Karen Walasek (midwife, poet, painter, novelist, essayist, and biodynamic farmer) received her MFA & BA in creative writing from Goddard College. A current graduate student at Portland State University, her scholarly work includes an interesting nexus between women, culture, social justice, sustainability, conflict resolution, indigenous studies and the arts. She is the cofounder of Hillhouse writers and fiction editor of Elohi Gadugi Journal. A former weekly journalist, painter of people, and a sporadic blogger she is currently working on a revisionist fiction novel set on a biodynamic farm.
Because I have spent decades learning best practices to undo the damage of faulty schooling, my first consideration is to create mindfulness among participants to find judgments intolerable, so writers freely take risks, and we first, do no harm. As a midwife, I would never berate a laboring woman for her choices while in the midst of transition; and yet, it happens all too often in the workshop environment where we expect the birth of new work to take place.
A delightful editor once encouraged me to write a thousand words in order to birth a hundred word prose piece. “It is how I will find the gems,” she told me. This permission afforded me the ability to write like I’m painting on a large canvas, in broad strokes with as much paint as stokes my fancy. I can mix metaphors, to come back to later to pick the best, like a cornucopia of abundance that I pass on to my students. Whatever their fancy might be, my role as facilitator is to hold steady, a kite runner chasing the prize, so that the participants find safety in soaring.
That is not to say, that I don’t believe in the value of revision; but it is the discriminating timing, placement, and implementation of course correction that is paramount. In a workshop setting, I support writers’ choices in any way that their word visions demand; so they can take the necessary steps to flourish without heed of the censoring red pen. A workshop’s purpose is to impel writers to jump off to dangerous and unknown places within a community of peers, so that the treasures they collect contain the power and stamina to endure the arduous process that follows.