I’m baaaack from my week in Utah at David Farland’s Professional Writers’ Workshop. Dave is an award-winning, bestselling author of fantasy and science fiction and a great writing teacher.
So, what did I learn during this time? Read on for a sampler of the many many topics Dave covered in this comprehensive workshop…
On the writing side, we learned how to
- structure our novel (complete with graph)
- escalate our conflicts
- write dynamic descriptive passages
- make readers care about our characters
- create the right resonance with other great books in our genre (Dave dissected Harry Potter and the movie Avatar to show how Rowling & Cameron did that)
And on the business side, Dave talked about
- the different ways a fiction writer can generate income
- the importance of looking after our greatest asset as writers–our brains
- how to find editors/agents
- how to promote our books
- and (of course) today’s trendiest issue for writers: traditional publishing versus self-publishing
It was not all a data-dump, however. Every day, Dave assigned us a writing exercise with a particular focus–say, descriptive writing. After slaving over the assignment in the evenings, we read aloud our scenes the next day and got critiques from everyone. I’ve always hated reading aloud anything I’ve written–it sounds so stupid to my ears–but this was the best way to overcome my fear of public readings. By the end of the week, I was hardly bothered by the Pit of Doom that opened up in my stomach every time it was my turn to read. Dave also had one-on-one sessions with each attendee to answer specific questions (how cool is that!).
The other great thing about the workshop (for me) was the face-time with a diverse group of writers. In our group of seven, we had a professional musician, a copywriter, a lawyer, a bookseller, another stay-at-home mom (like me! yay!), and a guy who really wants to win Writers of the Future (I’m sure he has a job, but I don’t remember what it is). I was impressed by the quality of their writing and the insight displayed in their critiques. I haven’t done much critiquing of anyone else’s work besides Jo’s since I gave up the OWW, so I was a bit rusty. It was another good get-me-out-of-my-comfort-zone experience.
(Flipping through my notes here) Amongst all the nuggets of gold, these ones shone the brightest to me:
1. “Writing style can kill your book”. That’s a big one for me, since I do adore a well-turned phrase or a smooth metaphor. I never begrudge other authors their sales, their fans, their plots, or their characters, but let them use a beautiful sentence or evocative phrase that I wish I had come up with and I am muttering darkly (and enviously) under my breath. So, my takeaway is: write well, but focus on STORY, not style.
2. “Failure of imagination is the biggest failing of any story.” Then Dave proceeded to show us how we’d failed to imagine bigger and better when critiquing the first 20 pages and outlines of our novels in progress. His comments and questions opened my mind to all sorts of possibilities I’d never considered. It felt like fireworks going off in my head. Awesome.
3. Resonance is a good thing. ‘Nuf side. My literary side (see point #1) has a horror of being seen as cliched or derivative. Now it’s been put in its place quite firmly.
So, yes! Going to the workshop was worth every penny and I’m grateful to D. for not allowing me to back out of it when I got spooked by the prices of airline tickets and hotel stays (I have a teeny weeny problem with spending money on myself).
Now I’m home and ready to put all my new-found knowledge to work. How have you been?
That sounds like an awesome workshop. Someday I hope to be able to attend something (or just get to hang out with a bunch of other writers IRL).
And spending money on oneself…yeah…I have that one, too.
The energy of being around other writers is reinvigorating. Just for that, a workshop or conference is so worth it. Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to have a great face-to-face writing group (I probably could get one here, but I don’t really have the time).