Since writing workshop season is upon us (shout-out to all my friends going to #SCBWINY14 this month!) I thought I’d do a fun post on the topic. Contrary to the title of this post, though, I’ve never actually been whipped, beaten, or made to cry in a writing workshop. Not in the least. My book manuscript, however, has had its fair share of beatings. Why? Workshops are about making the best damn book you can. And making a damn good book requires a pummeling. A blood sacrifice, even. Specifically, the kind that oozes from the pages when they’ve been redlined to resemble a body part in a slasher flick. Don’t be scared. Finding that publishing industry expert who’ll read your work with a cold eye, then take the stuffing out, is the best gift a writer can receive. Most workshops only focus on the first twenty pages of your book, but those crucial first pages are where people decide if they want to read more.
One of the first people to go chop-chop on my work was Kate Sullivan, a YA editor at the New York SCBWI conference in 2012. Though I’d workshopped my manuscript elsewhere, she was the first to really trim the fat. I watched her read the first two pages of Vegan Teenage Zombie Huntress, decisively cutting one line, then another. Every writer’s first kneejerk reaction will go something like this: My words! My beautiful, precious words!
When the bleeding pages came back, I realized Kate had cut the fluff, the throwaway words that drained power from my writing. The newly fit and trim opening crackled. I got over my fear of red, and said, Bring it on.
I’ve since workshopped sections of my book with about forty people in the pursuit of a better manuscript. And though the first two pages seemed tight after Kate Sullivan’s surgical precision, I brought them to yet another SCBWI workshop, where one of the attendees quietly redlined a single word.
I reread my piece out loud, omitting that one word, and couldn’t believe how much better it sounded.
That is why I go to writing workshops.
Writing workshop bonuses:
• Making business connections—most workshops come with the premise that you can query the agents or editors in attendance afterward. A published author who likes your work may even refer you to their agent. This gets your foot in the door and can lead to a publishing deal.
• Making new friends—I’ve kept contact with some fantastic people. We’ve become critique partners, advice givers, and cheerleaders.
YA and children’s book workshops I’ve attended, and found useful:*
*Note: I attended and paid for these out of my own pocket. The below opinions are unsolicited, and strictly my own.
• Workshops held at regional SCBWI conferences* (I’ve attended both New York and Seattle, and I’ve heard L.A. is also top-notch). Usually either a half or full day where up to two agents, editors and accomplished authors focus on polishing the first two pages of your manuscript. This is a great value for the cost, which, to me, seemed low compared to other, longer workshops.
• Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop (OCCBWW)*
A week-long experience held by a beach. But, make no mistake, this isn’t a beach party. You’re here to work. You’ll experience multiple feedback sessions from agents, editors, or authors assigned to you, a first page workshop, and puh-lenty of writing time.
• Big Sur Writing Workshop*
Two solid days of workshopping with agents, editors, published authors, and other aspiring writers. Includes writing time and lectures on the publishing biz to break things up. By the end of the weekend, you’ll have revised the first twenty pages of your manuscript.
• LitReactor’s Writing and Selling the YA Novel*
This was a multi-week, online course/workshop. It’s not always offered, but I enjoyed it when I took it, having received incredibly useful feedback on twenty pages of my manuscript from both the instructor and my peers. If you’re interested, sign up for LitReactor’s newsletter to find out when it’ll be offered next.
In closing, if you can afford to attend one, please go soon. If not, save your pennies. It could be the one of the best investments you’ll make in your writing career.
*Repeating this for anyone who missed it: I attended and paid for the above-mentioned workshops out of my own pocket. The above opinions are unsolicited, and strictly my own.