Monday, January 19, 2015

To Workshop or Not to Workshop -- That is the Question

It's a beautiful Martin Luther King Day and from my perch at my desk I can see people biking along the bike path. I am finding that an office makes me feel more legitimate than writing at home in my pajamas. 

Today I want to talk about some ideas I have about workshopping and getting feedback from others. In our workshop at Beyond Baroque inVenice, I came up with an idea: I asked each participant how finished they thought their piece was -- on a scale of one to ten. A one meant that had just ripped it fresh from the printer and it had barely cooled. A ten meant that they had done multiple drafts and they felt it was polished and ready for publication. As we went around the room that evening, everyone said where they thought their work fell on that scale.

Trust me, there was a point to it all. I think each writer has his or her own optimal number when it comes to when to get feedback. I noticed that most of the people in our workshop bring in twos or threes. I think this allows you to be more flexible in receiving feedback. I, myself, tend to bring sevens when I workshop. This can be detrimental in that I may have already worked so hard on the story, I’m not terribly enthusiastic about receiving criticism. I should, perhaps, force myself to bring in a three, even a four, so I don’t feel like the piece is set in stone.

Once we started to use this device, it became part of the common language of the group. Someone, would come in and say, “this is two,” a short hand way of saying, “this is fresh, don’t judge me too harshly.” As someone said in our group the other day (and I paraphrase): if something is a little sapling, you want to make sure no one stomps on it and kills it.

These nascent ideas, the fruit of our inner selves, are delicate things and, as much as writers benefit from criticism, they also profit from nurturing. You can get as much out of seeing what you are doing right as from being told what you are doing wrong. The parts of a piece that shine are just as important, if not more so, then the lines that land with thud.  

So, whatever you are doing on this holiday, I encourage you (writers and non-writers alike) to go out and praise someone for a particularly good turn of phrase – or for anything else that strikes your fancy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Second Day -- Risk and Writing

This is a glorious spot and, from my office in the Marion Davies Guest House, I am looking out onto an orange and yellow sunset over the Pacific. They are going to have trouble ousting me from this place. I want this residency to last forever. Each room here has the original tiled bathrooms and although you can't use them for anything remotely bathroom-like, I think it might be a lark to take a nap in the tub or write while sitting on the vintage toilet. If you come over to see these bathrooms, you'll understand.

The short story event last night was outstanding. Thank you to everyone who shed their inhibitions and got up to read. I had some audience feedback and people were very impressed. Being a writer -- one who wants to share your writing with others -- subjects you to a lot of judgement. You write a piece and bring it to a workshop -- JUDGED. You send it out for publication -- JUDGED. If you are lucky enough to get an agent, don't worry -- you'll be JUDGED. And if you're even luckier and get a book deal, even your editor will, no doubt, suggest changes. Learning what to listen to and what to ignore is part of the process. I have had to learn to put on a thick and scaly skin. I fear being judged more than almost any other thing. Last night I may have looked like I was accustomed to reading a story that had only been seen by a few people and had no publication to give it inherent credibility, but, I can assure you, this was not the case. Still, I got out there, just like you got out there. It's a risk, but I've found that my life is always better when I take them. Congratulations to all of you who took the risk with me. And for you who couldn't care less what other people think -- I applaud you, too. Maybe you can impart your secret to the rest of us.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The 250 Word a Day Challenge

On Tuesday, I start my residency at the Annenberg Community Beach House. Blogging is, apparently, part of the gig. I haven’t done much blogging so, at first, I thought: what on earth am I going to write about. Most of my daily excitement takes place between my ears. I was also reticent because of my tendency not to share anything I've written unless I’ve gone over it at least sixty-seven times. I don’t think that’s going to work for a blog since the idea is to get something out there for someone to click on and read while sipping a latte.

So, what does a nascent, fraidy-cat blogger write about? And then it hit me. I’d write about writing. Duh! I live, breathe, and eat writing. Such a life may not sound too exciting, but it has its moments. The romance, murder, betrayal, humor, and heartbreak happens when I sit down in front of a blank page (if I'm lucky).

Recently, in our fiction workshop at Beyond Baroque in Venice on Monday nights, I set out the 250 word a day challenge. We were each going to do 250 words a day for a month. That's not much. Only about a page. Infinitely do-able. The only criteria was that it be fiction. The minimum word count was 250, but if you got on a roll, then the sky was the limit. The pieces that resulted were energetic and inspired. We all had a sense of community and fed off the energy of the combined effort. It worked so well, and we loved it so much that I am offering the 250 word a day challenge to everyone who reads this. We will begin on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 and continue until Tuesday, February 10, 2015. I will be blogging about my progress, and you should feel free to email me about yours at All those, who complete the challenge, can get together when it’s over and celebrate the experience. (I’d say -- my treat, but that depends on how many people succeed.)

I look forward to seeing everyone on Tuesday night at The Evening of the Short Story where I will work up the courage to read from a work in progress. A rollicking discussion to follow. We will also have about forty-five minutes of open-mike time. Short fiction only. (Five minutes or less.) We will all be sizzling with literary fervor. (At the very least, we'll have a good time.)
There are still two spots open for the fiction tutorial which will begin as a group on Saturday -- Valentine's day at 11:00 AM --  and continue individually after that during my office hours at any time that is convenient for each participant. All you have to do it email me at the address listed above.
I look forward to this opportunity and am delighted to be the writer in residence this winter.