Jeanette Winterson creative writing workshop

Jeanette Winterson sat on desk at writing workshop

We're delighted to welcome Jeanette Winterson CBE to our Faculty this year as our Visiting Professor of Creative Media. As well as holding public lectures, she is running some creative writing workshops for our students. Liberty Brignall, a second year student at the English Faculty, attended the first workshop and here describes how Jeanette Winterson's advice inspired her to carve out time for creative writing.

It is difficult to be creative when academic writing eats up so much of your time. As with your friendships, creativity is something you have to make time for. This is the commitment that Jeanette Winterson spoke of in her workshop. Generous and candid, Jeanette had the room enraptured for two hours, as she discussed everything from stalking your characters home, to writing with your whole body. She spoke too of her own experiences, at Oxford and as a writer. At points, I found myself jotting down her words verbatim – her advice pithy and unpretentious. Reading back these notes now, I cannot help but smile.

As well as commitment, Jeanette covered two more topics: content and creative chaos. She stressed the importance of authenticity and resilience; writing is difficult, so we have to be proud of what we create. We may have been in a writing workshop, but her advice was as much about our relationship to ourselves as it was about creativity. It seems obvious that our creative work is so closely aligned with who we are as individuals, but the workshop made me interrogate this in a way I never had before.

Jeanette mentioned that the first sentence of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit opens with ‘like’, precisely because sentences are not supposed to begin that way. We need some rules, but we also need a bit of chaos. She encouraged us to circumvent linearity – we do not need to be too tidy, nor number our pages. After a morning of essay writing, this permission to be a little rebellious was especially welcome.

Writing workshops can easily be overwhelming. The fun of creativity sometimes gets lost, and the seriousness can be intimidating. Jeanette appreciated the importance of language as play – we were all in attendance because creative writing matters to us, but also because it is fun. Halfway through term, it was lovely to be reminded of this. I hadn’t written creatively since the summer vacation, but I left the workshop inspired, and with the determination to carve out time for writing. The next day, with my essay finished, I spent an hour writing for fun.

Towards the end of the workshop, Jeanette said that we are works-in-progress. Her reassurance was a constant thread throughout the discussion – she did not set us writing exercises, but was instead committed to building our confidence in ourselves. She cultivated an atmosphere in which there was no pressure to be a certain kind of person, or writer. The workshop was earnest and encouraging. Whatever my future creative endeavours look like, her advice will stay with me.


― Liberty Brignall