George Ellenbogen with the participants of his workshop

 You might also find interesting: Interview with George Ellenbogen by Nermine Abdulhafiz (2015) and photos and comments from his workshop in April 2016

 

Creative Writing Workshop with George Ellenbogen

 

"We all have a story to tell; our life is a scrapbook of moments that shape who we are; a map of roads, shortcuts, crossroads and dead-ends that drove us to where we are standing today. Some of these paths we take with steady steps, knowing exactly where we are heading; others we tentatively take, looking backward and forward and wondering where we will end up. Even the roads we plunge into out of zeal for adventure, the paths we abandon midway and the unexpected and unplanned roads that we are drifted to; they are all a part of our journey. Everything matters; the people we come across, the stories told and heard, the goings and the coming-backs, the beginnings and the goodbyes, and even the stories we pick up on the road; the funny coincidences and the strangers we stumble across, who leave a mark behind and change our lives without even knowing. Our personal story matters with every tiny detail, if not to others, at least to ourselves. By scribbling down these journeys, stories and memories, we will come to find how much we can discover about ourselves and the wisdom we can find between the lines and even in what we leave unsaid."

 

This is personal writing, which was the core of a three-day creative writing workshop by the Canadian writer and poet George Ellenbogen held from April 24th until April 26th, 2015.  

The intensive writing class mainly aimed at introducing us to the techniques and aesthetics of personal writing, using the memoirs of George Ellenbogen: A Stone in My Shoe and his late partner; the Arab American writer Evelyn Shakir and her memoir: Teaching Arabs, Writing Self as a starting point and a guiding tool to enter the realm of personal writing. Furthermore, we were introduced to various insights about the creative process and the writing craft and learned several writing techniques that can be applied to any kind of writing and not only personal writing.

A group of 13 students participated in the class and despite the differences in our backgrounds and interests, we were all keen on polishing our writing skills. So, we sharpened our pens and embarked on three days of reading, writing and engaging in the process of creativity.

We started off on Friday with a round of introduction, where each pair shared their writing and reading experiences and expressed what they would like to gain out of the class. It was really exciting to find how our writing experiences differ, and yet how our objectives are basically the same. We all wanted to bring out the writer within, to give an extra push to our pens, to know the tips and tricks of the craft and to know how to overcome the common problems and challenges one faces in writing. After the introduction, Mr. Ellenbogen moved on to reading excerpts from both memoirs as concrete examples of personal writing and also as materials to practice our literary critical abilities. The reading was delightful and it enticed heated discussion among the students and Mr. Ellenbogen was pleased by the students’ interactions and motivation. We ended the day by a quick free writing exercise to get us started!

The second day was more focused on the process and techniques of writing. We started off the day by another writing exercise, followed by pairs’ review and analysis. We then closely examined several writing techniques by examining several excerpts from both memories and also other poems. We learned about the importance of using detailed, sharp and vivid language and imagery that bring life into the text, the use of anecdotes and how to bring wit and humor into our writings, how to establish our writer’s voice and how to carve vivid and concrete places and settings into our narratives. We learned the tricks and techs and also got to implement those techniques with another writing exercise and with the helping tips of both our colleagues and Mr. Ellenbogen as well.

The final day included some more reading and writing. For me, the prominent example of the day would be the reading of the poem “My Papa’s Waltz”, through which we have looked closely at the musicality and elaborateness of language. The other half of the class was dedicated to discussing our writing problems and questions: how to establish a daily writing routine, how to overcome writing block, how to shut up the harsh

inner critic and believe in our writings and ourselves, and more importantly how to put ourselves; our own personal journeys into our writings.

Throughout the class, we gained several beneficial tips and techniques from Mr. Ellenbogen, which I’ve compiled as I believe they would be helpful to anyone considering writing as a career:

  • Read, Read, Read closely, Read meticulously, Read as a writer!
  •  Write every day, everywhere, always have a pen and paper to scribble down ideas when inspiration hits!
  • Commit to a writing routine; all great writers do!
  • Writing is a conscious experience; write with all your senses. Don’t simply tell it, show it! Have the reader feel, see, hear and smell everything you are describing.
  • The world is already tough and harsh, be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up, believe in your writer’s voice, and in your own story!
  • Share your work. Don’t be defensive and be open to criticism to improve and grow as a writer.
  • Last, but definitely not least, believe that your story is worth telling!

After the end of the class, some of us joined George Ellenbogen and Kerstin-Anja Münderlein for a Sunday brunch, where we continued our engaging discussion about writing. Our zeal and excitement sparked lots of ideas, including a new project called “Bamberg writes…”, which will be a hub for all aspiring writers to share and discuss their creative works. It was the perfect ending and a productive outcome of the workshop and we are all excited about having a platform that will enkindle and nourish our creative writing abilities.

More info about the literary blog will be announced soon in the news section of this website, so stay tuned!

An interview with George Ellenbogen, conducted by Nermine Abdulhafiz, can be found here soon.

_________________________________________________________________
Article by Nermine Abdulhafiz
Photos by Nermine Abdulhafiz and George Ellenbogen