Guest Blog: Writers Workshops

Hi writers. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Guest Blogger, so I thought I’d ask a new friend and fellow-blogger who I met at the Paris Writers Workshop, to do me the favor of writing a guest post. I immediately thought of the wonderful, Kristen Coros.

Our topic for this guest post will be: Writers Workshops.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is, Kristen Coros…


Three Arguments for the Writers Workshop

by Kristen Coros (milchtoast.wordpress.com)

Intro: I am a Canadian blogger and aspiring fiction writer currently living in Zürich, Switzerland. I met Corey at the Paris Writers Workshop in June, and I’m honoured that she asked me to provide a guest post for her blog. Below, I’ll give my take on why writing workshops are worth attending.

Writing fiction is a funny thing. It requires you to sit alone in front of your computer for hours on end, inventing people, events, and conversations. There comes a time when you say to yourself, “Well, it all seems clear to me, but will a reader understand it the way I want them to? Do my characters behave/seem like real people? Will someone reading this find it plausible that they would say this or do that?”

This is when you need to get feedback on your writing. You might find, however, that if you offer your writing to your friends and relatives, you’ll receive comments that are either a) unfailingly supportive, along the lines of “I just think this is the best thing I’ve ever read, honey!” (note: spouses are especially prone to this type of feedback); or b) critical but not constructive (“I didn’t like this part, but I can’t really say why.”)

You need other writers to read your work, writers who have struggled with and thought about the same issues of narration, plot, dialogue, and characterization with which you are now grappling. And while you might be able to find fellow solitary key-peckers in your area who are willing to meet and swap work on a regular basis, I would argue that additional benefits are accrued from attending a writer’s workshop. As a three-time veteran of Zürich Writers Workshop weekend events and a recent attendee at the weeklong Paris Writers Workshop, I’ve observed the following three benefits of these organized events.

The presence of a leader. Critique groups can sometimes be overly informal, devolving into too much chatting, joking, or complaining, and not enough productive discussion. In a workshop setting, a leader – typically a writer who has been published to some acclaim – acts as a facilitator to keep things focused and to ensure that there is equal time for everyone’s work to be discussed. They can also help to interpret the feedback being given. While my piece was being discussed at the first workshop I attended, a fellow participant looked at me and said, “Your underwear is showing in this piece.” It was an essentially useless (and potentially hurtful) remark before our leader was able to draw out and rephrase its meaning.

Equal footing for the participants. In a workshop, it’s typically the case that every attendee must submit the same amount of writing beforehand (at events I’ve attended, the amount has ranged from two to twenty pages). The leader does not submit anything, but their work is available for scrutiny at your local bookstore. It helps to have everyone in the same boat, as opposed to informal groups where some people may be frequently submitting and others hardly ever. When everyone is equally invested and vulnerable, each member of the group will be more likely to deliver what they themselves are seeking – honest, helpful feedback delivered in as kind a manner as possible.

Chances to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise. The workshops I’ve attended have introduced me to a wonderful and geographically diverse set of like-minded writerly people (such as the lovely Corey!), many of whom I’ve kept in touch with afterwards. As noted above, being a writer can feel very isolating, so workshops can offer a great sense of your community and networks growing.

After having sung these praises of the workshop, I will note, in closing, that there is a time to workshop, and a time to head back to your desk alone. To paraphrase Stephen King, whose memoir/instructional book On Writing I love abidingly, writing itself needs to be done in solitude, with the “door closed” and only your own voice in mind. So after our wonderful week in Paris, it’s time for me to cloister away again.

 

Thank you so much, Kristen. 🙂

To check out Kristen’s blog, please go to: milchtoast.wordpress.com

 

 

My First Guest Blogger

Today’s Writing Tip will be coming from my very first Guest Blogger, Robin Coyle. Robin and I met through wordpress.com. Her kind comments on my posts, mixed in with her witty sense of humor have always stood out to me. When I finally got around to thinking about finding a Guest Blogger, I thought of her first. Thanks Robin for writing today’s guest post.

Writing Tip #11: Moldy Verbs, Adverbs, and Intensifiers
By: Robin Coyle

Corey asked me to do a guest post on her blog Corey M.P. and I accepted with delight. She is a talented writer, wise, and all-around sweet person. Her prompt for my guest post was “writing tips.”

What is the best piece of writing advice you received?
I’ve learned volumes since I took on the job of “novelist.” Distilling it all, two things caused me to go back to my “finished” novel, In Search of Beef Stroganoff, and spend hours editing, editing, editing. The advice transformed my writing from “pretty good and readable” to “writing with punch.”

Use vigorous verbs.

And

Let there be a pox on adverbs and intensifiers.

When I learned these two tips, they really made me a better writer and were very helpful in making me be a more critical reader.

Yikes Robin, why didn’t you follow those tips when you wrote the above sentence?

Ok, smarty-pants. Allow me to rewrite the sentence.

When I digested these two tips, I evolved as writer and now read others’ work with a critical eye.

“Learned these two tips” became “digested these two tips.”

“Really made me” became “I evolved.”

“Very ” disappeared.

“More critical reader” became “critical eye.”

I now pause at every verb and ask, “Is there a stronger verb out there?” So . . .

“Walked purposefully” became “strode.”

“I turned quickly on my heel” changed to “I spun.”

Rather than “she ran out of the room,” my character “raced for the exit.”

When a vigorous verb replaces a weak one, the sentence springs to life.

I am embarrassed to say in an early draft of my novel I described a closet as “very, very, small.”  That closet is now “miniscule.” I nuked every: very, really, much, so, and too.” I went on the hunt for “ly” words – adverbs that made the text lay flat on the page like yesterday’s toast.

“She was extremely hungry” became “she was ravenous.”

“Amazingly, she made it to work on time and wasn’t fired” was better when rewritten to say, “She averted being fired when she clocked in at the strike of one-minute-late.”

I kept one blatant string of adverbs because I liked how they sounded together and it fit the moment in the story.

“I covered my eyes in the hope he would go away, but he pulled me close as we danced to The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” I was so incredibly, positively, and magnificently turned on. Those Brits know how to write a lyric.”

It wouldn’t have the same feel if it read, “It was an incredible, positive, and magnificent turn on.” Blah. Boring. Yawn.

Slashing moldy verbs, adverbs, and intensifiers will transform your writing. It did mine.

Thanks for the opportunity to do a guest post Corey. You rock!

Check out Robin’s blog at: robincoyle.wordpress.com