Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping

drama queen


The room was quiet. The only thing moving was my hand across the page of a story someone else had written. It was a good story. It had some minor problems, once fixed the story would be publishable and I even said that to the writer when it was my turn to discuss their piece. All I said was you have your protagonist in two different settings, yet she clearly hasn’t moved. When I said that, other people looked back on the story and agreed. It was obviously a case of cut and pasting that she had missed.

I wish I had those easy fixes. This was her response.

What would you know?

The class all stared at me as I tried not letting my jaw drop in disbelief.

You have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re just hating on me because you’re jealous. I’m a better writer than you.

I definitely wasn’t jealous, a little envious maybe that she could use the English language better than I could. However, now I was hating on her for making this personal. My professionalism was being attacked because some smug know-it-all thought she had written something that in her mind was perfect. It was a second draft. (A good second draft.)

I don’t want you working on my work because you’ll ruin it. Besides anyone who writes horror is a hack.

This is not any part of my imagination trying to get you to understand. This actually happened. She drew that line. Went diva on me and why, because I wanted her story to succeed.

My face could’ve heated up the entire room. Actually the entire building. I was so mad, and all I said was, have you finished being unprofessional. What I wanted to do was stab her. I wanted to tell her that she was acting like the biggest idiot in the entire world. If you think you’re so perfect why are you here? I didn’t get a chance to say anymore because she stormed out of the room. I thought that perhaps she was having a bad day, but someone said that she did that to someone last year and the year before.

Rule number 3 is …
Don’t be a princess or act like King Kong on a banana bender.

No one will ever want to work with you again. Good workshopping is never personal. It’s all about the story.

Clause 3a: If someone says something that you disagree with, don’t go nuclear. Listen. Respect their comments and forget about it after the workshop. It’s your story and you will make it what it needs to be. You won’t agree on everything. Do I care that someone doesn’t make a change? No. I know it’s not personal. But I did get a little miffed once when I told a different fellow student that she had great symbolism in her piece and she took it out just to spite me. (The teacher told her to come see me if she needed help and she didn’t like that.) By the way, I wasn’t the teacher’s pet. He just recognised that I knew what I was doing and said EJ gets myths and symbols. She got her revenge on me in another way but at the end of the day, showed her true character and I just carried on being me, which irked her even more. I had already spent two years with negative workshopping. I was no longer studying. So why should I worry about it?

Clause 3b: No one like’s someone who is petty and vindictive and honestly will a publisher work with someone who isn’t willing to work with them in some degree, especially if this person is a first time author? Of course not. Why alienate those who are willing to help you out.

Clause 3c: if you can’t respect others, other won’t respect you. They will not put an effort into your work. Why chop off your head and kill the story? A question popped into my head. I wished I had asked her this, but… Would you act this way if I was an editor at a publishing house asking you to make the story better?

There are many people; I don’t call them writers, who will always take everything personally. If you want professional workshopping, you must first be a professional workshopper. Even when people were attacking my work, I still workshopped their pieces to the best of my ability. I never got personal and never threw a tantrum that would put McEnroe to shame. I admit I almost quit the course and almost left the class in tears. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone.

If you’re just starting out with a group of writers who have never workshopped before suggest you make up a charter of conduct.

My charter goes a little something like this:

No writer will be persecuted because of their choice of genre. I will work to the best of my ability to ensure that the story worked on will succeed in the publishing world. I will not make personal remarks only healthy constructive criticism. I will respect the writer’s decision because at the end of the day it’s their story not mine.

It’s all about respect.

Workshop you later,

EJ McLaughlin.


Aldin’s Cauldron…

Pete Aldin Pic 1

I have asked a fellow workshopper if he would like to contribute to my blog. So please welcome Pete Aldin to the Written In Blood Family.

5 Reasons to Never Give Up Writing.

1. Writing is for fun and not for validation

You are a human being. That fact makes you valuable. None of us needs to write anything to feel like we’re significant or achieving significance; publication is icing on the cake. I was told at my most recent Writers’ Circle that sometimes I get a little intense when it comes to my projects. My friends were elated when I wrote a fun piece for fun. They saw a different side to me and celebrated – not the brilliance of my verse – but the fact that I’d played.

If you’ve lost sight of the fun in your art, take some time out to rediscover it. Play. Experiment. Write something that only you and God will ever read. Make yourself laugh. And remind yourself that you are far more than the sum of your finished pieces.

2. Breakthroughs come to those who work their arses off and don’t stop learning.

Hopefully this speaks for itself. A quick and humbling anecdote. A couple of weeks ago, I had a (very masculine) meltdown/freak-out when I got a knockback from a UK agent for a novel submission. The email intimated that the novel wasn’t “special” enough to be purchased by a publisher. I don’t know why it hit me so hard but it did. I annoyed my Facebook friends with my complaint, I emailed a few close friends with a “What the hell am I to do?” message. I barely slept.

Nine hours later (overnight Australian time), an email from another UK agent came in saying the book looked interesting and inviting me to submit the first 3 chapters to her.

You never know what’s just nine hours away. Do. Not. Stop. Hoping.

3. You have a voice. It’s your right to use it.

I’ve just saved you reading hundreds of pages of the Steven Covey book The 8th Habit. Because all umpteen-hundred pages just say what I said there. Use your voice. Use it. Speak up through your writing. Whatever’s in that Muse Organ in your brain. Whatever’s in your heart. Whatever’s inspiring you or making you think or question. Write it. Give it voice.

4. No one can write like you. It’s your responsibility to us to let us read you.

Following on from #3, I firmly believe God gives us a gift for a reason. Not only is it your right, but it’s your responsibility to speak up through your writing. My life would be the poorer if I had never read the opening chapter of one of EJ’s drafts (which as well as being fun, gave me an empathy for people I’d started judging – shhh, don’t tell her that). My life would be poorer if I’d never read Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark or sundry other short stories, poems and novels on my shelves.

Let us read you. There will always be people who want to.

5 And finally… what the hell else are you gonna do?

If you give up writing, what will you do with your time? Whittle figurines out of soap? Trade exotic stuffed toys on eBay? You’re a writer for goodness sakes. It’s in your blood. So. Go write. Get better at your art, get better connected with folks in the game, learn the biz, and enjoy yourself.



Pete Aldin has been writing scifi/fantasy/thriller stories since he was a kid. In his 40s, he finally decided to actually finish the damn things.

Pete lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his family and their small yappy dog. His addictions include alcoholic ciders, movie soundtracks and the FIFA franchise on Xbox. He doesn’t like pina colada or taking walks in the rain.

He can be found lurking in the shadows at http://www.petealdin.com .

His writing credits include:
Deathsmith (Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, October 2010)
The Bridge (6 Tales, December 2011) free here
Night Music (Niteblade, March 2012)
Illegal (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Issue #56) – a collaboration with Kevin Inkenberry
The Whipping Tree (Niteblade, March 2013)
Mud (Horrific History anthology, Hazardous Press, April 2013)
No Good Deed (Out of the Gutter, Bareknuckles Pulp #31, April 2013 – another online freebie)

Mused Infused

Sketch by Georgia McLaughlin (age 11)

Sketch by Georgia McLaughlin (age 11)


Zombie Driven

Here’s the deal. I love zombie movies, zombie games and some zombie novels and short stories. Pardon the pun but they’ve been done to death. I have a few ideas floating around for a zombie trilogy. They’re filed away in a dark metallic drawer, waiting for the chance to come out of the closet and take a massive chunk out of my overcrowded imagination. There were just so many stories and novels out there. Then one day … bam, zip, like a bullet to the frontal lobe, the muse struck.

Brrraaaiiinnnsss,’ she whispered, ‘I want your braaaiiiinnnnssss.’

‘Well,’ I replied, ‘You can’t have them if you want me to write about Zombies.’

‘Brains, brains, brains …’

As a writer you can’t argue with your muse. You can try but the consequences might not be to your liking.

There’s the off chance you’ll win and then you find yourself not liking what you have just written.

There’s the probability that your muse will be horrifically offended and leave you with a serious case of writer’s block.

Or to teach you a lesson, bombards you with so many ideas all at the same time—so ha!

The muse will often hit you at the most unexpected times, for me it’s as soon as my head hits the pillow and that’s when I say goodnight to getting a decent night’s sleep: it’s not going to happen.

‘I’m starvin’. Give me your brains.’

Caving in, as I always do for my overzealous muse, I’ve written three zombie short stories. I have to admit I was worried but when I workshopped them …

‘This is some of your best work.’

Told you so.

‘You should write more.’

Isn’t there something you should be saying to me right now?

‘I never saw that coming.’

I don’t hear a thank you.

I’ll do more than thank you after these pieces, which have been sent out to competitions and publishers, win something or are published. But thank you anyway.

And …

I appreciate everything you’ve inspired me to write. I honestly do mean that.

I know. Because I can read your mmmmiiiinnnnddddd …

Give me a break. Okay there’s another zombie competition. I would like to get some words on the screen. I have the characters, the setting and the plot all worked out. I just need to start writing it.

Miss Muse.

Miss Muse?


Not so a-muse-ingly abandoned,