I just completed my third writing workshop.
It made me want to share something with you. Before I started this little adventure online, I never socialized or involved myself in a writing community. I never belonged to a writer’s group, offline or on. I read books and wrote my stories and admired talented authors from afar. I had no one to ask for advice. Sure, I read the guides on writing–mostly advice from other authors–but I had no one to really test my writing on.
And yet, I never lacked inspiration. Honestly, it didn’t take much for me to get inspired. I found inspiration everywhere. That wasn’t the problem. The demon that dogged me for many years (and still does to an extent) was insecurity. Lack of confidence in my own writing ability killed more stories than I care to remember.
So, when it came to writing, I had only myself and you know how it is when you get so close to the words: you can’t trust yourself to remain objective, even if you convince yourself, in no uncertain terms, you can. Why do you think Stephen King’s “Kill your darlings” is such a popular meme?
Having had no soundboard meant I lost context in the process. Even when I tried my honest best, errors and crappy writing always seemed to slip through the cracks unnoticed, as they usually do, when eyes grow tired.
Luckily we have editors and beta readers. You need strangers to test the arrangement of your words, to make sure they work in the context you’ve put them and that they enhance the story. I never had that until I started taking my writing seriously and became active online. Until I attended my first workshop, I had no way of bouncing my ideas and words off others to see whether they jumped the way I intended.
I attended my first workshop in 2014, aptly called Virtual Writer Workshop, designed and hosted by author M.J. Kelley. I met M.J. on twitter and around the same time made some other friends in the process.
One of whom was the very talented writer and editor, Jessica West. She edited Bullies and Soggy Soup Bones for me. In fact, I put Bullies through the second writing workshop I attended, and based on the comments and advice I received there I amended the story, and in the process it grew and blossomed. When it finally reached Jessica, few changes were needed, and they were mostly cosmetic in nature. I’m still proud of that story. It’s a different tale. Not stuck in any genre. Just a small fiction piece written honestly.
Which brings me to the reason for today’s post. After completing my third writing workshop, I was again reminded how powerful and useful participation in something like this can be to a writer. The experience enriches you and teaches you about your own writing.
Now I know the writers involved in a workshop must be serious and professional for it to work for everyone who participate, but just as important–if not more important–is the way the workshop is managed. And here is where I have so much praise for M.J. The guy is super professional. He designed the workshop to focus solely on the writing process and content, with various moderators covering each group’s submissions, and assisted by very specific rules of critiquing. This way eliminates the risk of egos running amok and opens up the floor to craft development only.
Everyone is in the same boat; including both published and newbie writers. They are there to learn and improve. When you critique a story, you read it critically to see whether it works, and if it doesn’t, why it doesn’t. Something awesome happens when you analyse a fellow writer’s work. You learn about the mechanics of a story, how all the moving parts fit together to make the story come alive. While you don’t always see it when you write your own stuff (unless you wait a couple of weeks before you eyeball your story again), analysing another writer’s story helps you identify your own weak areas, but it also shows you your strengths.
The other thing about the workshop is that whatever comments or suggestions you receive, they are not cast in stone. It’s just another writer’s opinion based on their own style and experience. You don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to, but it is good to have an open mind. That is how you learn more about yourself and your abilities. And when one or two persons start saying the same thing, then you might want to pay attention and consider their recommendations.
At the end of the day, putting your story through a workshop allows you to see how other people view your creation. It is a chance to check whether a joke or emotional scene is successful, whether you’ve covered all possible plot holes, or whether a certain image works in relation to a specific scene or fit the tone of the overall story.
This post, therefore, celebrates the existence and importance of writer’s workshops generally, and specifically M.J. Kelley’s Virtual Writer Workshop. It is an important educational tool in your writering journey. Now, looking back, it’s difficult for me to comprehend how I ever survived without the team. The perspective I gleaned has helped me zoom in on the trouble areas in my writing. For that, I will forever be grateful to M.J. and to those awesome writer people who attended the workshops.
If I can, I want to keep attending these workshops to test my writing and gauge whether my weak spots are growing stronger. I also want to meet fellow writers struggling through the same emotional obstacle course we, as writers, face daily.
Yes, writing is a solitary profession. We prefer it this way. But we are human, still, not some dumb machine; so it’s good to interact with like-minded people. It’s good to talk shop and inspire each other and just foster a general camaraderie born from the same desperation:
To write beautifully. To entertain and entice. To spin magic with words.