Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping

drama queen

#3

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.

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Mused Infused

Sketch by Georgia McLaughlin (age 11)

Sketch by Georgia McLaughlin (age 11)

#4

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?

MISS MUSE …

Not so a-muse-ingly abandoned,

EJ

A Rejection Connection Guest Post

Davidh Digman:

I am over the moon! I am pumped up to brimming with an excess of spirits! I am so overwhelmed with joy that I want to take her, take her, take her right now and have my naughty, manly way with her! Why am I so blissed out that my employer may understandably want me to take a blood test? One of my beloved short stories was rejected!

Okay, so before you decide to call an ambulance and put all of the doctors and nurses on danger money, I lurrrrrve professionally crafted rejections.

Rejections are the publishing industry’s way of workshopping a writer’s piece. And we all know (or should know) how crucial a good workshop is to a writer.

This rejection was of the personalised type — as distinct from a form rejection.

So an editor has taken some precious time out to put in some serious effort to tell me not only that the story doesn’t suit their publication, but moreover, why it doesn’t suit them. How more kind and helpful could any editor be in turning away my work?

They described it with the words ‘preachy’ and ‘melodramatic’.

‘Preachy’ and ‘melodramatic’ are not exactly compliments and I could have simply ranted and raved and stamped my little feet and cried about how it was not fair, not fair… but instead I accepted it.

I cannot help but respect the professionalism shown by a professional editor taking the time out to tell a professional writer in a professional way that she does not want this particular story.

I have had the painful experience of being the editor who must reject the work of other writers — so I know how it must have felt for this editor to have done the same to my work.

And by my not being offended by these seemingly scathing criticisms (which did make me wince a little, I am not afraid to admit), I am free instead to use this professional editor’s free piece of advice to review my story.

I may not review each and every story after each and every rejection, but by embracing my rejections, and accepting them for what they are, sometimes the most seemingly searing criticisms can be the most helpful.
I can actually see her point — this was an experimental piece of writing and I was creative enough to write it and brave enough to submit it, but I can see her point when she was noble enough to reject it.

Here I must divulge a little fact about this story: moments after hitting the send button when I emailed this submission through, a thought occurred to me to change it a bit. Without giving anything away, I thought ‘What if my character was blithely recalling how he dismembered this person and smeared this other person all over the walls and floor and ceiling?’

And guess what this beautiful, wonderful, consoling, soothing and inspiring rejection has done for me. It has told me that that is precisely what I must do with my character and with this particular story.
So yee-hah and woo-hoo, my story was rejected – yay!

Thank you to that wonderful, kind and compassionate editor who went to such pains to reject my work in such a consummately honest and forthright, but respectful way.

You have helped me to improve my craft.

You could not have been more helpful if you tried.

Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping

Engage workshop 2 final pic

#2

It has come to my attention that I haven’t been a good blooger, I mean blogger, because I started rules on workshopping and stopped after the first one. Which was? Hmmm. That’s right, don’t apologise for what you have written. Ahh. It’s all coming back now. I’ve been a good little writer and reblogged rule number 1.

So rule number two. Here we go.

Right.

Just hang on a sec.

There are just so many that can slide in this slot.

I feel as if I’m dangling my toes over a diving board and looking into the abyss of a winter abused in-ground swimming pool. I can see Jaws Junior thrashing about. By the way, have I told you that the diving board is ten metres in the air … and I have a hungry child trying to climb up the ladder? And should they succeed in joining me …

Have I also mentioned that if by a miraculous twist of fate Jaws Junior misses my descent, the tiny cookie cutter sharks beneath him are bound to rip and tear me to shreds for being a bad blooger, blogger? At least it’s better than being called a booger.

And should the cookie cutter sharks … ohh, that’s just about enough of diving into writer’s depression.

Rule number 2: Tell them.

That’s it you say?

Clause 2a: Tell them what draft you are in. Are you at Jaws Junior level, cookie cutter depth or are you so deep into draft four, five or six that you have dived into the uncharted water and there’s no way you can break through the surface.

Why you ask?

If you happen to have written a first draft (this is a major milestone and should be applauded) worrying about tiny punctuation errors may be a waste of time because nine times out of ten your first draft will not look anything like your final draft. Discussions are needed for character development, setting, atmosphere, tension—story. If you are midway, then structure, grammar, and all the other aspects that will help start polishing the manuscript are needed.

Clause 2b: Tell them what you think is wrong, and don’t say everything, because that’s not true. Have a little confidence in yourself because it will go a long way. If you had a problem with plausibility, say so. Open it up, for not only workshopping the text, but for discussion. If you have a problem with names or world building, open it up for discussion. Trust me, it’s exhausting but fun.

Clause 2c: Tell them what not to work on. If I like my opening line, and there isn’t any punctuation, tense or other grammatical issues, I tell them I’m happy with it. Tell them that the setting is still in construction and you need more time, but you want the character’s reaction to a particular situation looked at. I’m happy with the voice, but unhappy with sequence.

And when I say tell them, I don’t mean yelling it down their throats and being a demanding princess high on authority. Manners are essential in keeping fellow workblobbers, I mean workshoppers happy. You don’t want them shoving your manuscript where the sun … I guess I just found rule number three.

Clause 2d: Ask questions. You ask people questions all the time. Learning is the only way we can move forward in life. The same goes for writing.

Have you ever been so overwhelmed in a workshop environment that you begin to believe that you don’t know enough to be a writer? I would love to hear about it. If you have a great workshop team, this will never happen and if by chance it does, tell them how you’re feeling. We all know what happens when a djinn has been released after a lifetime of being bottled up. We don’t want anyone turning into monsters or wishing they had never started writing in the first place and I definitely don’t want people self-doubting their ability to create wonderful stories.

As writers we shouldn’t ever feel like we’re trapped on a diving board. I’ll tell you one thing, if I have to take that leap, it will be one big cannon ball right on top of Jaws Junior’s head and should he eat me, I hope he dies from severe indigestion.

Workshop you later,

EJ

Confessions of a Horror Writing Mummy

#2
Finding Inspiration:

Using real life to find ways of killing characters:

Come on. We’ve all thought it about someone. Someone who grates on our nerves. A rival who gets up your nose whenever they get the chance. A horrible boss you wish would have a heart attack already. That not so nice motorbike rider who just clipped your mirror while slipping illegally through the traffic jam. Or the dreaded ex. How many of you secretly hope that they get hit by a truck? I have a friend who prays that her ex gets hit by a truck, any truck or hopefully a bus. And if God likes her enough, the ex will not only be run over by a truck, but the bus as well, one after the other, ka thud-ka thud.

Most people I deal with at work are pleasant. But there are those troublesome few who think it’s their God-given right to give me attitude for something that is their fault, not mine. I’ve been sworn at when I say we can’t help them; been called many rude names when all I’ve asked is if they have a copy of the receipt so I can look them up in our files; then there’s the sexism. “I don’t want to talk to you because you’re a woman.” But I’m the one who books you in. Sexism comes at me from both sexes. “You’re just the secretary, put me onto someone who can help me book the technician in to fix my …” THAT WOULD BE ME! Aaarrrgghh.

When I hear these people I instantly want to assert some telekinetic mind exploding blast down the telephone line. But wait, that’s been done before. Scanners, where are you now? I will get even and write horrible deaths for character with them in mind. Mwuh-huh-huhhhhhh.

So let’s take a look at how the stuck in a traffic jam scenario plays out in my head. I’ve got all the time in the world to conjure, to feed my imagination. Most of us have been stuck in a traffic jam, cursing, cussing, annoyed, angry and frustrated, so fellow writers use those emotions!

A jerk in a big ol’ 4WD, without indicating, has decided that the little gap you left in front of you is big enough to squeeze into. Then he flips you the bird. Then as your nerves settle you hear a small bang and a guy on a motor bike has not only knocked your side mirror but smashed it, broke it and he doesn’t stop until he realises he is stuck further up ahead.

There’s a bridge up ahead and you hear wheels screeching. You spy the white smoke and watch as the rear end accident unfolds. So here’s the bit that’s fiction. Sure I could have the car that was rear ended careen off the bridge and land flat on the motor bike guy. But to me that sounds too bland, too quick. So how about it being a truck? A tanker? But I don’t want it carrying something toxic, or explosive, or a biohazard that would doom all of mankind and turn everyone into zombies, that would be too easy. Let’s say, for my imagination’s sake, that the tanker is carrying milk.

Now we’re thinking outside the box.

So the motor bike rider sees the truck falling towards him, he can only reverse up. There’s not enough room between the two cars beside him to even move his legs to get off the bike. He ducks and … is saved by the other two cars, but there’s a problem … We’ll come back to him in a moment.

The truck flips and the top curved corner hits the roof of the 4WD and the roof caves in and the sunroof falls out. Pop! Right on top of the guy’s head. He tries to get out of his vehicle but his seatbelt won’t budge. (Clichéd, I know) but the reason it’s not working is because he broke it and was on his way to having it fixed. There’s a hole in the corner of the milk tank. The milk gushes in at such a rate that … He can open the door you say, a window? Not if there is no handle to wind it down and the door won’t open because of the collapsed roof.

So the driver of the 4WD drowns in something that is good for you. What would happen if he was allergic to milk products … ahhh the possibilities. (I’m so evil it’s scary.)

The motor biker, what about him?

The driver of one of the cars that saved him from being crushed has fainted. His or her foot has slipped on the accelerator. The truck stuck on top slides and the car is tilted onto its side. The car’s wheels whir furiously. The bike shifts beneath him and he falls. The truck slides a little and the car moves back towards the motor cyclist. The spinning tyre … and … basically, like a wood sander, strips everything off from his clothes to the flesh to the muscle to the bone. Then the car finishes falling and lands on top of him.

The traffic’s moving. Inspiration, thinking outside the box, is what writers must do to make their stories come alive.

So I have a very evil imagination.

I confess, that without it, I would be just like everyone else. I don’t want that. Anyway, thinking up horrible ways of killing characters by using real life keeps me from cracking under the pressure. I’m a sweet person. I’ll do anything to help anyone out. But to all those horrible people who make life insufferable die, die, die already and don’t ever drive behind a milk truck.

Confess you later,

EJ

Black Serenade

This post came about because I have a screenplay that’s been begging me to work on it, but I let it down, failed it miserably because this was one of the stories that got hacked to death by bad workshopping. Let’s get one thing clear. I wasn’t being a precious princess who was afraid of killing her darlings. I love killing my darlings because at the end of the journey a better story unfolds. Every week I was told by the same group of people, day in and week out, (because we all took the same classes) that I shouldn’t bother with horror, it’s not something we should read or watch, why does there have to be blood, there’s something wrong with people who like or write horror.

Hello. Is anybody home?

My tag line is: Love; devour it before it devours you. There’s some degree of expectation of seeing blood in a horror romance and not a romance horror. Not forgetting that they would scribble out entire scenes without a word as to why. Some of the advice was good, but too much of it was bad, including the personal jabs. I put away my screenplay Black Serenade for all the wrong reasons. Unintentionally I let these bad workshoppers get to me, make myself doubt who I was as a writer and scariest of all, I let them.

That’s what bad workshopping does. It erodes your confidence bit by bit until you become afraid of something that you’ve created. I even have a novel that has been sitting dormant on my bookshelf for four years waiting to be reworked. (Guess what?)

Sure I kept writing. I even managed to finish my novel, Never Bargain With God and have sent out query letters to agents. I have other projects waiting. So why did I feel inclined to ignore Black Serenade? Because, it brought back the fear associated with losing confidence. It made me feel inadequate, frustrated and not worth the ink needed to have it printed out. I can’t believe how hard this is for me to write. Just because some unprofessional workshoppers dug their claws in, I was ready to sacrifice what I had worked so hard on.

While doing these posts on workshopping, I had a revelation. I not like that now. I have professional workshoppers who scare me for a whole different reason. They slash their way through my work and it’s all constructive criticism. I love it. I’m not dwelling in the past anymore. Bad workshopping is a thing of the past.

After rereading my screenplay, I decided to rewrite it as I wanted it to be from the beginning. It only took four days. I was happy. I was an ogre if I wasn’t writing it. So, Black Serenade has made it as my first post in Screenplay Scrapbook.

It’s currently out of my hands and into the dependable and reliable story deconstructionists I know. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

The reinvigorated,

E. J. McLaughlin