Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Writer's Workshop

Tuesday, August 10, 2010....

For quite some time, I wanted to join a writer's group, but was too scared. The art of writing, while easy for some, is not for me.

Initially it was my grammar that had me running from joining a group, but eventually, it was my fear of the unknown that had me stay away from writing groups. When I say the "unknown", I mean rejection of my work or fear of not being able to finish any writing projects or knowing what I wanted to write.

So...now that we know why it took forever for me to join a group, let me tell you about the one I joined. It's not a traditional group you'd find associated with your local library or bookstore, but one run by a husband and wife team who have a business geared towards writers. They have a physical location which is open most of the day for writers to go to write instead of the coffee shop. An alternative to the noisy Starbucks or your home which offers up 1000+ distractions.

In addition to offering a place to get your writing mojo in place, they offer writing, screenplay and poetry workshops as the main portion of their business. The workshops are moderated by one of the owners who was a professor of writing at various colleges and an actor in his early career (I'm not sure if he also wrote for the screen, but would imagine that having acted on stage and screen rounds out his knowledge for his screenwriting groups).

I take the writer's workshop. I meet once per week with 4 other women and share what we have been writing on from the prior week. The three rules of the group are: come with 4 to 5 double-spaced pages of something you've been working on, you leave negativity at the door and when you offer your comments on other author's works, you have to be positive.

The moderator, Patrick, is the only one allowed to offer CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.

Constructive does not mean negative, but offers suggestions how to pump up the work, or tell you where the writing is weak.

Everyone in my group is writing something different. Some stuff I like, some I don't. However, when your only comment is to be something positive you put on different listening ears. You may not enjoy a piece on peeling sunburned skin, BUT, you can appreciate the lengths she went to show you her thoughts that run through her mind about peeling sunburned skin.

As a listener of a writer's group, you listen for the details and to see if they captured the scene.

One woman is writing an autobiography which is beautifully written even though the events she is writing about are sad. Another is starting a career as a stand-up comedian and her pieces are written from such an unique viewpoint that you find yourself lost in her thoughts. Another, a murder mystery and the other women in my group is writing pure fiction.

I'm writing a memoir disguised as fiction. There is a name for it, but it has slipped my mind at the moment. It is the period of time after my separation and how I grew as a person. However, at the moment, I'm a bit bored with the character and have been procrastinating on the character development. I just need to write and not listen to the negative thoughts and go back and edit.

The beauty of writing a memoir disguised as a fiction piece is that you can embellish the story and take great liberties you couldn't with the truth. Plus, I don't really want to hurt anyone's feelings.

What we do in the workshop besides read our pieces is interesting. We talk about the craft of writing and Patrick creates interesting and mysterious writing exercises for the group. For example...I'm told to think of a time period, another person is told to think of a setting, another to describe 2 male characters, another 2 females and finally the last person is told to describe 3 moral situations. We have 2 minutes to write down our descriptors and then we read them aloud to the group. Next is the fun part. For the next 10 minutes we write about one of the characters in the setting and time period provided with one moral issue. We are just to write. Patrick stresses this because it helps to clear the mind and lets you have fun.

The above scenario happened in class and the interesting part about it was the twist that happened because I had time period and chose the 1930's. Everyone chose 21st century situations and they had to adapt the character from a jet setting movie producer to a Broadway play producer traveling by train. For me, I could easily adapt a character into a different period, but others really struggled. It was interesting to see how difficult it was for some people to have lost control over their writing direction.

For me, the workshop is just want I needed to get what I need to on paper. I've also learned that you need to write daily on the piece (blogging, journaling and free writing are nice, but don't count). I knew this, but didn't know that it only takes 4 days for this to become habit. I'm not sure I believe this. Why don't I? Well, it takes 11 days to break chocolate cravings and 21 days to create an exercise routine. Four days seems too short (can you tell I haven't done 4 days in a row).

My biggest obstacle is me. My negative thoughts and my fear of grammar (although, I was informed POV was more important and that is why there are copy editors -- I'm still out on that one).

If you want to join a writer's group and don't have the $$, check out your local library or bookstore (both mine didn't offer one) or meetup.com or craig's list. If no luck, approach the local bookstore or coffee shop to start one. Years ago, when I had a small dried flower business, I approached a local craft store to give dried flower wreath workshops and gave 2 of them.

If you have a fear of talking in front of a group and really want to do this in a virtual atmosphere - The Next Big Writer offers you this option.

If you have any questions, just ask. I'll try to answer.


The Vegetable Assassin said...

I think this is really cool and that you seem to be learning a lot. I've never done a writer's workshop of any kind myself, but I've always written stuff my whole life. I find it easy to just sit down and write and I used to love, in high school, when we'd be given a list of specifics and asked to concoct a story around them.

It's funny too because I always had an urge to one day write a book but lately I've lost that inclination. It's the first time I've really thought, "I don't care if I write anything again or not!" I don't know if it's permanent.

Good luck with your story!

Herding Cats said...

This sounds like such a fun experience. I don't have time for it with school starting up again, but I'm already thinking ahead to next summer!

Erin P said...

I'm really happy for you that you joined! I think I'd love something like that. These days, I wish I had taken some of those sorts of classes in college (but with Nursing it was more science). I'm putting it on my list of things to do in the future. Oh, and do you read Monda's blog? She's a writing professor and very good. http://www.notelling.net/
One of her others is Easy Street Prompts, which is all about things to stimulate writing creativity. I like them both, when I have time.

Brian Miller said...

oh please post more of the excercise you do....as you do them...this is fascinating to me...i am on the hunt for one now...

Canadianbloggergirl said...

As much as going to a group outside the home is lovely....as a stay at home mom to get out sometimes is not possible. Thanks for the tip on the virutal option, something to consider.

Jewels Diva® said...

I belong to a group here in Aus, and the advice they always give is just write. Don't worry about grammer, spelling, etc, etc until you start editing. JUST WRITE.

Get into a head space, let the words flow and write, or type, and only worry about everything else when you go back to check it.

Also, I read a few books from my library, Dummies Guide to Writing Romances by the head of Harlequin Mills and Boon was a big help. She offers ALL the advice you need and it really helped me get into the idea of writing.

Little Ms Blogger said...

Veggie Ass - I've kept a journal since I was 13, but years of writing for the legal world have left me dried up like a prune.

I should really just break out and write a true romance novel using phrases like "long flowing blond locks".

Your blog makes me laugh and I bet you'll want to write a book again soon. Your mojo just went on vacation.

Herding Cats - I can only imagine how crazy things are for you at the moment. Aren't you teaching at a new school?

Erin P - I don't read Mondo's blog, but will check it out. It sounds like something I'd totally be interested in.

Brian - will do.

Canadianbloggergirl - It's a great place to start. Sometimes they post contests and there are so many pieces out there to read.

Jewels - thanks for the tips on the books - I'll definitely check them out.

TechnoBabe said...

This is really great. Informative and uplifting in a way too. I like how you tell your story about your desire to join a writer's group and your misgivings about that. The way you write your posts here I can tell you can write, especially about your true story and as you say you can embellish it which also makes it more fun for you. This sounds like a great experience. And the teachers and the setting are what would also draw me to a class like this. I sure hope you overcome the fear of grammar mistakes, the whole idea of writing something is that you have the ideas and are able to put them on paper and are willing to edit later. You offer a lot of suggestions in this post and I for one will at least check out the link you provide. Thank you for taking the time to write this post.

Sunshine Mama said...

I'm glad you found something that provides you with support and constructive criticism with your writing.

I've kept a journal since I was nine and love to write too. I wrote for a newspaper and really learned a lot there, but one of the most important things that I've learned about writing is that it is powerful. It can persuade, it can teach and it can inform. You will never regret taking the time to learn how to write well. Grammer and all.

Anonymous said...


KLo said...

I am so jealous! I want a writer's workshop :-)

Joanna Jenkins said...

I've been thinking of looking for a writing group or class and this was a good nudge. Thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like a really positive group. Keep us posted on your story please.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Quality is better than quantity...................................................................

The Bumbles said...

Do keep sharing your experience - I love seeing how things are taught and the different ways people learn. I think your genre of choice is a fun - and productive - one to write.