Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping

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# 1

This post isn’t about sticking your finger up your nose and picking a winner. Although gross, it is however, much easier to do and probably less traumatic than workshopping your manuscript.

You see, like most writers attending classes or workshops, we nervously accept the fact that we have to eventually show our work to others. Through the shuffling of paper, our voice squeaks, and suddenly we’re apologizing before we’ve even read a single word, making excuses as to why the story might suck. We do this to rationalise the attack that we think will ultimately destroy our resolve and confidence. What we are really doing is being defensive. It’s not hard to be when you have other writers or fellow students attacking you. And that’s exactly how it feels.

We apologise to defuse the attack, but by doing so, we are making ourselves as wide open and as uncomfortable as a woolly mammoth stuck on a tropical island with one coconut tree. We inevitably give the people working our stories ammunition. Most go on the attack because they haven’t learnt good workshopping skills yet, but there are those out there who go on the attack to make themselves feel better.

Until you find yourself in a professional workshop environment, you won’t ever feel comfortable. You will always leave yourself vulnerable to the bombardment of criticism. Harsh criticism and personal remarks do the most harm and I am sad to say that the good and constructive criticism gets lost in all the negativity.

Rule number 1: Don’t make any apologies unless you’ve accidentally clogged the toilet with biohazard waste material that chokes the air with leftover tuna casserole.

This rule came about because of a telephone call with a fellow workshopper. ‘Do you remember how we used to always make excuses before workshopping?’ The horror! The horror! But something was said that gave me a ding moment that was so exceptionally loud, I though the microwave just had a conniption fit. What are you worried about? You don’t do that anymore. You tell us what you want. You own what you think is wrong with the story and the writing and get us to look at it.”

Upon reflection, she was right. (I hope she doesn’t read this post.)

I own it. It is my story. Instead of worrying about what others might think about the genre I write in, or whether it was a reflection on my person, I trained myself to focus on more important things. So how did I get from being defensive and apologetic to taking control and being confident? (Yet I still get butterflies when I workshop a story. I own those too. It’s who I am.)

Clause 1a: Repeat after me. I am not what I write. There is one exception—autobiography—but we’re discussing fiction. Repeat it again: I AM NOT what I write.

NOTE: I am not a demon who loses herself in a moment of torturous pleasure when fishing for a kidney.

Clause 1b: I will not apologise for writing horror, fantasy, comedy, romance, science fiction, thriller, detective, urban fantasy … If any unprofessional workshopper tells you they don’t do … tell them you’re workshopping your story, not the genre.

There are some other words you could say to them, but it would be rude and disrespectful and we are professionals, are we not?

Clause 1c: I will not say: I’m sorry but I think the pace might need looking at, I’m so sorry but I think I have a problem with my character, sorry about this but there may be too many ideas in one sentence and I definitely will not say I need you to find all the mistakes. The Horror! The Humiliation! The Inevitable Attack!
Instead, I will say: Please look at the pace; my character feels like he needs more development; I know there are too many ideas in some sentences, could you help me find them; and I will always ask, what’s good about the piece.
Don’t always assume that workshoppers will tell you what’s working because sometimes we tend to focus on the questions and tasks in front of us; we naturally assume you already know what you’re good at. (I will discuss this in a future rule.)

Clause 1d: Through your writing journey, do not apologise for anything you write because deep down you’re apologising for existing and that isn’t what a writer or “normal” person should be doing. (Is there a concept of normal when so many of us are different?)

A writer, a confident writer will embrace what they write, create new life and help take their readers on a journey. For me, that is a very good reason for living. (I better include that my family is also a very-very-VERY good reason for living.)

By not apologizing for all the mistakes and inconsistencies, by owning them, you will find the most important feature a writer needs to have—Confidence—in yourself and in your story.

Until the next rule,




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Being all the things I need to be in one day can be exhausting. Some things I dare to say can get neglected. I have a tendency to get a little emotional if I don’t get any sleep the night before. But having no sleep for the last four weeks has totally drained me. Things are breaking down. GPS systems not working when I have two away soccer games I have to get to. Files lost. Blog posts actually. Poof! Gone. Dishwasher’s playing up and somehow that’s my fault. My children have been sick. I’ve been sick. The list goes on … and on … I’m so over it.

So the floors weren’t done today. But at least I managed three months of paperwork for the tax time dreaded BAS tax and GST statements. They’re done!

I washed the dishes and left them on the sink. What’s the big deal? They’ll be put away the next morning.

Then there’s the work side of things. The phone ringing. Always interrupting.

Life can be overwhelming. Some people deal with it better than I do, but today I just found it hard to do any writing. (Until now)

But in order to keep my writing mind ticking over and my sanity from leaping into insanity mode I made a decision. No writing for me. (Except this blog.) Instead, I workshopped three stories for another writer. It calmed me in a way that I hadn’t expected. I went into writer and reader mode. Slipped in so stealthily that I hadn’t realised my blood pressure had gone down.

I knew there was another reason why I love being a writer.

Because I’m in workshopping mode, I’m going to write the next post about workshopping.

Catch you next week; that’s if I haven’t gone to jail for killing my dishwasher.


Crazy Time

It’s the school holidays so needless to say … AARRGGHH!!

My time is no longer my own; neither is my mind.

A nightmare to be sure, to be sure. It’s bad enough working from home but having to deal with the chicklin’s as well—makes me downright borderline crazy. Writing doesn’t happen very often during the two weeks the kids have off. So this year, instead of stressing out because I can’t write, I’ve downgraded my anxiety to a more manageable level. By manageable I mean I’m not pulling out my hair.

No longer will I feel frustrated by not being able to focus on one story. Little ideas can be dot pointed. A line here or there will (after the I’m always hungry and I’m always bored go back to school) be fleshed out when time permits.

My sanity might return a week after they go back. Oh God! I hope it returns.

There has been one interesting development. I used one of my writing tools, my trusty whiteboard as a means of getting my message across. If we tidy the house up as a family, including a list and sub list of all the chores that need to be done by lunchtime, they can have the rest of the day to themselves. It has saved me a lot of yelling and I’m kicking myself because it’s actually working and I should have tried that years ago. There is a reward of course. We get to go to the movies. But in order to make sure there are no arguments over which movie, they both get to pick one, so I guess I have to save up and go twice. What a shame?

Until then my fellow stressed out writers,


Confessions of a Horror Writing Mummy

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I’m not saying that I’m wrapped up in various strips of material. It has been said, numerous times, that I should be wrapped up in cotton wool. Yes. Those people may be right. After all I’m accident prone. This post isn’t about me falling over, having a roasting chicken spit at me or just walking into furniture. This post is long overdue. It’s about juggling motherhood, work and my aspiring career as a writer.

A fellow writer asked me, where do you find the time to write?

I didn’t mean to make them screw up their faces like they had just eaten the world’s largest sour warhead candy when I said: I just do.

And while I’ve been blunt with those who tell me they didn’t have the time to write, but they’ve just told me the story outline and plot of all the soapies (is that what you call them?) they’ve been watching the entire week, month, year. I believe that one can make time if one is truly passionate about writing.

So how do I find the time?

To me time isn’t an issue. I would like more of it. I squeeze my writing in wherever I can. Between phone calls and housework, (I work as a receptionist and book keeper from home) and I have to admit it’s a pain in the tanooki. Whenever the phone rings I lose my train of thought. I may not be able to focus on novel length manuscripts at the moment but I’m getting a few more short stories written. Some days I’m lucky and the phone stays quiet for a couple of hours, but those days don’t happen very often. And although I work from home, the television is always switched off. The only time it comes on is if I’m having a day off writing, but then it’s only on while I eat lunch. Instead of flicking the picture box on, sit down and write something to help you unwind.

My time is taken up with all the other aspects of life, like my kid’s soccer practice. I’m sitting in my car, writing, (this post actually.) I have an hour of quiet time. Something I’m finding rarer every day. Maybe I should get someone to wrap me up in cotton wool. I’ve even been known to dabble with ideas or reading my work aloud while waiting in the school car park. I think that’s why some parents avoid me at times. What’s that crazy woman doing talking to nobody!

Like I care what they think.

There is one drawback to finding ideas in the school car park. I’m always interrupted by the bell—especially in the middle of a juicy part. Although I sometimes dabble if the children permit me, three thirty to six thirty is their time: to annoy me, love me, ask for help with their homework, hate me because they need to clean their rooms. I’m such a terrible mother—not. There are times, on the weekend, when I think they have super hearing and for some reason as soon as they hear me typing they equate that with their stomachs and become a ravenous hoard of (two) zombies that are just doing my head in because they are old enough to make their own sandwiches. I still love them unconditionally.

As a writer you must read and here’s the embarrassing aspect of my writing life. The only chance I get to read is on the toilet. Why? Because no one is game enough to interrupt me. My reading time can last a couple of minutes to sometimes ten. At least it’s uninterrupted time until the husband asks me if I’ve drowned in there. Sometimes I get innovative and read when my children need to read for homework. It may only last for ten or twenty minutes but it’s a good quiet time to catch up or try and finish that long chapter.

If I want to work on my novel I have to wait until the kids and husband go to bed. Sometimes I get lucky and the husband goes to bed early. Let me guess, you were thinking of something else when I said I sometimes get lucky. Weren’t you? Come on admit it. If he doesn’t go to bed early that’s fine because I’ve trained myself to work with noise. You know, the television, the husband yelling at it if his football team isn’t winning or he’s flicking through three of my favourite TV shows. I actually love sports. It gives me more time to delve into my passion. I may stay up a little longer, but usually my eyeballs are hanging out of my head by ten thirty. Writing drafts are done at night but editing can be done between phone calls, even if it is one page at a time.

My head isn’t clear or able to function first thing in the morning, so there isn’t a need (for now) to get up earlier. I’ve thought about it. But you have to know your limits. No point writing if your brain is too tired. There are days when I don’t write. It doesn’t mean that I’m not working. In my head that is. And there are times when I do sometimes take a little ten minute nanny nap (one of the few benefits of working from home) between phone calls and/or after finishing a draft of a story.

So finding time, like in the good old days when I used to work for someone else, I used to sit outside in the warmer months and write for twenty minutes. I truly believe in the cliché of I wish I knew then what I now know. I would’ve written more, but then again I wouldn’t have the experience of being who I am right now.

Finding time can be tricky, but even if you only find ten minutes, make it count. It’s what you do with those ten minutes that really matters. Ten minutes of focused writing time will let me do a plot outline, a brief character study, one that I can expand on later, I can write 100-200 words and it can allow me to do research.

Some of my fellow workshoppers hate me for being productive and bringing in work every meeting. I do it because I don’t want to be answering phones all my life until I retire. I started writing in my thirties. In the time between realising my dream and now being in a position of knowing exactly what I want, I’ve had a lot of emotional ups and downs. I will be confessing about those too! They are important. Each knockback has made me stronger. Each of them has given me inspirational thoughts and epiphanies.

So use your time wisely.

And of course come back to the Writing Confessions of a Horror Writing Mummy where I will be confessing on how I find inspiration for killing off my characters.

Confess you later,