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.

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

Confessions Of A Horror Writing Mummy

#3

This confession should have been let out a long time ago. Right now it seems that I’m employing old techniques of procrastination to try to get out of writing it. I’m hungry, get a snack, sit down. I’m thirsty, get up. I better check my emails, get up. I’m still hungry … It just keeps going on and on … well not today.

It’s hard being a person. Being a writer on top of that doesn’t make it any easier. To me it doesn’t make it harder, it just seems to get a little more complicated sometimes. I’ve said before that life can get in the way. And I suddenly realise that there are aspects of my life that need to be shared. I almost gave up on my dream—the dream of becoming a writer. It stayed with me through a lot of heartache and sorrow but there were days that if one more thing went wrong I could have easily given up.

So where do I begin?

I begin by saying that, hopefully for those of us who may not know one another, but have shared this experience, you are not alone. Giving up on writing, or any other dream you have, can have devastating consequences. So don’t give up.

I’m stalling.

After completing my diploma of professional writing and editing, (which by the way wasn’t as pleasant as it should have been) my dear mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. This was the woman who pushed me along in my dream of becoming a writer. She looked after the children while I was studying. I still think that her begging me not to quit was a ruse so she could spoil the grandkids even more.

Watching my mother through the highs and lows of her battle with this cancer didn’t put my writing on hold, I did write, but not for publication. I couldn’t concentrate long enough or I was too emotionally drained and had a tendency to fall asleep as soon as I sat down.

On the good days she would ring and ask me to take her shopping, something that used to give her pleasure. I kind of missed the days where she would always be leaving me behind. She was such a fast little walker. Now it seemed I was leaving her behind.

Watching my mother shrivel into a woman who was more concerned about how everyone else was feeling really broke my heart. She had always been strong, and vibrant. Now she slept most of the day and could hardly eat.

There was a time when anger fortified itself inside my mind. The treatment that was keeping her from being strangled by her cancer was killing her. For three years until her final fight there were a few times we were rushed to the hospital to say goodbye. She fought bravely, right up till the end.

We had many conversations while we were together in the hospital ward on our own. Some good, some bad and some were embarrassing. I already know what makes a man, my man, happy in the bedroom thank you very much mother.

But the one discussion we had, which was odd because at the time the infection she caught had made its way to her brain causing a lot of damage, was clear and aimed at me and no one else. She started telling me off for not bringing in my writing pad and pen. I told her that I hadn’t written anything in three weeks.

I didn’t tell her that it was because I was juggling the children and her, of course. She told me that she was sad because she forgot what her dream had been. She stopped everything because she had me when she was eighteen. Then she had two more children and decided to try to be the best mum she could be.

That one statement: I forgot my dream, really honed in the sacrifice my mother made in her life to ensure her children were happy. She was happy but there were days I could tell there was something missing. She told me not to make the same mistake. Having children wasn’t the mistake, she reminded me. It’s not doing everything in your power to get what you want out of life.

Three weeks after that conversation she passed away.

I wish I was a drinker; a wine would be great right now.

It was if she was reading my mind. I was going to give up on writing. It probably would have driven me nuts, but hey, life would have been less stressful.

My mother is in a much better place. Watching her die over three years was gruelling. My grief was mixed with confusion because I was happy that she was gone, because she’s not suffering any more. A couple of days after the funeral I was writing whether I wanted to or not. Clarity came a knockin’.

It’s funny. Now when I feel like giving up I think of my mum and suddenly I feel like her foot is kicking my butt. And to push the fact that she is still around and thinking of me, the first anniversary of her death fell on Friday the 13th. So what kind of mother would I be if I told my children that if something was too hard just give up?

Thanks Mum for being a great role model.

Through this heartache and release of grief I have gained a lot of character insight and not just for my writing.

I have experience.

I have grown.

No doubt life will throw another spanner at my head, but if I fall, I will rise again and again and again.
I hope that you can turn your troubles, stresses and grief into something positive—a challenge, an experience, a moment to express oneself. It’s hard. I know.

Now that I’ve shared, had my fair share of new tears, felt like a fool for crying and being relieved of some of the angst, I feel surprisingly uplifted. Sharing is something that helps lift the burden of life. As for writing, life fuels what goes inside the story. Overcome and you will feel better about yourself.

SO, never ever, ever give up on something you love. I know I can’t, otherwise my mother will descend from heaven and slap the back of my head for all eternity or until I pick up a pen.

Confess you later,

EJ

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

The Rejection Connection

I woke up this morning, accidentally hit the email button instead of my snooze button on my phone and was politely informed that one of my submissions had been rejected.

It is one of the most professional rejections I have received. It showed respect.

What a way to wake up!

But instead of complaining, bitching, grumbling, being upset, ready to soak my bed sheets with tears, I simply rolled over, told the husband, ‘I got another rejection.’

He sighed.

But I was smiling. This means I have another opportunity. I have many opportunities. The rejection doesn’t come for poor writing. It’s all about finding the one person who likes my sense of humour, who will take a risk. They are out there.

An epiphany gives me a ding moment. I’m not so fragile anymore. Every writer needs to have a backbone that’s covered in titanium and then sealed with cement.

Just remind yourself that with every rejection there is another opportunity, you just have to find it. And the most important aspect writers should keep is their determination.

Bring on the acceptances. I’m ready.

EJ

Experiment My Pretty.

Sketch by Georgia McLaughlin (age 11)

Sketch by Georgia McLaughlin (Age 11)

Who’s my muse talking to? Oh that would be me. If we never try to experiment we won’t learn what we love, hate, what we’re good or bad at and we definitely wouldn’t learn from our mistakes. I’m talking about writing and not drugs, sex and other aspects of life, like food.

I found myself in an emotionally bad place the other day and decided it would be a good time to start a journal. Only one problem. After I wrote the first word—one word—a character by the name of Dahlia stepped all over my brain and demanded that this story is her story and to hell with what I was planning. By the time I wrote the second line, the story was hers.

Maybe there was some stupid muse high on authority, maybe even drunk, insisting that I push myself to the limit and write the story in present tense.

Present tense.

ARE YOU NUTS?

Now who’s been experimenting with drugs?

Okay, so I caved. I wasn’t in a mood to fight. I was in a dark place and so was my character Dahlia. Actually she’s in the boot of a car. So the muse stamped her higher authoritarian feet all over my imagination and creative side of the brain.

I suppose I should be grateful. I was thinking about the story with all my concentration and I forgot about all the other stuff that was hindering the creative process.

Just when I thought the muse had collapsed on her bed with a hangover, she stuck her two cents in again.
Shorter sentences.

COME ON!

@#$%& BLEEP BLEEP!! @#$%

That’s it. I’m going to imagine one of my kids (when they were younger) banging on pots and pans for the next twelve hours.

The muse is amused.

Did I resist? Heck no.

It actually sounded like a good idea. After I calmed down that is.

So doing something completely opposite was actually not only nerve wrecking, I mean nerve wracking, but I did have some fun doing it.

Now for the scary part of being a writer—workshopping.

But the muse hasn’t finished with me yet …

Mused infused and definitely abused,

EJ