I’ve mentioned work-shopping on my blog before, but I realized I haven’t described what goes on in one and why I think it’s important. Back when I was considering one, I would have appreciated someone letting me know what to expect. I already finished my first novel and wanted to get some feedback before I self-published. I found a promising writer’s workshop fifteen minutes away from where I lived that meet once a week for a few hours. They had so many different classes ranging from the basics of writing to advanced courses. One class offered feedback on finished novels and the time it meet at night worked out for me.
I was a month pregnant a the time and knew that I would be going through the worst of morning sickness during the workshop, but I knew I needed this help if I was ever going to release my debut novel. I was so nervous. I had no idea what I signed myself up for. Was everyone going to be more advanced than me?
I got an email a couple of weeks before the first class requesting that we send everyone our first ten pages. My finger hesitated over the send button since no one outside of my circle had read my book. But if I was seriously thinking of publishing I was going to have to get used to it.
I was both impressed by my fellow workshopper’s first ten pages, and assured since I saw that each person could improve. I wrote all my comments on the side and printed them out to bring with me. Yet it didn’t dawn on me until I walked into the small, crowded room that I was actually going to have to say those criticisms to their faces! All nine of us sat down with the teacher who immediately began with the person to his right. He wanted to go around to table and let everyone give their impressions and improvements out loud…while everyone was watching you. It was strange to match up each writing piece with the face, having learned intimate emotional details before you’re casual acquaintances.
Of course, I could only mention my positive critiques. I curled up my page slightly so no one could see my real notes on the page. However, the negative criticisms rolled off these workshop veterans tongue. I kept my composure long enough until the workshop ended and then I shut the door of my car. I called home and cried like a two-year old. I almost didn’t return. But I decided to lift my chin and steel myself for more. I quickly learned that it was better to hear these things in the workshop and not on the review page. It took me a few classes before I flattened the paper and said it all. When the first class ended I signed up for more. I needed to be sure that my whole book was looked over.
The most important things I learned there:
- Exposure: You need to have many eyes look over your MS before sending it off to agents or self-publishing. If you were only writing for yourself than it would be fine to keep it to yourself, but if you are writing for the market than you must get as many different types of people to let you know if something isn’t working.
- Revise, revise, revise: I remember when the teacher actually held my MS up and proclaimed, “This is a great first draft.” I replied like Milton from Office Space, “mm…mm..m…my final sir.” I laugh now because it really was a draft, not even close to finished! But I truly thought I had revised it to death at that point. I sent it to all the best agents! How could he say, “first draft”? So I learned that lesson. Now matter how many times you think it’s done…you need to hear that it’s looking good from others…so many others! Each time I sent in those ten pages I picked through it, measuring every word, changing a comma to five different places before I settled! You do some great revisions when you think a whole table-full of writers are going to nit-pick it.
- Workshop teachings last: I can’t write anything without the echos of all their lessons rattle around in my brain.
- Negative criticism: This is the most important thing. I wouldn’t have been ready to handle the reviews and judgements of readers before these courses. I’ve reached the point where I’m ready for anything. I actually enjoy a critical review since I’m so open to how different people interpret my story and I know I can always improve something. I usually say, “You have a good point there. I’ll try to fix that going forward.”
- Positive reinforcement: Yes, I actually received just as much positive support, but I seem to remember the negative things more. Only when someone is dishing out improvements left and right can you be assured that the positive things they see are indeed true. I have no doubt those people would have looked straight into my eyes and said, “This isn’t any good.” But they didn’t, they said things like, “If you just changed this, this, and this, you could really have something here.” I really trusted their opinion and if they thought I was ready to publish at the end, I knew I was.
- Problems: They let me know when something was missing, where there was too much explanation or where there was too little. They let me know when a scene needed more description and even voted that they thought first person present was the way to go (I originally had it in first person past). They were right. It helped make my readers feel like they were experiencing everything themselves and I haven’t had one reviewer say they didn’t like the first person present and it’s usually not thought of well.
- Camaraderie: There were so many times we just laughed. Laughed at the process, at ourselves, and the struggles we were all facing. We all got to know each other and at the end it was like we were a writing family. Writers NEED support of other writers. We are all facing so much rejection, so much self-criticism, so much outside criticism. The reassuring word of a fellow writer of simply telling you that they’ve been through the same struggles are golden.
I really miss my workshop and the fantastic writers I met there. If I had the extra money and time to invest I would, but for now I need to put that time and money toward bringing my next book to market. Thankfully, though, I have all my writing friends on my blog to help fill the void (I love you guys!) I appreciate what that teacher and fellow classmates taught me and I’m sure my first novel is better for it. I can only hope I’ll take what I learned from that class and apply it to all my future projects.
So all of you out there, if you’re close to sending your first project out or if your creative well has run dry, I strongly recommend looking up your local writing workshop and see if you can afford it. It is money well spent :)
Have any of you taken a workshop before and how was your experience?