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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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

Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping

workshopping photo final

# 1
Re-blogged

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,

EJ

Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping

Rule Number 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 think the pace might need looking at, I think I have a problem with my character, 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,

E. J. McLaughlin