Sunday, January 28, 2007

Workshop Worries ...

Jessica Faust of Bookends made such a thought-provoking post about the dangers of workshops the other day that I haven't been able to stop considering it. While I disagreed with the last bit of it, I also agreed with most of it.

In her post, Jessica remarks:

I'm often amazed, and sometimes frightened, by the number of workshops authors will attend on how to write. Or the number of conversations I have with my own clients (people obviously having success with what they're doing) on how they can do it differently. Why fix it if it's not broken?

She's right; it's dangerous territory. (That's why I'm not a big fan of the saying, "Kill your darlings.")

We all want to improve. If we don't change, we don't improve. We want those reviews that say "Nora just keeps getting better and better!"

However, if you compare your writing to only your writing, then how are you going to grow? I always compare my writing to someone who does it better than me, that way I can get better, too.

There's also the problem that sometimes we need to get a little worse before we grow. Remember when Tiger Woods changed his stroke? He did quite a bit worse before it clicked, but then he started kicking ass even better.

Are you in a place with your career that you can take that luxury? What are the costs if you don't? Only you can answer those questions. (I certainly can't. My career doesn't have the stakes--yet--that some authors' careers have.)

To support Jessica's point, I have a dear, dear friend that goes to our conferences (day job) and whatever the clinician says, she believes and adopts to such an extreme, that it ... well, it tends to become so right that it's wrong, LOL. She doesn't blindly adopt everything, but when she does ... watch out!

I'm constantly telling my adult students not to think so much, LOL.

I suspect that's why Jenny Crusie got so frustrated that she posted a reminder in the Crusie/Mayer Writing Workshop today that there are "many roads to Oz."

As Jessica said, why mess with a good thing? What if we ruin that which is good about our writing?

Rather than just focusing on one's own work and not comparing oneself to others, I propose an alternate method to try:

  • 1.) Identify your weak areas (or have several other help you).
  • 2.) Identify your strong areas.
  • 3.) Keep strong areas the same, and for the weak areas:
  • 4.) Read and analyze how other authors solve your problem. Try to figure out how they did it. Add all methods to your mental toolbox.
  • 5.) Read/attend workshops to hear other opinions. More tools in the toolbox.
  • 6.) Never follow any rule blindly. When you've got several options to choose from:
  • 7.) Compare their method and your style. Consider whether their method works. Consider whether they even follow their own method. Consider whether their method will work for you.
  • 8.) Try some out; see what happens.
  • 9.) And finally: follow Erik Ivan James's advice: Go with your gut.

5 bonus scribbles:

Rhonda 1/28/2007 05:44:00 PM  

You are SOOOO right. I teach grammar/self-editing workshops, and I always teach that rules CAN be broken if done effectively and on purpose.

What's crucial is learning to identify your weaknesses and how to improve those. Not everyone has the same weaknesses. I, too, love reading what other authors do in areas I'm not good at, so I can get ideas on how to make my writing stronger. But I also know there are things about my writing that are strong and don't NEED to be fixed!! :D

Karen Olson 1/28/2007 07:46:00 PM  

I was in a writers' group for six years, and it helped immensely for most of that time. Before that, I was working in a vacuum and it was so great to get constructive feedback. Unfortunately, the dynamics of the group changed, people stopped writing; only two of us were writing regularly. I got a lot out of it but when I stopped getting something out of it, I needed to stop going. So I did. Now I rely on a couple of good friends who critique me well, I don't do workshops, and I feel like I'm at a point where I can really edit and critique myself. I do kill my darlings when necessary.

It's all so subjective, everyone's different and everyone has to work the way he/she can.

spyscribbler 1/28/2007 10:33:00 PM  

Thanks, Zoe!

Hey everyone, go to NEORWA for Rhonda's awesome online workshop!

Karen said, "It's all so subjective, everyone's different and everyone has to work the way he/she can."

Bingo! You win the grand prize! If only I can learn to write so succintly!

writtenwyrdd 1/30/2007 09:37:00 AM  

Amen, sistah!

YOu know what gets me most is when people insist that I make my writing sound entirely different, up to their particular preju--er, taste--rather than allowing me my own voice and style.

I'm open to criticism, but you should be telling me useful stuff, like characters don't make sense, or scene 23 should precede 15. Not tell me that I have to write endless S-V-O sentences or that I cannot use obscure cases and sentence constructions once in a while.

I haven't been reading blogs for the past few days, and was just catching up with yours. A whole series of fat and interesting articles greeted me here, lol. Cheers!