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.
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.