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Author Topic: Writing Workshops
Zero
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In my community, occassionally, the local university's english department will host writing workshops. Some of them are public on a first come first serve bases, these fill up quickly. And others are more private, longer, and cost slightly more money. None of these are very long, usually they last an afternoon. I have never gone to one, but I've always thought about it.

Has anyone else ever attended events like these, and has it help you? I can just imagine myself sitting at a horribly undersized college desk, an intensely chewed on pen in my hand, and not being able to write anything at all. I think my super-power known as creativity fades away when I'm forced to write on command, like superman meeting kryptonite.

Especially if I have to produce something quickly for review and criticism by others present.

Has anyone with this problem found a way to get over it?


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annepin
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quote:
Has anyone with this problem found a way to get over it?

You mean the inability to produce content on demand? Well, working for newspapers and other pubs has helped...

For creative fiction, I've found one of two things happen: I panic, jot something down, and later am shocked at how brilliant it is. Or, I panic, jot something down, and cringe in horror at the crap I just wrote. I seem to have no control over the two outcomes.

But perhaps a better question is, if this is difficult for you will you really gain something from the experience? It might be worth trying, just to see if there is something for you in it, but if you feel you aren't producing your best at such workshops then what's the point? You might get critiques, but of works not necessarily reflective of your true abilities.

On the other hand, as a famous author, you might have to write books on deadline. So maybe it's worth stretching yourself.

[This message has been edited by annepin (edited May 14, 2008).]


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Rhaythe
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I panic, jot something down, and later am shocked at how brilliant it is. Or, I panic, jot something down, and cringe in horror at the crap I just wrote. I seem to have no control over the two outcomes.

I'm amazed at how accurate that statement can be for myself as well. Insert panic, then pray for quality.


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MartinV
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When I was writing essays in high school, I always managed to write the best ones in class, although I didn't have a clue on how I was able to do it in the mental state at the time.

I've never been to a writing workshop, first because there are very few of those in my country and second I could only find those in beginner's skill. Well, I'm not a beginner writer anymore. That time is past. Though I can still write some amazingly bad crap if I don't know what I want to write before I actually sit down. Lately my studying takes so much time and concentration all I can do is dream about writing. It's sad. Writing is the only job I want to do...


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TaleSpinner
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quote:
You mean the inability to produce content on demand? [..]
For creative fiction, I've found one of two things happen: I panic, jot something down, and later am shocked at how brilliant it is. Or, I panic, jot something down, and cringe in horror at the crap I just wrote.

Me too. But...

I learned a short while ago of a concept called 'creative constraint', or something like. (If anyone knows the right term, please do correct me.) Apparently, artists can be more creative when we're given contraints than when we have complete freedom.

Here's what I learned of that from a couple of flash fiction contests at Hatrack. First, the scary prospect of having to produce generated stories I never would have thought of: the constraints of a deadline, and a given trigger, actualy made me produce, contrary to my expectation.

Second, although the first draft was often complete garbage, the plot was almost always sound, and a couple of drafts later I had a decent working draft.

So--Zero, maybe, just maybe, the constraint might induce a creativity that will surprise you.

And Annepin, maybe your ideas are always brilliant, and maybe you have to shoot for that second or third draft for the brilliant execution to match.

Those short workshops, I don't know. It usually takes me a day or three to get from idea to draft, because I think it all through in painful detail before starting to write. Yet if there's such a workshop in my area, maybe I should try it; maybe with another constraint I might surprise myself yet again.

Cheers,
Pat


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Gardener
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I've attended a couple of workshops. If they are aimed at writing (I've attended some on getting published - all lecture) the speaker will make an effort to get you into the mindset. At least, in my experience.

It isn't like you go in and they scream "Write about a romantic encounter on Mars!" Usually there's some lecture, some guidance, some exercises.

In a short workshop, there is rarely time for critique of everyone. Sometimes just a handful read their work aloud. So whatever you write, you don't necessarily need to share it. That's a bit of a nightmare to me. But I was so inspired in one workshop that I volunteered to read! That's a first for me.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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There are workshops and there are workshops.

I do some occasionally that I call "Lucky 13" workshops (bet you can't guess where that comes from).

I have people bring stuff that they've already written and I try to teach them how to give feedback on it. Since we stick to the first 13 lines, we can do as many as five in one hour.

Other "workshops" are just places where you sit and listen to someone talk about writing and how they do it. (This can be useful because it can give you new ideas on approaches, on marketing, and so on.)

I know one writer who has people just "free write" for ten minutes on something like "what I have in my pockets (or purse)" or "what I was doing at this time yesterday" and those can be interesting and fun to discuss.

Orson Scott Card does his "1000 Ideas in an Hour" at workshops and conventions sometimes, and people have found them quite helpful because they don't just deal with coming up with ideas, but what to do to ideas to turn them into stories.

These are all basically one-hour "workshop" sessions, though, and some workshops have several different things of this type to choose from.

Dave Wolverton has offered all-day novel workshops where he goes over what he's learned that has helped him make a living as a writer.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith used to do a one-day workshop on the business of writing that was very helpful, too.

So, as I say, there are workshops and there are workshops, and you have to find out what is actually supposed to happen at a workshop you hear about before you can decide whether it will be of use to you or not.

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited May 14, 2008).]


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Zero
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That's true there really is a distinction. I guess I just assumed that in most of them, from what I've heard, you write something there to workshop with the other writers. And while I think I could bring a pretty good piece to the event, given enough time beforehand, I'm not so confident that I could whip something together on the spot.

It would probably go something like this.

John sat in the room. (thinking to my self: what room?) The living room. (why is he there?) He was very tired. (why was he tired?) He had been doing jumping jacks all day. ... And at this point I scribble it out, throw it away, scratch my head, and start again.


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JamieFord
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Here's a nice compendium of workshops and conferences:

http://writing.shawguides.com/


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Jo1day
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I've only attended one workshop, and it really was just a critique of something I'd already brought. Duly noted and all that, but the writing was done before hand.

On the other hand, one of the keys to producing great stuff is to let yourself do a whole bunch of stuff that isn't great--this applies to music composition and art as well as writing. I find that the times when I get the most paralyzed is when I'm too set on producing brilliance.

I don't know if this answered any of your questions, but I would hope it encouraged you to at least go and see what the outcome was. Different things work for different people.


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annepin
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I think Kathleen's got it right, and what makes it useful will be whether if fits your particular needs.

For instance, I avoid any workshop that says you bring stuff in and read it aloud to the class to crit. Personally, I have a hard time formulating a crit when it's read aloud. If each person has a copy of the text that's a bit better, but still, I think crits are best done when the critter has leisure time and a manuscript in front of them to mark up as they go.


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Zero
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Well, I've been looking at that add banner on the home page for Uncle Orson's Writing Workshop. And while it's probably out of my league, it really does sound like a blast.

But I can just imagine, suppose I was accepted and I went, I could just see myself staring at a blank piece of paper, unable to write anything of quality, and feeling like an absolute fool.

Writer's block... I've heard it described (and I think accurately so) as a failure to do enough developing beforehand. The writer is then forced to invent more as he goes, which is tiring, and he eventually runs out of gas. It seems like writing a piece on command is automatically writer's block, unless I went already armed with ideas. But then, would that spoil the exercise?

[This message has been edited by Zero (edited May 15, 2008).]


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Antinomy
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If you can’t find a writer’s workshop, try a Creative Writing class.

I enrolled in a Creative Writing class through an Adult Education program, you know, those inexpensive after-hours classes held at the local college. I was surprised that most of the students were already writers, ordinary hackers like me. While writing and publishing techniques were often discussed, it was really a writer’s workshop where we critiqued submitted stories and made helpful suggestions.

Occasionally, the teacher would leave the room to hand in the roster and give us an assignment, e.g., write about a robbery. Often a complete story would develop from this spontaneous effort.


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JustInProse
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Zero, I noticed you also posted a topic in the writing challenges forum. If you are wondering about having constraints and timelines, I strongly encourage you to participate in the "13 Challenge" that had been going on for a couple months now.

If you begin to find you enjoy the constraints and timelines, then maybe a workshop would be equally enjoyable.


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Zero
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I think both of your suggestions are excellent.
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Unwritten
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I've been writing/thinking about writing/surfing this site so much lately that my life is in a state of supreme chaos at the moment, so on Saturday night I promised myself that I would take a couple of weeks off from writing until I could catch up. Sunday morning, it was incredible how many story ideas came into my head. I ended up needing to carry a notebook around all day because it was either write the ideas down or go insane. Telling myself I couldn't do it was the best jumpstart to my creativity I've ever experienced!
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Zero
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Wow that really blows the little engine that could out of the water. "I don't think I can, I don't think I can, I don't think I can... YES!" It's like using reverse psychology against fate/bad-luck/karma.
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