Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Ottawa U Writing Workshop

So I’ve been taking this creative writing class/workshop at the University of Ottawa as part of their continuing education curriculum.  I was very excited to start the course in September, but alas it has failed to impress me.

Why? Well a few reasons:

  1. The teacher likes to talk about himself. A lot. 

Everything manages to get tied back to him somehow.  Talking about Margaret Atwood? They’re friends! Giving out an example of a poem? Just happens to include one of his! Talking about Madeleine Thien being nominated for the Governor General awards? He was on the jury for poetry one year!

I get it.  Writers tend to be a little self-involved.  I can say this because I am one.  They like to talk about themselves and their work.  It makes sense.  But man oh man this guy needs to stop for a bit.

  1. There is no actual “teaching”.

There’s a bit of an intro to every class but then immediately it launches into workshopping individual pieces.  Ok fine, it is labelled a workshop, so all is fair blah blah blah, but I had hoped there would be *some* actually teaching. Even just on how to critique a piece would be good! But no. And the pieces we present to one another? They are short pieces of text based on weekly prompts we are given.  It’d be nice if we had the option of bringing in short bits of longer term projects we’re working on.  Not that I’m working on anything, but others are.

But there are good points.  The second class we were lucky enough to have Madeleine Thien come to talk to us. Thien is currently the writer in residence at Ottawa U, has recently won the Governor Generals award for literature, and has been nominated for the Man-Booker and the Giller for her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Not only was it amazing to hear her take on writing, I decided to pick up the ebook after class.  I have started reading it and so far I can say that all the nominations are well deserved.

So that has been my experience with Ottawa U’s writing workshop; overall, rather disappointing. But I’m glad I gave it a shot regardless.  It’s good practice and keeps the writing muscles moving.

2 thoughts on “Ottawa U Writing Workshop”

  1. So in my analysis. (As self absorbed as any “writer”) good practitioners do not always make good teachers; good editors are not always good writers, and finally, writers have only themselves to write about or talk about, even if there is a prism of fiction to hide behind. Nice to see you writing. Dig deep.

  2. Oof. I once had a professor that did the same. The class had so much promise, but all he would talk about was the stuff he did personally on the field (it was an archaeology class), and I came away not having been taught a damned thing. It’s away disappointing when that happens.

    Glad there were some positives, though!

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