The premise of Danell Jones’s The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop is a classic ‘What if?’. What if Virginia Woolf taught a writers’ workshop today?
Divided into seven chapters with a back end full of writing prompts, book recommendations and bibliography, it’s a full meal for a writer in need of some company without actually having to entertain any. Jones extracts excerpts from Woolf’s various essays on writing and contextualizes them in the form of broad lessons on the craft.
My favorite part of the book is the direct address to poets in which she begs them to make us laugh again, and tell stories about the world not just themselves. Woolf wasn’t a poet herself, but admired them, even hand-pressed The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot.
A relevant paraphrase included in Writers’ Workshop was: “A novel, to be good, should seem as unwriteable or maybe it is not worth doing.” This is good news for my mess-in-progress.
While I enjoyed reading a chapter of the book each day, I wish Jones had focused less on trying to make her fictionalized Woolf seem real by adding sighs here, a dry laugh there and other fitting mannerisms of an academic.
As new mediums open up for writers who easily adapt new technologies, like apps and video game scripts, Woolf’s wisdom is timeless because the craft hasn’t changed. No technology can make real writing come easy, unless you’re some mad genius.
Towards the end, the fictional students ask the standard questions of any creative writing class, ‘What if I’m not good enough?’ ‘How do I get published?‘ Her response is to wait until they’re 30 to even try. Imagine an aspiring writer today waiting till 30 to event try to break through. Maybe what she meant to say is that it may take until then, or longer, and in the meantime keep kicking at doors and
banging your ahead against the wall writing.