Blog: Landing Smiles (Pt. 2)


Continuing her series, Lizzie Hubbard writes about studying a creative writing degree remotely during a pandemic.

Managing Mini Monologues: Workshopping Online

When I applied to do a Creative Writing degree, I got really excited about the idea of workshopping. I imagined the class, sitting in a circle, reading our pieces and discussing how we could improve them. But of course, this year has been different. All of our classes moved online and with that, the workshop. 

The idea of workshopping online seemed a bit scary at first, especially as I hadn’t met my classmates in person yet. Yes, we’d spoken on video calls but that’s more like a broadcast or a meeting, rather than a conversation with individual people. In our first class we introduced ourselves, and we have had deep discussions about our set texts but not had a chance to ask how everyone’s days had been or if they’ve had to travel far. Instead, we skipped the small talk and be invited directly into the romances and adventures that previously only existed in my classmates’ minds. 

The format of the video call is restricting in some ways. It’s hard to judge the atmosphere in the (digital) room and there are enviably moments when you don’t know if your internet has frozen. Or if you’ve just forgotten to unmute yourself. It is harder to have a class discussion or chip in with a noise of agreement because only one person can speak at once. Once your little digital hand is up, you’ll get a chance to say your piece. 

The technology does make it harder to reply to someone’s point immediately or to clarify what you mean, but that’s not such a bad thing. Everyone is forced to take a minute to think before they launch into their own mini monologue. Something I, personally, could do with a little bit of practice at. After eight weeks of feedback back like this, I’ve learnt to look at my notes again. Before class, and jot down a few bullet points of what I’m going to say. The only problem is that once I get talking about people’s work, I tend to get a bit excited and go ‘off script’. Fortunately, we all email each other our full feedback later, mopping up all the points I forgot to say during my time unmuted. 

It’s made me realise how much I rely on hmmmming and saying ‘yes’ as people talk. In my written feedback, I found myself working harder to express my emotional response to sections of people’s work as well as more technical bits, because I was worried that I wasn’t able to nod, say hmm, or smile enough on the video call. Sometimes my overcompensating hand gestures go too wide for the screen, so I need to channel that emotional energy back elsewhere. I just hope that when we do eventually meet each other, hopefully before our graduation, that we can remember how to interact as ‘pre-Covid humans’. Not just waiting until we’re allowed to unmute, taking turns to deliver mini monologues. 

Lizzie is an MA Creative Writing student at Birkbeck, currently logging into her online classes from North London. She loves to play with language, both on the page and out loud. At the moment, she’s writing lots of short stories to distract herself from the world and to keep herself sane. You can find her tweeting about books, poetry cats and, sometimes, free Jazz here – @LizHub 

1 December 2020