See more below.
Here’s a description of the event:
Embrace and Let Go: Yoga and Your Story with Nadia Colburn
Samara Yoga, David Square, July 28 2:00-4:30pm
Yoga classes often tell us to drop our story, but we can only successfully drop the parts of our story that are not serving us if we first learn to listen to ourselves. We can use yoga class to tune into what is happening in our bodies and the messages that are coming up so that we can listen more attentively, release emotional and physical blocks, clear out what is no longer needed, and find new pathways and stories for healing and growth.
The workshop will incorporate hatha and kundalini yoga, slow and faster movements, core strengthening exercises, meditation, writing prompts and deep relaxation.
Studies have shown the positive health benefits of writing from emotional experiences; writing helps clear emotional blocks and has been proven to improve the immune system and reduce visits to the doctor; these benefits are amplified when we allow the mind and body to enter into dialogue and learn from one another.
Come ready to move, sweat, laugh, maybe cry, meditate, relax deeply, listen to poetry and write from carefully selected journal prompts.
Designed for writers and non-writers alike and for yogis of all levels, the workshop will offer nourishing practices and practical tools that you can take home with you. Register online.
Please share this with any friends who might be interested!
As Gabriel texts back images from Patagonia (they’re amazing!), I’ve been thinking about some of the places I’ve visited and how big and wide and multiple the world is and also at the beauty of connections over vast distances.
This brings me back to one of my perennial questions/ objects of wonder: our capacity to embrace all of it.
Yet again our news is full of suffering. And there is also so much beauty and love.
I have written about how to hold this multiplicity on my blog in the past and today I want to share a longer essay, Poetry, Pain and Wholeness, that was just published in the new issue of Anchor Magazine (that I also am very proud to edit)!
I loved writing this essay. In it I talk about writing a poem; being pregnant in Greece with Simone when Gabriel was 4; the 7.0 ma Earthquake in Haiti; the intersection of social justice and spirituality; healing trauma; the power of revising our writing; time; and multiplicity itself.
I know that sounds like a lot. It is. But I promise the essay isn’t too long… one of the things I love about writing is it can take us to so many different places and times and do so much of this powerful connecting work in a short piece (That work of connection is also very much what this essay is about).
I’d be delighted if you read the essay!
Here is the opening:
I’m looking out over the stone patio, past the near fig and scruffy walnut trees, to the turquois Aegean at a distance. I think this might be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I feel a longing for it even as I’m present; the landscape itself both invites and resists.
Its beauty comes in part through its barrenness: the earth is rocky; only a few plants—oregano, sage and bindweed, with its little tiny white faced flowers—grow from these inhospitable conditions. Read Pooetry, Pain and Wholeness here
I also created some reflection questions for you so that you can think about your own writing process and the connections that it brings for you.
Below are some of the question/prompts. You can write them in a journal or write a more formal piece from them. You can address any of these prompts in any form—essay, journal, poem—or incorporate it into fiction.
Sometimes people ask me how to write a poem or an essay. My first answer is, read, write from what you read, trust your own voice and have fun!
These prompts help you make connections between what you read and what you write, always a great way to deepen any writing and to reconnect with the deep questions that we might not ask ourselves otherwise.
10 writing prompts
Emotional Healing & Mindful Writing Blog | Nadia Colburn
I blog about creativity, writing, yoga, meditation, justice, women, the environment and integrated well being for the individual and society.