Oh my gosh you guys! I finished a book!! It’s happened so infrequently lately that this feels like a momentous occasion. I just finished The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing by Danell Jones. I’ve been coveting this one for a while and finally decided to just buy it. I’m so glad that I did!
Jones is a devoted student of Virginia Woolf and has spent years reading her original works and everything written about her. In this book, she has created something incredible: she has used Woolf’s bits of advice sprinkled throughout her diaries and other essays to create a writers’ workshop. She has imagined how Woolf would have organized this workshop and what advice she would give to writers who are desperate to hone their crafts.
What a great concept, right?! I’d love to do something like this with one of my favorite writers – get in their heads and pretend to be them. Almost like WWVWD? (What Would Virginia Woolf Do). While it seems like a blissful fantasy, I’m sure it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. The mind of a writer can be a painful place and I have to imagine that Jones experienced some of that pain as well.
Throughout this book Jones provides “Writing Sparks,” which are little writing prompts or things to make writing a more rewarding experience. I haven’t tried any of the prompts yet, but if I ever feel stuck I am definitely going to flip through this book!
One of my favorite chapters was the very first one, “practicing.” Virginia Woolf preached what is essentially Morning Pages, which she called “practicing your scales.” She advises that a writer should write every day, even if it’s nonsense and meaningless. In the Writing Sparks section of this chapter, Jones suggests writing scenes that focus on different writing styles. For instance, tell the story of the 3 Little Pigs without any dialogue, but using as much description as possible. Then, tell the story without using any descriptions and only dialogue. Many of these sparks feel so useful – great ways to practice styles that you might not usually use and that could be incorporated into your own work.
There is a chapter on reading, which I read with particular interest. I’ve written before about how I feel ill equipped to be a strong reader, but as you would guess, she says rubbish to this! “Literature is no one’s private ground; literature is common ground,” she advises. This book describes Woolf as reading with a pen in her hand – ready to take notes on character development and storytelling, as a way to improve her own skills. This is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but worry about how it would slow me down. My reading has already slowed to a crawl, so what would it hurt to slow it down even more? This is a habit I hope to start today!
In this chapter, she also describes using reading as a way to “loosen” your muscles before writing. Read some good literature in the mornings before you dive into your own writing to help inspire your own pieces. Personally, I would worry about accidentally copying someone else’s work that way, but that’s probably because I’m not very creative!
Throughout this book, Jones references all of the notebooks that Woolf had. She had her journals, her reading notes, books for writing letters and for writing essays… It helped me embrace my addiction to notebooks, which only continues to grow! And now that I’m committing to starting a reading notebook, I’m definitely going to look like a bookbag lady everywhere I go!
And this book pushed me towards wanting to join a writers’ workshop. Do you follow Julia Ferro on Twitter? She founded the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and I have jealously followed both of them on Twitter since I’ve joined. This is just the sort of thing that I get excited about! I’ve spent some time googling them and I can’t seem to find any in my area that are during hours that I’d be able to get away from the house or work. So now I’m on a quest to find something online that I can afford. Any advice?!