A Look at Writing Workshops

On May 16th I quit my hemming and hawing and purchased a spot in a writing workshop Kate talked me into attending. It’s called Bait and Hook and is one of the pre-festival workshops in conjunction with When Words Collide, a local readercon. The workshop, run by Faith Hunter, will last one day. The first five pages of participant’s manuscripts are due July 15.

As of today, I have spent 51 days obsessing over my five pages. I have only one (unfinished) manuscript I would even consider sharing with the outside world. Luckily for me, the first chapter of my manuscript works out to five pages. It’s also the same genre that Faith Hunter writes. Her feedback may be truly significant -I’m still not sure right now if that’s a good thing.

Hunter is going to give me feedback on whether those five pages contain enough to bait and hook her into reading the rest of the book. I am terrified.

Although I’ve been working on it for nearly two years, my novel is incomplete because I’ve had to walk away from it for a variety of reasons. I hadn’t read that first chapter in months and was understandably anxious about doing so. After some editing, I’m proud of what I have written. I plan to have another comb-through session with the pages before I submit them but I’m not embarrassed to do so. Nervous, yes. Because sharing any piece of work for the first time is nerve-wracking.

Excitement and trepidation are warring within me the closer July 15 comes. Once the pages are emailed away I’ll be resigned until August 13, where I will be a mess on the inside.

At this point you might be wondering why I’d submit the pages of an unfinished story at all. Why I’d share my work with someone intent on telling me what works and what doesn’t. Are the rewards really worth the stress?

Heck yes!

It’s extremely painful to share creative work with others. I have always compared it to stripping naked in public –something I have never done and will never do. You reveal so much about yourself when you open your shell, especially when you open it up to be analyzed. However, the opportunity for growth is undeniable.

Reading and taking to heart the basic tenants of writing is well and good –don’t use clichés, limit your use of adverbs and adjectives, show don’t tell, etc. But when you get into the zone of writing your brain doesn’t follow the rules. It can’t if it wants to stay creative, especially when it hasn’t had a long time to practice doing so.

Reading another person’s rough draft allows you to actively engage with a piece that hasn’t had the broken elements removed. A lot of writers make the same mistakes in their work so more often than not you can see first-hand why lots of things you do don’t actually work. I.e.: clichés are boring, adjectives remove power from sentences, obscure metaphors are irritating, and so on. Seeing why they don’t work versus simply hearing it over and over lets a writer grow much faster in my opinion.

I survived Patty Briggs reading chapter one of my werewolf novel.

I survived Patty Briggs reading chapter one of my werewolf novel.

Outside of workshops, it’s not very often that writers can get exposure to –and for– their unperfected prose and enter a safe environment to discuss them. There are heavily enforced rules in a workshop because they are designed to be a safe, creative space. Thankfully, nearly all writers are fragile and encouraging creatures. We like to nurture each other.

I’ve had a lot of experience with workshops. I have three and a half years of critique classes from university under my belt and I’ve attended a workshop with WWC before. My skin is thick. Not unpierceable, but thick.

So, I might be biting my nails about submitting my work and reading the feedback afterwards, yet I relish the chance to see what someone else thinks of the trajectory of my story. Besides, having a deadline has never been a bad thing for any writer.