Monday, June 27, 2016

How To Get the Most Out of a Writer's Workshop by Betsy Ashton

Once again, I'm back from a stimulating week at Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop, where my brain and my writing were squished through a wringer. Here are the lessons I learned. Hopefully, these will help the next writer enjoy a week-long retreat somewhere. And thanks to Pinckney Benedict for a fantastic week and for the idea to use lists in our writing. This one's for you, Pinckney.

1. No matter how many times you reworked your manuscript before you submitted it, the teacher and fellow workshop participants will read it as a first draft. They will call it a first draft.

2. Accept that fact and don't argue. Realize that they want to help you become a better writer.

3. Read every manuscript as soon as you receive it. Usually, manuscripts arrive in email a week or two before the actual workshop begins. Don't make any marks on the manuscript at this time. Just read it.

4. Reread every manuscript just before you arrive. Now is the time to mark the heck out of it.

5. Highlight grammos and typos. There will be plenty, but you don't want to waste instructor time talking about them. Ditto, mark word usage. I circle repeated words on a page and draw lines between them.

6. Mark anything that doesn't make sense. Now you're reading like a writer. Look for head hopping, omissions, too much description that doesn't advance the story, etc.

7. Mark everything that is really good. The writer needs to know what you liked. Tell the writer you want to read more than what was submitted, but only if you really liked the voice.

8. Before the first session begins, check your egos at the door. Remember, writers are people first. If you begin your critique with positive statements (I like what George wrote when he eviscerated the dragon with a toothpick), anything else you say will find receptive ears. (Even if you can't imagine a toothpick sharp enough to gut a dragon.)

9. Continue to check your egos at the door every morning. The longer the workshop goes, the deeper the critiques become.

10. When you are being critiqued, keep your mouth shut. Try and keep all expression off your face and refrain from gesturing, grunting, nodding, etc.

11. Be kind when you are critiquing, but be honest.

12. Accept the fact that all members of the workshop have come to learn, not to grandstand. You are all students together. The instructor wants you to take away suggestions to improve your work. Your fellow classmates do the same.

13. Bond with the members over meals. There is no better way to get to know people than over meals. Sit with your classmates at least once a day. Sit with people in other workshops at different times.

14. Never come to class unprepared. You disrespect your fellow writers when you are not as ready to discuss their work as they are when they discuss yours.

15. Turn off your smart phones and smart watches. Nothing annoys people more than someone constantly checking a phone or watch. It tells the other writers that they are not as important or interesting than something on your wrist. You're not millennials, for God's sake.

16. Have fun.


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and NobleI'm really excited that the trade paper edition of Uncharted Territory was released this week. Please follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.


Vonnie Davis said...

I'm glad you enjoyed your yearly workshop event. It sounds as if that kind of thing works for you and gets your engines running.

Brenda Whiteside said...

Checking egos is so important. A writer who doesn't want to hear constructive criticism will never improve. Glad you had a good time.

Jannine Gallant said...

I've never been to a workshop, but these suggestions remind me of the creative writing classes I took back in college. Some of the students had NOTHING good to say. All negative about every story. Uh, you have to put in a little positive with the critical, or the author will dismiss your opinions altogether instead of looking for worthwhile suggestions in the heap of negativity. Then, everyone is wasting their time. Glad you had a productive time, Betsy!

Diane Burton said...

Love #10. My first reaction is to explain. Doesn't work that way. Glad you had a good time. Hope you came home full of energy.

Andrea Downing said...

Checking the ego goes without saying, as does having a good time!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Sounds brutal and wonderful at the same time. Lots of constructive information there.

Alicia Dean said...

Wonderful list! Very good suggestions. Sounds like an awesome retreat. So glad you found it beneficial. Even if you were put through the ringer. :)