Go to a Workshop? No Thanks

All month long we’ve been discussing workshops. Which ones are out there, what they have to offer, how to get to them, and how to work around the inability to attend one. I’m going to offer a different perspective: not wanting to go to a workshop, ever.

It happens invariably at every convention where SFF writers gather together: someone asks me about Clarion. Or Taos. Or Viable Paradise. Or any of the other workshops that we’ve discussed here at Inkpunks this past month. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Well-Meaning Person: Have you ever been to [workshop]?

Me: Nope.

WMP: Oh, you should totally apply! I had such a great experience! And it really improved me as a writer!

Me: Actually, I don’t really want to go to [workshop].

WMP: WHAT? Allow me to launch into a ten-minute impassioned speech which I’m sure will convince you to change your mind!

Me: *sigh*

These encounters have decreased, mostly because I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut on the subject, but also because my friends have learned and don’t pester me, and sometimes step in on my behalf and tell the Well-Meaning Person not to worry about it, she’s gotten this speech before.

So, why don’t I want to go to a workshop? It seems counter-intuitive. I like writing, so wouldn’t be awesome to go somewhere and live with other writers for a week, two weeks, six weeks, what have you, and do nothing but write, and learn about writing from super-awesome professionals in the industry whose work I adore?

Well, sure. If that was all a workshop had to offer.

The thing is, I know how I work, and I know how a workshop works, and I know the two don’t mesh. I’m not particularly public about my writing, until I feel it’s up to a certain level. I’m not the kind of person who can just throw a rough draft out there and see what happens with it. It’s incredibly difficult for me to send work to someone if I’m not happy with it, unless I’ve hit that point of “something is wrong but I can no longer see it” (and even then it’s only to very trusted people, and even then I’d rather let the thing sit for a month or two than bother someone else with it). So the type of environment where I’m just blasting through stories, trying to get something written every week, is not going to be ideal for me.

But not all workshops are like that. Some are geared towards people with full novels who send out their MS three months before the big show, then spend an intensive week or two working on the thing, with insight from others. Surely I could swing that, right?

Well, no, because critiques.

There are many a brave person who can sit in a circle, and stare at a group, and let that group go one by one and tear their story to shreds, and they sit there, placidly, and write all of it down. I am not that person. For me to honestly absorb critique, to get something out of it and work through it, I have to be able to take it in a dose, and then set it aside for some time. Then when I’m ready to deal, go be somewhere quiet with it, and parse through it, and figure out what rings true and what falls short for me. Maybe how I work will change, but for right now, that’s how I roll, and it’s done all right thus far, I think. And from everything I’ve heard about workshops, there isn’t a hell of a lot of space to do this.

Workshops are just like any other advice or tool out there which pertains to your craft: you have to know what works for you, and you have to know what doesn’t work for you. And when you come up against something which you know will have a negative impact on your craft, turn it down and walk away. And frankly, workshops are not really the place for a little introverted creator like me.

Now a week-long retreat where I simply get to write, uninterrupted, and share a common living space with other writers where we chillax and shoot the shit, and when I want to I can shut my door and be alone and write? That sounds like my cuppa. Let me know when they organize that one.

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  • Wendy N Wagner

    Rainforest Writers Retreat! 5 days to sit around and write and only interact with people if you want to. In the woods. By a lake. With free breakfast. 

  • Jay Lake

    What Wendy said, Rainforest Writers is your kind of workshop.

    http://www.rainforestwritersvillage.com/

  • Terra LeMay

    There’s also: http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/writers-retreat.htm  I haven’t attended, but it sounds ideal, in that one could spend all day writing with the door shut, then come out and eat meals with the workshop attendees.

  • Jay and Wendy beat me to telling you about Rainforest, but I figured I’d add my two (three?) cents.

  • Workshops don’t interest me because I don’t really revise. Also, the Rainforest Writers Retreat kind of sounds like a complex way of going camping, or, like, just writing at home.

    I guess workshops also repulse me because I’m a bit of a cynical, anti-social jerkbag.

  • John Remy

    Writing is an intensely personal work, and like any advice, what works for some people doesn’t automatically work for others. I subscribe to the YMMV school of writing advice. And your writing is strong. Keep doing what you do! 🙂

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  • Thank you – thank you – thank you for sharing this. I’ve tried a couple of critique groups but I’ve never found a good fit. It’s so hard for me to share my work until I’m sure it’s ready, and even then I only share it with a select few. There’s just something about the critique process that makes me cringe…and everywhere I look people suggest them like they’re the gold standard.

  • There’s also La Muse in France. http://www.lamuseinn.com