I’ve never been to a writers workshop before. Symposiums and conferences, yes, but nothing like Futurescapes. This workshop was designed to bring 45-50 aspiring writers with solid writing skills together and pair them with professionals in the field who could help foster their skills and help them get to “the next level”. That it brought us all together at Sundance Mountain Resort in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah was just a bonus.
When we arrived we were sorted (unfortunately not by magic hat) into two different session groups. We would have two sessions with our A group and two with our B group, spread out over the three days. In my case there was only one other writer that was in both of my groups.
The format of each session was somewhat up to the professional facilitating each group, but the basic structure was that we would each take turns with our chosen selection, getting feedback from each participant and more extensive feedback from the professional.
This format provided some interesting opportunities. My A group met on the first afternoon, and wouldn’t meet again until the following afternoon. My B group met on the morning of the next day, in between the two A group sessions, and then met again on the last morning. I workshopped my opening chapter in my A group and got some good feedback. In some groups the facilitator would ask the participants to revise their work and bring back those revisions for our next session. Ours didn’t; we could bring whatever we wanted for the next session.
That proved advantageous for me. I brought in a different scene from later in the book where I introduce another character. The facilitator immediately declared the second scene should be the starting scene of the novel. I wasn’t sure about that, but I was willing to entertain the idea. But he also said that it didn’t need to be changed, either, even though the first half of the scene was essentially the character’s ruminations on her life. I wasn’t sure about that either.
I still had one more session with my B group, so I took that second scene there, too, though I did revise other aspects of it based on other feedback I received from my A group. I figured a second opinion would be good. My B group confirmed that the second scene was the better scene to start with (and in general), but disagreed that it could keep the info-dump. The facilitator there recommended I find ways to pump up the action and mix the information into that and other scenes as appropriate.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t normally just take every piece of advice as gospel truth. But it is more difficult to argue with professionals, and in most cases their suggestions immediately sparked “ah-ha” moments in my brain. Especially my B facilitator. She was awesome at digging into my world-building and ferreting out errors and lack of depth. Every question set of epiphanic explosions in my mind, and I couldn’t write notes fast enough.
My main hope is that, having seen her do it, I can figure out how to do it for myself in the future. The ideas her ideas sparked have me so darn excited for what my novel could be that I’m having very little problem “killing my darlings” in a work that has remained largely static for over two years.
Another welcome outcome is getting an indication of what I do well, sometimes unintentionally. I had a throw-away character in my first scene, and somehow managed to make both groups fall in love with her in three sentences. Some were quite irritated with me when I told them she doesn’t even show up any more. So it would seem I do better at characterization than I thought I did. Opening lines, apparently, are another strength.
And at least a few in my groups indicated that my description isn’t as barren as I thought–so long as I actually supply some. I did have a problem with people thinking my duel scene took place in the lobby of the concert hall instead of the street outside, even though I’d explicitly said I’d moved the characters outside. I think I needed to describe the street for them before they would fully catch it. My bad–and a lesson learned, hopefully.
It’s a little more difficult to know what I can deduce from what elements people didn’t comment on. As a reader there’s things you don’t mention because they’re solid enough there’s really nothing to say, but there are also times when you don’t say anything because you don’t even know where to begin. But also I noticed that people, in spite of themselves, tend to focus mostly on the things that don’t work. So I’m going to move forward under the conclusion that if they didn’t mention it, it’s at least okay. Besides, I’ve got enough to work on as is.
Another real positive for me was meeting so many serious and solid writers. I have no trouble admitting that the Italian gentleman in my B group is a better writer than I am–even in his second language. He also come across as an open and honest guy, so his feedback was especially meaningful.
But I met a lot of people who I now hope I can lean on for ongoing feedback–and vice versa. The quality of their writing and the accuracy of their feedback during the workshop has earned my trust to where I would gladly work with them again. I hope I was as helpful to them. I admit I didn’t start out as a very effective critic, but thanks to the examples of many in my groups, coupled with the solicited advice of several, I think I got better at it.
It’s the day after now when I’m writing this, and I’m in withdrawal. I miss “My People”. We only really spent two full days together, but it was an intense experience. I had no idea it would affect me this much. I’m feeling a little lost today, and my brain is having difficulty switching back over to work mode. It keeps wanting to explore down the new paths opened up during the workshop.
And even though I’m eager to write, I can’t yet. The workshop was like the super-laser in Rogue One, or perhaps more appropriately the Genesis Device in Star Trek II. The initial shot has hit, but the explosion is still spreading outward from the impact, completely rearranging everything as it goes. My novel is going to change dramatically over the next six months.
And it’s going to be awesome! If I can just figure out how to get out of the way and let it be so.