WORKSHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP?

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I wish I could say that I was a perfectly disciplined writer. That I adhere to a firm writing schedule every day. That I track my output and regularly submit everything. I’d be lying if I said those things without qualification. For me, “writing regularly” still means many spurts of writing throughout the year. The spurts are more frequent than in years gone by, and I submit most of what I have in similar spurts of marketing (I marketed very sporadically until a year ago). I work at becoming more regular about all my writing-related pursuits, and it honestly pains me to admit my failure to achieve perfect discipline. But I refer you to the earlier blogs about “turning the ship.​” It takes time to reshape and redirect a life. I’m getting there, if only by degrees.

I am encouraged at my upward-trending output, and I have to recognize that I’ve made several sales of “writing products” in the last two years, and I did create this website. That, for me, was a significant techno-aversion breakthrough. There are far too many wannabe writers out there that have page upon blog page of whiny excuses for their failure to write. So that’s not what this blog post is going to be about. What I do want to pitch is the value of community and workshopping.

Focusing on the positive, my writing commitment and output have climbed steadily since 2008. There are several reasons. I retired in January of 2008, so the time barrier fell away (and the time-related excuses). I went to Jeanne Cavelos’ six-week Odyssey workshop for speculative fiction in 2008 and to a couple workshops with Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith in 2009 (the weekend “Kris and Dean Show,​” and their two-week “Master Class”).

I’ve been to about a dozen workshops over the last 17 years (See the non-fiction article on workshopping by yours truly and Scott Barnes at NewMyths.​com issue #11). For me, nothing revs up my writing engine more effectively than a good workshop. Prior to and during workshops, adrenaline runs high, focus improves, commitment soars, creativity is remarkably stimulated, and output spikes upward. I would guess workshopping is, to me as a writer, much like tournament play is to athletes. There are structural pluses (motivational and technical instruction in an atmosphere of few distractions) but there is also the nudge you get from friendly competition and simple camaraderie. And let’s don’t forget the after-hours brainstorming… OMG.

These intangible aspects that come from community are more important than you might imagine. They play an important role in resetting your psyche, clicking your brain’s default switches to the writer settings. It amounts to re-branding yourself. I write. These people (who are good writers themselves) say my writing has potential. I am a writer. I write. I am a writer. I write. I am a writer.

When we get home from workshops, most of us face a world of unbelievers. You tell those around you that you write; you are a writer; you’re writing and have sold some short stories; you’re working on a novel, or two or three or more. If they are polite, most will say something like, wow, that’s great, and walk away, not really convinced.

Not everyone is polite in their disbelief. When my writing came up at a party some years ago in conversation with the wife of a scientist friend, she laughed in my face. I have a few writer friends for whom the writing has disturbed, if not destroyed relationships, of all kinds, including marriages. I also know a few, the lucky ones, for whom a mutual interest in writing has forged or strengthened relationships.

How those around you react to your dream is bound to affect you emotionally, and maybe functionally. Some of it you can control, some of it either can’t be controlled, or is difficult to control at best. The cynical laughter of my scientist friend’s wife is something I have turned around in my mind. I particularly take pleasure in emailing her announcements of story sales. I kind of enjoy being an I-told-you-so sort of guy.

Attend enough workshops and, in time, you will build a small community of simpatico writers that you will stay in touch with, and that provide mutual support. Support of all kinds: technical, marketing, brainstorming, emotional, you name it. You may get lucky and identify a couple of trusted first readers. You may get really lucky and add a couple good friends to your life.

The important thing related to this topic is that, even though these select few individuals may only represent a couple percent of the folks you encounter during your workshopping experiences, they may ultimately become the pillars of your writing temple– the strong support that holds you up when you want to crumble.

I decided to write this blog entry because of a young fellow I met at a community event this past weekend. Garth volunteered that he’s been writing for several years now without the benefit of a support network. He writes speculative fiction, which is also where a lot of my energy is directed. And he’s never done a workshop. What blew me away is that he said he’s been writing 2,​000 words a day for quite some time now, and has made some sales to small markets. I haven’t seen any of Garth’s work yet. We exchanged contact info, and I hope we find we can help each other. I was left with the impression that someone with that much grit and internal motivation is a prime candidate for what a good workshop can offer. I said good workshop. I refer you again to the NewMyths article for more on what I mean by that.

Of course, there is no substitute for talent. But any talent can be cultivated and nurtured. That cultivation is something a good workshop and a community of supporters are well suited to.

Because of the swift evolution of the publishing industry, as it grapples with the realities of all the rapidly emerging electronic formats and markets, some have argued that we are seeing the dawn of a new Renaissance for aspiring writers. I so want that to be true. Of one thing I am certain; those who want to ride this tsunami of new hope can surely benefit from a bit of guidance and the advantages that come with a community arising from a good workshop.

October is the time to be researching, shopping around for, and applying for workshops. There seem to be two peak workshop seasons. The winter doldrums period (roughly January and February) has a few workshops; but late spring through summer is workshop prime time. The announcements of schedules and requirements for acceptance to workshops start appearing every fall. So, if you think you might benefit from a workshop, take a look at the longer article I mentioned earlier, and start shopping the net for venues and formats that suit your needs and resources.

Good luck, amigos. When you pack for the workshop you ultimately choose, don’t forget to take along some eye-drops and your favorite source of caffeine. And tell them Bob sent you.

Cheers,
Bob

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