A Necessary Evil

 

Workshoppers:

Part One: EEEK!

Let me tell you a little story about the not so delicate procedure of finding the ideal workshoppers. It has taken me five years, some of it brutal, some of it not so bad, to find the right kind of writers, people I feel confident in showing my work to.

Now I’ve had my fair share of horror stories regarding workshoppers: I don’t do horror, this is how I would write the story, Grandmas can’t be nasty … oh how I could rave on all day about what I didn’t need, but if I keep writing about the negative, I’ll be pulling out my hair with a pair of tweezers and stabbing out my eyes with my red pen. I have no fear about those horrible history moments anymore because they thickened my skin to the hide of a rhino? No delicate handling necessary.

Yes, I was a mess after each workshop. I almost (almost) quit being a writer, but I took two tablespoons of cement, hardened up and now use those not so nice—evil—days as motivation to continue. As far as writers go, if you’re serious then you need to make sure you have a good group of people around you. I have written this so other writers can hopefully weed out the bad before their roots take hold and destroy the beauty of the full bloomed story just dying to be written.

So who makes the naughty list when it comes to workshoppers?

Somehow, after workshopping, you believe that the workshopper is related to Jason Voorhees because they have hacked your printed pages, made them bleed with red ink and have totally missed the plot because they can’t justify why they have made all those changes—changes that have distorted the voice, tone, atmosphere, style, character, plot … should I go on?

At what point didn’t they understand that it’s just a draft, and it’s your story?

They love your work so much that they wouldn’t change a single word. The character rocks. The story is awesome even though you’ve accidently changed the name and sex of your character midway through the manuscript. At some point we’ve all done this. My habit is changing hair color. Thank the Lord of Writing for eagle-eyed workshoppers.

Couldn’t you just slap ’em?

They claim to be writing professionals yet they don’t do genres. It’s all about the story, the characters not what genre the story is written in. Every story, short or long, follows the basic principles of structure. (Maybe I’ve been sticking my head in pig’s doodee all these years believing that all genres were created/treated equally.) This type of workshopper needs to get together with their kind and leave the rest of us alone. Actually, they need stabbing a few times.

Where’s Freddy when you need him?

Look out! Duck! Hide! They tell you, it’s not the story, it’s you. If a workshopper attacks you on a personal level, has a dig, RUN AWAY screaming I AM NOT WHAT I WRITE. Trust me on that. Run away as fast as you can and never look back. I am no more a monster than the zombie sitting next to me. I am flesh and bone just like you. I have feelings too you know.

If I were anything like the monsters I write about, I would’ve been inclined to squish their heads until their brains oozed out of the cracks. I wouldn’t want to eat their brains so I would let them dry out on the shag pile. Why would I want to eat the brains of a … can’t get too catty now. While I put Mrs. Angry Writer back in her cage, here’s a couple more reasons not to associate with workshoppers like these:

Let’s spend hours on mine, mine, mine …

Being a professional, you’ve workshopped someone else’s manuscript. You’ve answered every question to the best of your ability, but when it’s your turn to have your manuscript worked on they get one or two pages in and tell you that they simply can’t do anymore. They don’t want to workshop anymore.

Well fry them in hell oil.

Have you ever had someone say, “Can you make it a little less scary,” or “Can you leave the blood out?” “Does the zombie, when shot in the foot, have to keep moving?” Well that’s like asking you to leave the science out of science fiction or the fantastical out of fantasy. What are these workshoppers on?

Seriously.

There is one type of workshopper that everyone needs to avoid—the bloodhound of negativity. Personally I would rather have Bigfoot stalking me than have to listen to the wah-wah-wahs of the negative patrol. That’s right. They pick everything that’s wrong with the story. EVERYTHING. They pride themselves on finding every little insidious blot. And when they find something that’s monumentally huge they stick to the point like a fly drowning in honey. They think they have earned the right to rub the mistake in your face and just when you think they’ve finished they tell everyone at the most inconvenient time to make you look like an idiot. And wait there’s more. Sorry no steak knives. The inkslingers (the black plague has nothing on these guys) are on the attack. They just won’t let up until they see they have broken you to the point of never wanting to look at the story ever again.

Even if the work is a first draft, there is praise to be given. (Finishing a first draft is a cause for celebration.) There is always room for the positive. Reveling in someone’s mistake is just plain nasty. You have to learn from your own mistakes and from the mistakes of others. I do it all the time. But I don’t rub it in their faces. I’m grateful to those who can teach me while we learn together, grow together and become serious writers who know how to have fun once in a while.

Now that we know that the above workshoppers are about as healthy as a cup of coffee laced with arsenic there’s one thing and only one thing you can do:

Stand up for yourself. Set a workshop charter. Tell them exactly what you want and need from the group. If they go off the beaten track, remind them what you want. Grow together as a workshopping crew. If they don’t like it, leave. If they don’t want to grow, to be professional, dump them. (We tend to dump boyfriends and girlfriends for far less.)

Workshoppers are a very important tool in a writer’s arsenal. When you have keen eyes focused on your work, it helps bring out the best in you and your writing. Someone once said that writing is a solitary profession. Yes, I sometimes write on my own. But I’m never alone. My workshop crew are not just there when we meet once a fortnight. We can call, text, email, we even visit one another to discuss, help or offer our shoulder to cry on. If you look hard enough you’ll find the right murder of crows to help you grow into the writer you need to be.

Phew! I got through the negative aspects of workshoppers without the slightest hint of a migraine or panic attack. Those tablespoons of cement have really worked well. My spine isn’t so brittle anymore. So get out there, if you seek, you shall find.

So what are good workshoppers? For one thing they are not mythical creatures hiding in the woods. They do exist.

To be continued …

Until the next time.

Write with passion.
Write with imagination.
Have faith in who you are as a writer.
Even if you haven’t found your niche yet.

E. J. McLaughlin

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