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C M Mayo

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10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Writing Workshop
by C M Mayo   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, September 07, 2008
Posted: Wednesday, September 03, 2008

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CM Mayo has led numerous workshops. This article gives you tips on how the author can best benefit from attending a writer's workshop

#1.  Buy and read your teacher's book.  (Analogy: would you let a
carpenter whose work you've never seen remodel your kitchen?)

#2.  Ask him or her to autograph it.  (An autographed first edition
hardcover can be surprisingly valuable!  And: flattery never hurts!
Don't be shy about asking for an autograph; authors love this, they
really do.)

#3.  Expect to learn.  (Analogy: do carpenters learn their craft
wholly on their own?  Maybe what you'll learn is that this is a
writing teacher to avoid.  Certainly, this is much cheaper experience
than having a bad carpenter mess with your kitchen.)

#4.  Realize that most people who come to a writing workshop have
naive notions about the writing world (think money, celebrity, booze-
crazed Bohemia), no clue from Adam how hard it is to write anything
worth reading, how tough it is get published, and how consternating an
experience it can be to be published (criminey, all these people
taking your workshops who never even read your book!!).  Realize, you
are way ahead of the game by following steps 1-3, and that, therefore,
though you might learn a lot about the craft, you do not need
validation from this workshop, its leader and/or its participants,
which is what you were secretly hoping for, no?

#5.  Expect to give thoughtful critiques to others who (though their
manuscripts are suprisingly bad, not to mention boring and often
tasteless), are, strangely, resistant and argumentative.  Expect also
to receive unbelievably moronic comments on your manuscript and know that this, actually, is a good thing because learning to take
criticism with open-minded equanimity is part of learning to be a
published and productive writer--- unless, that is, you want to be a
writer who cringes at every review, every blog mention, every
amazon.com shark attack out of Nowheresville, and is, therefore, both
miserable and miserable to be around.  (You can win the Nobel Prize
and someone, somewhere, will say something unkind about your writing. So, Buck up.)

#6.  Despite all of the above, take very seriously your critiquing of
other participants's manuscripts, for good karma and all that, but
also because the fastest way to learn to recognize problems in your
own manuscripts is by identifying the same in others's manuscripts.  I
think it was Ann Lamott who said (more or less), "we point, but do not
cut, with the sword of truth."  Read the pages carefully, and offer
honest, thoughtful, and detailed critiques in a spirit of kindness.
(Wouldn't you want the same?)

#7.  Remember the bicycle analogy.  Like riding a bicycle, to take
criticism productively, a writer needs to be able to balance between
meekness (listening to everyone) and arrogance (listening to no one).
Too much of either, your writing falls flat.  (Too much of either and
your whole life falls flat, now that I think about it.)

#8.  Do the assigned reading.  To learn the craft, workshops are not
enough (see again Tip #4).  If you do the assigned reading while in a
workshop, rather than later (or never) you have the inestimable
advantage of being able to ask questions and discuss it with the
workshop leader and other participants.

#9.  Remember, what goes around comes around.  If you come to the
workshop with an attitude of respect and goodwill, you will attract
the same.  (Any exceptions you will, one day, consider hilarious.  You
can also put them in your novel, ha ha.)

#10.  Before, during and after the workshop, keep writing.  In other
words, don't let the workshop deadlines become a crutch.  Don't give
your power as an artist to anyone else; find your own motivation,
develop your own habits.  Play God.  God riding a bicycle.
 

 

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