Do YOU Write?
Even though I had to chloroform Bret, drag his body into a closet, and quadruple-bolt the door, I’m going to begin by thanking the YA MUSES for “inviting” me to contribute this week. If you read this blog, you already know how talented, dedicated, and awesome these folks are; it’s an honor to mix it up with them.
Here’s a secret: behind every successful writing workshop is a person cursing a printer for mangling its twentieth sheet of nametag paper. A person who might be hugging a writer one minute and berating hotel staff for vacuuming outside the conference room the next. A person who sometimes spends too much time running around to really soak up the wealth of material coming her way but who, at every event, is treated to a few luminous moments where she feels the tangible energy of inspiration, the bristling, intense excitement in a room and thinks, “I helped create this.”
Invariably, at some point during a workshop, a participant will ask me, “Do YOU write?” I think it’s because I forget to look tortured. And, of course, the answer is that I DO write, that I’ve written for almost as long as I’ve breathed, and that so much of what I know about writing translates directly into putting on great events for writers.
First, EMPATHY. Just as you can’t create really rich characters if you’re not willing to slip into another person’s shoes, you can’t put on a successful writing event if you’re not willing to consider the needs of your guests, to ask yourself what kind of experience would be of most value to them, and make your choices accordingly.
For example, as a participant of other workshops, I’d watched folks drift around at meal times, looking lonely and unmoored. So at my events, I provide a decent lunch and an opportunity for students to sit down together, make new friends, network, chat and laugh.
Secondly, and inversely, I’ve learned that YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERY PERSON, EVERY TIME. The key is to shoot for the richest, most satisfying experience for as many folks as you can but not to drive yourself crazy working for everyone’s approval.
At every event, there are those folks whose internal thermostats demand a room warm enough to hatch chicks. There are those with food allergies so idiosyncratic I’d have to fly in chefs from the Mayo Clinic to attend to their needs. I can do my best, but I can’t make every single participant perfectly happy. I CAN offer the best possible event for all, though, and hope that the quality of the experience outweighs the small shortcomings.
And as a writer, I can’t write to the highly specific demands of each individual reader. All I can do is work to tell a compelling story, with the richest characters and the best prose I can muster and hope that it resonates for MOST readers.
I succeed at both of these things, I like to think, because I also embrace the idea that YOU NEVER STOP LEARNING.
You know what one of the most awesome parts of Story Masters was for me? Seeing the instructors show up each day to learn from each other, watching them scribble or type notes as enthusiastically as the other students did.
The most successful writers I know are those who still, even years into their careers, attend workshops, read craft books, gobble novels like Skittles. They are constantly engaged in their craft—working to learn all the time, about the general elements of craft but also about their own hearts, about the hearts of their characters, about the themes that strike chords within them. Those folks are my heroes.
And speaking of heroes, today is my father’s birthday. Unfortunately, he passed away a long time ago, but he taught me something that’s served me amazingly well as a writer and as a workshop producer. It boils down to this: IT CAN BE DONE.
Every member of my family, at one time or another, has acted as an entrepreneur. I grew up with the idea that if someone of reasonable intelligence could do something, so could I. (As long as it didn’t require a lot of athletic prowess or math skills.)
This has served me as a writer, independent editor, and as a businessperson. It’s helped me build a facile mind—one that can respond to thorny plot issues in a client’s novel, sluggish pacing in my own work, or a hotel that has forgotten to reserve rooms for, oh, half my staff.
Writers often give up, I find, because they don’t truly embrace the belief that a solution exists for just about any writing problem, that it’s possible to make their novels more palatable to the reader without sacrificing the elements they most cherish. They limit themselves out of fear or obstinacy.
In life, and in writing, a belief in the likelihood of success is key. The workshops I produce, the help I try to offer--all of it boils down to that idea: that given the right tools and insight, a writer can move from good to great, from unpublished to published, from story amateur to, dare I say, story MASTER.
I believe that for myself, and I believe that for YOU. Go get it.