Friday, December 18, 2009

A Writing Workshop in Cincinnati---an impression


Last weekend I attended Writers Digest Intensive Workshop in Cincinnati. I came away with mixed feelings about what I had gained from the experience. In all fairness these are entirely my opinions and I want to make sure that no one takes my comments and observations out of context. I am not speaking for anyone else but a retired business professional who has taken up writing as a way of satisfying his secret life as a “right brainer”.
Let’s start with the facility where our class was held. I was surprised that our confirmation for the class that we received ahead of time did not include instructions for the program. Since the advanced class material did not include a link that provided directions. I proceeded to use Map Quest which gave me bad directions the first morning. I chalked that up to operator error. Not a very good way to start your day.
The session was held in lunch room. I wish I could describe the room more favorably but what is they say about lipstick and pigs? Our room had small tables which only seated one or two people comfortably. It was well lighted but was not conductive for presentations and seminars. Slide shows were projected on a small portable screen near the entrance to the room. People in the back of the room had problems reading the screen shots. Cincinnati is the home of GE Aircraft Engine plant and the room in the afternoon sounded like part of their facility. The noisy blowers or loud fans in the back of the room were extremely loud. As a matter of fact the instructor for that part of the program had to constantly walk back to hear the questions.
The last item that frustrated me was the fact that there was no feedback mechanism at the end of the seminar to allow the attendee to provide input so that the staff could work to improve their product for the next time. I have been a part time professor for over ten years and every class I teach I seek feedback. I am not so vain to think that I cannot improve my product is some way.
Now that I have that off my chest let me tell you the good news the first speaker in the morning was Jane Friedman, an Editorial Director at Writer Digest. She did a terrific job of detailing the changes in the industry. She also provided an excellent review of the tools that authors can use to build their platform and market their products. I had heard her speak at another seminar in Middletown last spring. Jane provides excellent advice on how to use the available social networking tools to promote your works and build a platform for your works. Twitter is used for learning technique and information about the writing community, Blog’s are used to describe your personal works and opinions and Facebook for talking about your activity with your friends and relatives.
The afternoon session was interesting and very informative as well. Chuck Sambuchino was excellent. Seemed somewhat opinionated at times, especially when his recommendations contradicted what Jane had outlined in the morning. But this observation in this industry should not surprise the faint of heart.
Chuck did an excellent job of explaining the different genre's and some of the guidelines associated with word counts for different types of works. He has more detailed information on this topic and Literary Agents on his blog site: He back up what Jane had said in the morning lecture about business nature of publishing.

The last session in the afternoon before my glass of Chardonnay was entitled "Why I stopped Reading". When I read this on the agenda for the Workshop in the morning I was tempted to visit the nearby hospital to get an ample supply of plasma. Yes you got that right. It was billed as a panel discussion of what the editors, the individuals who had read the manuscripts which had been submitted in advance or the workshop had observed. Observations like "show don't tell", POV violations, use of italic's to note thinking instead of dialogue were just some of the issues that they discussed.
I personally made note of who said what during this session. Why would I do that? gave me the chance to compare the comments from my one on one with an editor on Sunday with what she outlined the day before as traits that would make her stop reading. In my case she should have stop reading long before she got through the fifty pages of manuscript that I had submitted ahead of time.
Ms. Alice Pope is a talented editor of Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. Her feedback was very beneficial in that it confirmed all my worst fears. The advice that I received last summer was not correctly implemented because I had failed to answer the very first question you should always ask yourself when writing a book...what is the story? Is it a memoir, essay, or fiction? I had spent over five months worrying about POV instead of focusing on my style and who was my audience. I had lost my voice. I took what originally was a set of short stories that were like a memoir and inserted a touch of fantasy thus making it a morph of what would be called a fictional memoir. Trouble is there is no such classification in literature that I know of. Many of my problems were caused by not being “all in.” Either make the story a fictional story for young adults or make it a memoir of short stories. Now that I have learned my lessons I will write the stories I wanted to tell in the first place and remove the fantasy which cause my POV problems. Thank you Alice. For providing that important lesson to me. It seemed ironic that all the non-verbal communication that I received from my manuscript review last weekend was similar to a rejection letter. In my case it was well deserved.
I personally did not come away with warm fuzziest about whether my manuscript had potential as a memoir. But then again I could not expect Ms Pope or any other editor to tell me that at this stage. But in all fairness I know now what I have to do...start to edit and revise. Ms. Pope’s “From the Editor” at the beginning of 2010 version of her book Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market provides some excellent examples of why editing is so important. The advice applies to all forms of writing not just Young Adult and Children’s.
That's my story and the lesson that I came away from the Workshop with. You don't always have to implement changes to your work just because a published author tells you. Now if you will excuse me I have some editing to do…

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