Writing Workshops

I recently posted about my friend, Kady, who gave herself her own February NaNoWriMo challenge. She completed the challenge, writing 50,000 words of a story. But now she says, she’s clueless about what to do next.

My suggestion to her, and to anyone who might be “between” drafts or having trouble with an area in their novel, is to seek out a writing workshop. They are one of the best tools that a writer can use to help her hone a particular manuscript or to get a general idea of mechanics, or to learn more about a specific element in the craft. Workshops will also avail writers of further resources such as writing manuals, and the opportunity to meet fellow writers.

Kady and I live in an artsy community. So, opportunities abound for us creative types. However, when my kids were babies, and I was tethered to the house for hours upon hours I couldn’t take advantage of local happenings.

So, I went online and joined multiple writing sites. Many of them offered online classes from learning how to pitch your novel, to character development, to book structure, to marketing. In this day and age of networking ease via the internet, even housebound people can “get out.”

As the kids became more independent, and I was able to get out a little bit more I signed up for local workshops and also found a writing group. There is a wonderful organization in my home state, New Hampshire Writer’s Project. “A statewide membership-based nonprofit literary arts organization, serves as a resource for writers, publishers, booksellers, literary agents, educators, librarians, and readers in and near New Hampshire. We support the development of individual writers and encourage an audience for literature in New Hampshire.”

If you are looking for a workshop, but don’t know where to begin try this first. Google ‘writing workshops’ in your town, city, or state. Also, check with your local college/university. Many English professors will moonlight as writing instructors. Call your local library or community center for any information they might have on writing workshops.

If you cannot get out of the house, or such classes are too far away, or you live in some remote part of the world, then try some workshops online. I will offer my two cents, for what they are worth, regarding online workshops.

Online workshops fit in nicely with my limited schedule. I could log on whenever I wanted and join in the virtual class. I could submit my assignment for review on Saturday morning and check back later that night or even 3 days later to see the suggestions or comments made by the instructor and fellow students. This format also suited my shy, reserved personality.

The biggest drawback was that there was no dialogue, no “taking turns.” People could say what they needed to say, when they wanted to say it. Like comments on a blog post, everyone posts different questions and answers of their own free will, and not necessarily in response to someone else. If you were looking for a specific answer, it could easily get lost in the shuffle.

Also, because people aren’t online at necessarily the same time, you might have to wait to get a question answered. If the instructor had logged out ten minutes before you posted your question, she might not be logging back in for three days. There is no schedule that the instructor follows, something that I would liken to “office hours” for a college professor. So, you had to hope either you never had a question, or that your schedule was in synch with the instructor’s.

As much as I loved the convenience and flexibility, I missed the immediacy and the responsive dialogue that you get when you meet with people in person.

Below I listed a small sampling of online workshops:

Writer’s Digest. You can take an online course all from the comfort of your pajamas! They are run by authors (usually affiliated with Writer’s Digest in some fashion) and there are many classes to choose from. They also offer webinars, which I personally haven’t tried, but they’re a popular learning tool.

Mary Carroll Moore. “She teaches workshops and weekly writing classes both online and in person at writing schools around the U.S., including the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center near New York City, Madeline Island School for the Arts on Madeline Island in Lake Superior, the New Hampshire Writers’ Project in Manchester, Grub Street Writing School in Boston, and other locations.”

*side note regarding Mary. I have personally taken a workshop with her, a weekend stint about how to structure your novel. She is a great teacher, knows her stuff, and I got a lot out of the class.

Grub Street Writing School (for those living in or near the Boston area). I don’t get to take advantage of their classes as often as I’d like, but they have a sound reputation.

Critique Circle  I have never tried this site, and I’m not sure if any of the workshops are facilitated by instructors, authors, or fellow writers. But you can submit your work for critique, join a forum or a group, and it’s open to all writers of all genres.

Gotham Writers. They offer in-person as well as online classes. They offer one-day intensives and workshops that run 6 weeks or 10 weeks.

Online Writing Workshops. Online Writing Workshops are virtual writers’ communities in which writers can get feedback on their works in progress, improve their writing through critiquing others, and meet fellow aspiring writers.

Has anyone had an experience with a workshop, online or in person? Do you have any to add to the list?

Final NaNo Update

Well, I just heard from my friend, Kady, who gave herself a NaNoWriMo challenge for the month of February. If you missed my posts on this, you can check them out here and here.

She wrapped up her 50,000 words this past week, on the 29th. She is excited about the story, and she wants to complete it. That’s a great thing, and that doesn’t always happen.

I know of many writers who start, falter, and abandon their work. Reasons vary, but I think the biggest reason I hear is that the story was boring to write. Either they couldn’t think of anything to make happen, or what was happening wasn’t compelling enough. Another common reason I hear is that it got too overwhelming, too random, too unweildy, and they lost control.

Kady says that over the next few months she plans to complete the novel, re-read, and revise. She is contemplating about finding a local writing group to help her in this endeavor, so it sounds like she is really serious about this. And that’s the next biggest commitment after completion. Whether or not she can follow through on revisions.

Feeling excited after a first draft is common. It is easy to get swept away with the high of creating something new and original. Going back to revise can be the ultimate downer, especially if you don’t know how to revise. All writers have their own special methods, I don’t think there is any one special way to revise. However, having said that, if you don’t know what works best for you, then you will revise inefficiently.

The gap between rough draft and second draft (or first draft, if your rough is reallllly rough, like outline form-rough) is a good time to take a writing workshop. Get a feel for what a story is supposed to do from one stage to the next. There are plenty of workshops on structure, plot development, world building, characters, or some other key element. Perhaps telling yourself to take three months to learn some of the mechanics of story building might be helpful to get a stronger feel for your story.

Taking the time out for a workshop is also beneficial in that you are taking time away from your story. It is much easier to revise your drafts with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.

Personally, I love revising. I love getting down and dirty with individual scenes and dialogue exchanges and intricate detail. I love turning something bland into something explosive. But it takes practice, it takes time, it takes energy, it takes a love for the story. And I never get it right on the first try. I can’t think of a single sentence that I wrote for the first time that didn’t undergo some sort of change at some point.

So, I applaud Kady for doing what a lot of people find impossible. I know that she’s proud of herself and her accomplishment. As a stay-at-home mom of 3 boys under the age of 8, finding time to write is a job in itself.

She sums up the gig of writing the same way I see it:  This NaNoWriMo challenge “definitely showed me that if I REALLY want to do something then I can find the time.”

Amen.