One Thousand Words on Workshopping

I survived the first of a six week writing workshop tonight. More than survived. I quite enjoyed myself.

This is my initial foray into a multi-week commitment. Somehow one night here or there seems less intimidating than six long weeks.

But I signed up because I’m looking for more specific feedback and more constructive criticism and thought the longer process might provide just that.

Tonight when we introduced ourselves the workshop leader asked us to say what we were looking for. What did we want to get out of the experience?

I talked briefly about my MPBAN, how I had all these scenes and no sense of where they are going.

This is the same workshop leader that told me what seems like ages ago to just keep writing scenes and I’d be surprised how they come together.

I don’t doubt her wisdom, but now I do have all these scenes and I’ve stalled with no idea what scene to write next.

I said that’s the hurdle I wanted to clear over the next six weeks.

What I wanted to say, and didn’t, was that they shouldn’t bother with praise.

Of course, everyone likes to hear good things whether it’s about their writing or their work or their outfit. But I’m not looking for an ego boost. I’m looking for honest feedback.

But you can’t ask for only negative comments without sounding like a total masochist, so I didn’t say it.

The workshop has nine writers. We each bring a “surge” (I wonder where this label comes from) to read each week and we get verbal feedback.

Then once during the six weeks, we submit a longer piece which people take with them. During the week, they read and write comments on it.

Maybe this is a common format, but since it’s my first workshop I don’t know.

It’s an interesting group of people.

One gentleman is writing stories that “may or may not” be based on his personal experiences as a bartender in New York in the sixties.

We also have a poet who is just venturing into prose. Everything she reads has this amazing, lyrical flow. I told her tonight that I envied the way she used words, how she makes the language beautiful.

She looked a little embarrassed and then I felt awkward, but I meant it. I’d love to be able to write with such grace.

Another writer is working on a memoir about her mother. And there’s a guy who’s working on an essay about hooking your computer up to a television in order to watch cheap tv.

What struck me tonight was the distinct styles of the other writers.

And, being self-centered, I wondered if I have a style. And if so, what is it?

At a previous one night workshop, someone said my writing reminded them of Carl Hiaasen.

I like that. His writing is funny and quirky with interesting characters and odd situations. If I do have a style, that’s not a bad one to emulate.

The feedback I got on my “surge” was good. And by that I mean helpful, not nice. Not that it was mean either.

People commented on specific things that worked or didn’t work, pointed out a point of view problem (which made me feel like a real amateur, but I am an amateur, so I guess that’s ok.) and generally seemed to enjoy my characters.

My favorite comment came from someone I had participated in one of those one night workshops with. I had shared a scene about Pastor Sebastian that time too and after I finished reading he said, “I wondered what happened to that guy.”

Someone was thinking about one of my characters? That’s pretty damn cool. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have people read a whole book you’ve written.

We ended the evening with a writing prompt, which has become one of my favorite things ever. I try them at home, but I get distracted. But at the Writer’s Center, I’m able to just jump right in a run with it.

Tonight’s prompt was “zippers” and the piece I wrote is below.

It’s super short, but we only wrote for twelve minutes. I thought about making it longer, but I kind of like where it ends. Let me know if you do too or if you think I should finish it somehow.

“Why do my zippers always get stuck?”

Madeline looked over her shoulder at Max as she struggled to twist her arms behind her back and zip her dress closed.

Max strode across the room and yanked the zipper up. “I don’t know why you always buy dresses with zippers in the back. What would you do if I weren’t here?”

Madeline fastened a necklace around her neck and looked around for her shoes. “Wear a different dress, I suppose.”

Max sunk down onto the bed. “I wasn’t joking, Maddy. What would really you do without me?”

Madeline perched next to him. “I don’t know, Max. I guess I haven’t thought about it.” She took his hand and kissed his palm.

He closed his hand and placed it over his heart. An old ritual. “Maddy, l need to tell you…”

The doorbell rang and Madeleine jumped to her feet. “They’re here!” She ran down the hall in her stocking feet.

Max heard the door bang open and the rush of voices as their grandchildren invaded the house. Madeline’s voice was a rich alto line to the high pitched squeals and giggles. Max lowered his head into his hands.

He sensed a presence before the small hand appeared on his knee. He uncovered his eyes and smiled at Amy, the youngest of the three siblings. “Hello there, sweetheart.” He pulled her into a hug.

Once released, Amy put her cold hands on his cheeks. “Were you crying, Grandpa?”

Max unzipped her coat and poked her stomach so he could hear her laugh. “Now, why would I be crying? You’re here.”

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