Monday, October 29, 2018

Step Outside of the Box

This past weekend I attended my very first Writing Workshop. It was suggested to me by a good friend and a published author of many books. First of all, it was at a local bookstore, it was one day long and the cost was reasonable. One author, Susan Cushman held the workshop and ran the logistics of getting it all set up. 

After checking it all out, I registered and received the information about the agenda for the day and what the participants would be learning. We were encouraged to submit fifteen pages of a manuscript to Susan with a synopsis of what she would be reading. It could be a short story, a memoir, a chapter or part of a chapter from a novel. The only exclusion was poetry. She would critique the manuscript to let each writer know what she felt about the plot, style, voice, characters, pacing and dialog. This was daunting enough, however, the next step would be that she would send each of the participants a copy of all of the manuscripts to take notes on and for us to critique. 

This very professional author gave us the guidelines and what to look for in reading/critiquing manuscripts. We were not editing, not looking for typos or grammar errors...strictly the way the words flowed in the style, as I listed above. Now, this was a time for me that I really did have to take a deep breath, let it out slowly and show myself that I did have the courage to let others read MY work. After all, I am a writer and I write not only for myself, but for readers, hopefully. Therefore, I need to know if I am effective and to be able to get guidelines from others on how to make it more effective.

As I started to read the other manuscripts, I began to see how this process worked. Forget the 'teacher' in me. I am reading the work of others to be positive and to encourage them to stay with what they have poured their heart and soul into. Certainly there is no discussion about the subject matter, and there is no need to be all gushy about their work, no matter how good it may seem. (And some of them were pretty dang good!)

This was all about helping each other become better writers. Susan started the workshop with a brief coffee and light pastry breakfast where we were able to informally chat some with each other. Trust me, so much better than other types of workshops that I have been to where they have "ice-breakers" that always seem to make you feel like you are a child. 

The first session was a craft talk by Susan that helped to give us background into writing scenes to move our narratives forward. She went over the guidelines for critiquing manuscripts. The second session of the morning was critiquing four chosen nonfiction manuscript samples. She guided the discussions and all of the participants were allowed to comment and question. 

At noon we went in the restaurant in the bookstore called Libro. It most definitely was a bit posh and the servers were very professional there. The food was actually quite good, however the time spent with other writers was one of the best parts of our lunch.

The afternoon session had seven manuscripts, all fiction. Everyone stayed within the guidelines that Susan had given to us. She informed us that these are guidelines that she herself learned by attending workshops for her novel. My own manuscript was the third one discussed and the information that I gained from Susan and the other participants was invaluable. Some of the questions and discussions were actually some of the very ideas floating in my own mind. By participating in the workshop, I was able to see a whole different perspective on some of my writing. I believe this to be a good thing!

Susan's craft talk for the afternoon session was how she was able to get published without an agent. She actually got four book deals in one year without acquiring an agent. Talking about how to get published in a variety of ways was extremely helpful to me, as I am sure it was to some others as well.

What would a workshop be without Happy Hour! Susan had complimentary wine and snacks. It was a time to make connections with other writers and a chance to say our goodbyes. We were able to choose one of Susan's books for her to write a personal note inside and autograph it for us. I chose "Southern Writers on Southern Writing." Seemed appropriate in that my novel title will be "GRITS." (Girls Raised in the South)

Now I am looking forward to attending more workshops when they are announced in the writer's publications that I subscribe to. After all, it is a business expense! 

I now know that I will work harder at not following this Writer's Map:

The quote from Jane Yolen states why this is so important.  "Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title, lists, a character sketch, or a journal entry.  Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up."

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