Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 22
  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Malaysia
    Posts
    66

    Writers' Workshops: do they work?

    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... 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. #2
    I AM too a mod! Moderator Rocket Sheep's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    LEO aiming for GEO
    Posts
    2,584
    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. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Malaysia
    Posts
    66
    Thanks, Sheepie...
    I don't think I fall into the know-it-all class, at least not yet! 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. #4
    I AM too a mod! Moderator Rocket Sheep's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    LEO aiming for GEO
    Posts
    2,584
    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. #5
    BoA Manager
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    In my house
    Posts
    561

    Workshops

    Quote Originally Posted by glendalarke
    And now I am actually giving a "workshop" in Perth on 13th March...
    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. #6
    I AM too a mod! Moderator Rocket Sheep's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    LEO aiming for GEO
    Posts
    2,584
    Quote Originally Posted by Tari
    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.
    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. #7
    BoA Manager
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    In my house
    Posts
    561
    Quote Originally Posted by Rocket Sheep
    Which isn't what the sheep said.
    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.

  8. #8
    I AM too a mod! Moderator Rocket Sheep's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    LEO aiming for GEO
    Posts
    2,584
    No, please, no apoogies necessary...

    Anyway, I was just clarifying.

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

  9. #9
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2001
    Location
    Hobbit Towers, England
    Posts
    11,858
    Blog Entries
    126
    An example to show that some writers feel it can work: From Karen Traviss's website:

    What's Clarion like? Well, you know that scene in the movie Starship Troopers, where the giant bug sucks that bloke's brains out through a tube? It's a bit like that, only the canteen food isn't quite so good. It's hard work and it's a serious investment. And it doesn't come with a guarantee that you'll get published. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world - it was the making of me.
    And in a little more detail:[Article HERE).


    AMB: You went to Clarion; what do you think such a writing workshop has given you?

    KT: An instant career. I was at Clarion East in the summer of 2000 and by summer 2002 I'd sold a novel trilogy and I had stories in Asimov's: I've got three paperback titles out in 2004, my first year in print as a novelist, and a leather-bound first edition from Easton Press. Would I have done that without Clarion? Not a chance, especially living in the UK. I'm not pretending Clarion is an automatic passport, but it lays the kit out on the table for you and if you're prepared to pick it up and use it, it can work spectacularly well.

    Clarion gave me two specific things: business contacts and advanced craft. I like to use the carpentry analogy. When I started writing fiction seriously in late 1998, I could hammer in nails and saw wood to length. Then the first workshop I attended - Liz Holliday's One Step Beyond - taught me to make proper mitred corners, do dovetails and saw straight lines with hand tools. Then Clarion taught me to use power tools. The sense of empowerment that it gave me was unbelievable. I hate that word, but it's the only one that describes it. It was that Garfield moment: "Get off, King Kong".

    One of the good things about Clarion is that it shoves writing down your throat for six weeks, and the duration is probably the most critical part of it. You're locked up with writing and you can't run away from it. You'll know at the end of that time if you're cut out to write professionally or not. It saves you dabbling around for years and finding that you're not up for the criticism or the deadlines or the slog. I'm sure other people have had very different experiences and drawn different benefits from it, but in the end all Clarion can do is say, "Here's writing for a living in one megadose. Like it?" All I know is that I planned on going, knew what I wanted to get out of it and was delighted when I found it gave me what I expected and more. I can't understand why the Clarion technique - and by that I mean six intensive weeks - isn't being used widely in other genres. It's a damn shame Clarion East has been under threat, too.

    AMB: In case some of our readers are unfamiliar with it, can you describe the Clarion method?

    KT: The Clarion method is basically a literary cage-fight. A group of fifteen to twenty writers are locked up for six weeks with a sequence of tutors. You write short fiction until you drop and it's critted in the group: mornings for crits, rest of the day for writing. You have six tutors over a six-week period who are all established pros. You write and write and write and then your class shreds the stories as they roll in, and in my year we did over a hundred (I think). It's the pattern that's used at Milford too, except six weeks of critting and writing is a wholly different experience to a nice civilised week of crits at Milford. I've never known people resort to cannibalism at Milford, however small the portions at breakfast, but it's a close run thing at some Clarions, apparently. It's intense, good and bad. You make good buddies. Some people make good un-buddies, too. The food isn't as bad as they tell you, either, but the heat and mosquitoes are.

    I'd do it again in an instant if they'd run a refresher for pros. It was a blast. It changed my life.
    Not sure how closely this reflects others experiences, though.

    Hobbit
    Mark

  10. #10
    BoA Manager
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    In my house
    Posts
    561
    Quote Originally Posted by Rocket Sheep
    No, please, no apoogies necessary...
    oh well apology has been given anywayz

  11. #11
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Malaysia
    Posts
    66
    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. #12
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Malaysia
    Posts
    66
    Oh, and Tari - the workshop is at the Katherine Susannah Pritchard's Writers' Centre in Kalamunda on the 13th March.

  13. #13
    I AM too a mod! Moderator Rocket Sheep's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    LEO aiming for GEO
    Posts
    2,584
    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. #14
    BoA Manager
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    In my house
    Posts
    561
    Quote Originally Posted by glendalarke
    Oh, and Tari - the workshop is at the Katherine Susannah Pritchard's Writers' Centre in Kalamunda on the 13th March.
    It's not the one i was thinking of. thanks Glenda

  15. #15
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Malaysia
    Posts
    66

    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 ....

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •