Archive | March 2011

Workshops – Teaching and Taking

I’ve been teaching online workshops now for a few years, and I’ve one coming up for the Show and Tell: An Interactive Workshop course with the Lowcountry Romance Writers, and every one of these is a different beast from the others. There are advantages to online workshops, the best being that you don’t have to drive, and with winter still hanging around, that’s a huge plus. But the other big plus is that, for writing, it’s all about the writing and getting the words down and communicating. That’s a challenge with just text, and so it’s why I’m always adjusting these workshops, and adding new things I’ve learned from my own writing.

Up, up and awayThere are times I feel a lot like a balloon — filled with hot air and not much else, something worth a glance. But the view is always better from up in the balloon. And while maybe I’ve covered the same material before, it only takes one questions that puts everything into a new light and makes it all fresh again.

I’m also a believer in covering the basics over and over again — you do the same thing in dance, you drill. It’s the repetition that actually leads to strong technical skills. That’s true for writing too — you really cannot cover the basics enough.

But all this leads me to think about what someone should expect from an online workshop — what is it possible to get and what is it possible to give. And since I’ve taken a few courses I have opinions about both sides of workshops.

The first job of any teacher is to engage. This means workshops shouldn’t bore. This one can be tricky online because you’re trying to balance conveying a lot of great information with trying not to overload the workshop participants — and everyone has different levels of processing. “The mind can’t absorb what the butt can’t endure” — in a classroom, you can only keeps folks sitting for so long unless you are utterly fascinating. Online that changes. Some folks read faster and some don’t; some folks retain more from what they read, some don’t. So there has to be a fair bit of repeating, balanced with the new information.

And sometimes it just takes saying the same thing several times to make it click. Short sentences help. A lot.

The second job is to inform — and my own criteria is if I get one gem, one golden nugget out of any workshop, it’s worth the price of admission. (And, yes, I’ve had a few workshops where that was missing, but almost every workshop will give you one good bit of advice — everything after that is gravy.)

With the entertaining, and the information snuck in, that covers the basic for any workshop for me. But I do think the best workshops have one more vital element — they’re fully interactive. Teaching has to be a dialogue.

I’ve lurked in workshops and I’ve participated — I always get more from the ones where I dive in and try out new things. I have more fun if I get my hands dirty. And workshops should be a place to fool around and try new things.

I also like teaching workshops more when those taking the workshop are willing to play — give and take is always more fun that either just giving, or just taking.

Which, actually, leads us back to the “show and tell” workshop — fancy that — because stories that both show and tell are also more fun that stories that just show or just tell. It’s all about balance really — in a workshop, or a story. A balance of information and engagement. A balance of give and take. A balance between showing folks how it’s done and telling. And that’s the thing about balance — it’s something that must be maintained. And I think that’s what I’m always looking for in a workshop — a well balanced flow of information.

But what’s your criteria for a great workshop?

Persistence, Polish and Promo Copy

There are two things I regularly forget — just how much a tattoo hurts to get, and just how really difficult it is to get a book done and out the door.

Lady Scandal is now out for Kindle, Nook and on Smashwords. And somehow this ended up taking more time and effort than I thought it would. But it always does.

Lady ScandalThere’s the copy to get right–even though the book has been edited, you can always use yet another edit. And then there’s the cover, and the text formatting. And the promo copy to revise.

I’ve a love/hate relationship to promo copy. Short is much harder to write than long where you can wander. That’s why songs and poems are so damn difficult. And promo copy to encapsulate a book–you try to distill the story down to the core elements, to intrigue without giving too much away. Of course, the good thing about digital is that you can keep fussing with this.

And the bad thing about digital is that you can keep fussing with this.

Years ago, when oil painting, I got a great lesson about that. Unlike with watercolors, where each stroke must be right, with oils you can layer and build textures. I was doing this — until I put that one-too-many brush stroke on the canvas. My persistence for perfection killed that painting. That’s the writer’s dilemma.

What’s enough persistence to get the work done? What’s so much that you’re now going past the point of putting the thing down and getting it out the door? What’s so much polish that you’ve edited the life from the work–what’s needed to get it to the stage that it’s a smooth, easy read?

Persistence means not just doing, but also rechecking yourself at every phase –writing, editing, revising, and yes even putting the book out there. At least with digital you get immediate feedback (you see it selling or not, you get emails or not).

And I think, for writers, it means a pathological optimism to start with–you really do have to start off thinking it won’t be that much work. Now, excuse me, I’ve got some edits to do on the new book, and another digital copy to get out–shouldn’t take me more than a week or two to get it all done, right?