Writers' Workshops: do they work?

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by glendalarke, Feb 19, 2005.

  1. glendalarke

    glendalarke Registered User

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    As I said on the thread below: I going to cheat... :)
    I have been asked to be part of several of the panels at Swancon in Perth, Australia. So I thought I get some ideas from some of you readers out there...

    Panel 2: Writers' Workshops: do they work?

    I'm in an odd position here. I have only attended a single "workshop", if it could be called that, given by a published fantasy writer. She gave a competent talk - the workshop was not designed to look at any of the participants work - but I can't say I learned a thing, other than that one should not indent after text breaks... :p Everything she said I already knew.

    On the other hand, I can't help feeling that there is an awful lot of things I learned the hard way, that I could have learned much quicker by attending a workshop early in my career.

    And now I am actually giving a "workshop" in Perth on 13th March...and in a short 3 hours, I am going to try to impart a few of those "secrets" to help the participants become published novelists.

    So, what do you people think? Do Writers' Workshops work? (Especially ones that don't actually look at participants' work????)
     
  2. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    If a workshop doesn't look at people's work it had better be giving lots of nitty gritty on what sells, what company is looking for what, names at companies, what the royalties are, how to negotiate contacts and a hellava lot of inspirational/motivational-speak or it's a waste of time.

    I've been to workshops where authors talk about how "they" did it and "themselves"... the writers who just made stuff up and hit the big time straight off because someone at a publishing house liked it are the most useless for those of us who wade thru the trenches daily. We usually know more than them. But some of them can be really inspirational or their stories fascinating. Some are just hideous big heads.

    I've been to workshops where the authors believe they are artists and kow-towing to commercial enterprises is letting down the art. Hint... if you go to one of these don't laugh out loud when someone says "genre writing has no style"... because they're not joking. I sat in on it after that point because I had a morbid interest in this literary view but I admired the people that got up and left.

    When I started writing for kids I took a course and when I started writing science fiction, I took another course... both, luckily, had excellent tutors and offered feedback and I think they knocked years off my learning. I don't know whether it was a confidence thing due to my obviously poor education or whether I just recognised that I was writing mundane rubbish. But it helped a lot.

    I see some courses out there tho, well-respected courses, and I know/know of the tutor and exactly how useful they are going to be and wonder how they get away with it. I'm really glad the TAFEs made tutors sit their cert IV... at least they know now they have to be more responsible setting goals and trying to meet outcomes. There's a lot of dodgy courses/author talks out there.

    And there's a real trap that's easy to fall into if you're an author who's had a few things published, of thinking you know it all. Often if you can find a crit group with people writing at a slightly higher level than you, and they pick apart your ms, you'll learn more.

    I'm lucky enough to be in two excellent crit groups for both sf and children's writing, with other published writers and professional editors and that feedback is worth gold. After you've done some workshops, some advanced courses, a few masterclasses, feedback from peers is really the only thing that counts.
     
  3. glendalarke

    glendalarke Registered User

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    Thanks, Sheepie...
    I don't think I fall into the know-it-all class, at least not yet! :D In fact, I rather think that the more I write the more I discover I don't know. It's quite depressing at times.

    Which makes me wonder - how do you, or anyone in a crit group - manage to separate the wheat from the chaff? I sent "Droughtmaster" out to a group of 5 people, most of them published fantasy writers, and I got back some diametrically opposing views. One raved about character X, but thought I had fallen down on character Y (both characters are central to the story). Another raved about character Y and thought I had fallen down on character X! Some of the crit was great - I knew exactly what they meant, and was able to fix the problem, but other parts just had me doubting my own instincts.

    Damn it, this has got to be the hardest profession on earth...
     
  4. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    IMHO, if writers don't doubt themselves, then they probably aren't worrying enough about the reader. I thought doubt and insecurity were our writer's badges. I wonder every day why I keep on with this writing lark. But there's always these little tidbits that draw me on... lure me back. I'm glad I have other part time jobs tho.

    It helps to know the skills of and the ways your critiquers think, because you have to evaluate the amount they're not saying in what they're saying. They all have pet hates, pet peeves, special interests in different areas, strengths in some areas... evaluation of critique is essential so you know who to believe, and then whose guidance most fits with what you want for the story.

    For instance, I have someone in my group who writes wild outrageous steam punk. He is very easily impressed with my ideas and has great tips on extending ideas and twists and turns, because we're writing along lines. Someone else in my group who writes fantasy and is a magazine editor, is usually unimpressed with my writing because he looks at science fiction from a more commercial pov. As far as ideas go, not much comes from him, but as far as guessing what would piss a readership off... great stuff. He liked my last story. If I can get him to like my style, then I know I'm onto a winner.
     
  5. Tari

    Tari BoA Manager

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    Workshops

    where in perth? not at the Fremantle Lit Centre is it?

    i agree with the Sheep. if they dont look at the participants work than they obviously either dont care or dont really want to know. I've attended workshops for three years now through school once a day each term my friend and i go and attend them with different authors. we go to the Fremantle Lit Centre and meet diff pplz. some are interesting some are boring. the authors that talk about their lives and themselves can become tiring if they dont ask any questions to the participants. my most memorable workshops were with Glenn Parry and Boori Pryor. Boori does verbal story telling more tha writing so his was quite amusing. Glynn was very amusing but he spoke more with us then to us if you knwo what i mean. we basically listen to them talk about their experiences for a little while and then they talk about writing and do little activites with us and then we spend the last hour of the day reading out pieces of our own writing and get feedback from both the author, teachers and other kids their. some of the talent their is undeniable. but if want to know anything else let me know. i've attended nine already and my next workshop is in two weeks with Markus Zusacks (again.) i made it into the master class this year and we're seeing our favourite authors again.

    ~ Tari
     
  6. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    Which isn't what the sheep said (new paragraph missing?)... because the sheep knows it's not a very practical thing to do in the situation where you don't know who's coming to your workshop and don't have any way to pre-examine work. I've been to workshops where each participant reads out half a page and gets verbal feedback but by the time 20 people read, you begin to wonder if it is an effective use of time.

    On the other hand, organisations hire presenters/author speakers and they only pay them for the hands on time, so they don't want to be slogging thru ms before or after the class thru the goodness of their hearts because they're always doing that and they're worried the goodness might run out.

    So some speakers may not want to know, some may not even care, but most are probably just too busy, or would rather focus on more general issues.
     
  7. Tari

    Tari BoA Manager

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    soz bout that mis interpretation but coming from one who has participated in many workshops as a listener not a speaker i still think they dont care. but mind you i did miss one detail in Glenda's earlier thread thingy . . . .correct me if im wrong bcoz i tend to be wrong alot lately. . . . . you're only going for a few hours aren't you? mine go for about 9 hours straight so i can see the difference in the types of workshops. apoogies again to da Sheep. :eek:
     
  8. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    No, please, no apoogies necessary... ;)

    Anyway, I was just clarifying.

    Your comments raised more interesting points. Glenda will be happy.
     
  9. Hobbit

    Hobbit Now.. A Seriously Likeable Administrator Staff Member

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    An example to show that some writers feel it can work: From Karen Traviss's website:

    And in a little more detail:[Article HERE).


    Not sure how closely this reflects others experiences, though.

    Hobbit
     
  10. Tari

    Tari BoA Manager

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    oh well apology has been given anywayz :eek: :)
     
  11. glendalarke

    glendalarke Registered User

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    Some good points to mull over - both before I give my 3-hour (so-called) workshop and before appearing on the panel at Swancon.

    Thanks for posting re Karen Traviss - she obviously benefitted from Clarion!
    I feel that live-in workshops are probably a disaster for some people, though. We all have very different ways of writing - some writers are slow and wouldn't respond well to writing under pressure, and wouldn't produce good work, let alone their best.

    Clarion woud not have benefitted me because I don't think in terms of short fiction. And a novel I need to ponder for at least a year before I even begin writing it. I tend to be thinking about the NEXT one when writing the present one. For me, the best kind of workshop would have been the one where you have already written the work beforehand. More like the Varuna workshop, I guess.
     
  12. glendalarke

    glendalarke Registered User

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    Oh, and Tari - the workshop is at the Katherine Susannah Pritchard's Writers' Centre in Kalamunda on the 13th March.
     
  13. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    I love the short form and I adored Clarion. It was the best thing ever. I was very lucky to do the first one in Australia and sudddenly got thrown in with a lot of authors who'd been playing in the trenches for ages.
     
  14. Tari

    Tari BoA Manager

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    It's not the one i was thinking of. thanks Glenda :)
     
  15. glendalarke

    glendalarke Registered User

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    Borneo here I come...

    I will be away from my desk for 10 days - on my other job as a field ornithologist - in Sabah, the Land Below the Wind. No internet connection or any other mod cons.

    Will drop in as soon as I'm back ....
     
  16. Rocket Sheep

    Rocket Sheep I AM too a mod! Staff Member

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    Say hi to the orangutans for me! :D
     
  17. Tari

    Tari BoA Manager

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    Awaiting your return. . . . .ciao ciao . . . . and have fun. :) :cool:
     
  18. glendalarke

    glendalarke Registered User

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    oops, later than I thought

    I didn't manage to drop in after Borneo. Too tired and too busy! I was off to Perth, Australia, within 2 days, which is where I am now.

    And I have given my first "workshop".

    It seemed to be fairly well tolerated by the 16 people there. I had fun, and I hope they did too. And I think I have more ideas of how to do an even better one next time. I concentrated on actual writing problems and avoided the whole thing about how to market your work or prepare MSS etc, etc. Still, 3 hours was not much to deal with everything from Point of View problems to some of the more difficult (but common) grammar mistakes. It would have been wonderful to have a follow up with the same people, I must admit - to have more give and take.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for your input. What you have said will be brought up during the panel on workshops at Swancon!
     
  19. Tari

    Tari BoA Manager

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    Hey Glenda,

    are you liking our little 'city' although it doesn't really look bog enough to be a city? i like perth simply bcoz it's a no where in the world really. *shrugs* Anyway i know what you mean about a follow up workshop. Our Master Class (30 teens) met up for a follow up workshop with Markus Zusaks and all our workshops this year are follow ups from the last two years of our favourite authors. (that we've already met of course) And i agree the follow ups are better than the first. this time there was no 'my life story' stuff but more actual work and writing so i enjoyed it better than the first time.

    so no chance of you to head down to our little fishing port of Fremantle any time soon? to see the Literature Centre there? it's the jail part from the old Fremanle Prison that shut down in the 80's or something and they restored it and it looks out over the prison yards and stuff, tis really interesting if you've never been there.

    oh well. sounds like you had fun.

    ~ Tari :rolleyes:
     
  20. glendalarke

    glendalarke Registered User

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    Locus article

    In the latest Locus Magazine (if you are serious about being a writer and don't get this zine you really are missing something invaluable) there was an interview of Beth Meacham, US book editor. (She was the editor of Ender's Game and The Anubis Gates...)

    She makes the point that there are too many people thinking they can make a living writing books. She feels they'd be better off writing for love...and, more telling, she refers to the "whole workshop culture, aspiring writers who are making money off other aspiring writers, where the actual goal of their workshop is to get people to come back and continue to be an aspiring writer, rather than either becoming a writer or realizing that this is a hobby they should do for its own sake..."

    A very controversial statement - but she is a person in a position to comment about the writing business knowledgeably. Seems from this that you should be very cautious about what workshop you choose!