What happens in the workshop?
Finding your voice as a writer takes meticulous attention to the promise and pitfalls of what you’re writing now. That’s my role. Yours is to prepare a short first-person essay or narrative in advance (800 to 2,500 words). When we meet, I’ll critique each student’s work in turn.
I’ll show you which words pull me into your story and which ones push me away. Along the way, I’ll help you zero in on the truth you’re striving to capture. Don’t be surprised if it turns out that you’ve left out something pivotal and included other things that don’t matter at all. This happens to every writer—me included. In fact, it’s by wandering down the wrong storytelling path a time or two that I learned how to find the most direct route.
I’m not a confident writer. Will I be out of my depth?
No. I’ve designed this workshop for all levels. I can meet you at yours.
Will the workshop help me get published?
Lots of other teachers can help you market your prose. I’ve chosen a different focus: helping you find your voice. What you’ll learn in this workshop will make you a better writer. If your goal is publication, writing better will boost your chances. But there are lots of good reasons to write that have nothing to do with getting published.
You’re assigning homework for this workshop? When is it due?
Each session of the workshop has a deadline approximately two weeks ahead of our meeting. My virtual assistant will post your work on a password-protected Dropbox site so that the rest of our group can begin to get to know you through your words.
I’m nervous about exposing my work. Do I really have to?
Everyone asks this question! Most of us would as soon let strangers watch us try on swimsuits as share our tender first draft with them.
You won’t be booted out for not completing your homework. But you won’t get the full benefit of the workshop, either. So I’ll do everything I can to make it easy—or at least not too nerve-wracking—for you to go public with your prose.
No one outside your group will see your writing. What we share online and in the group is strictly between us. Confidentiality rules (expect a friendly reminder when we sit down together).
Writing humbles everyone from first-timers to best-selling authors. To write is to grope for words and face the near-constant fear that the ones you’ve found aren’t good enough. It’s to fall into the same traps that have bedevilled storytellers since the days of the bard. As a group, you’ll encounter them all. Each one of your stories will hold a useful lesson or two for everyone present.
Don’t forget: you’ve got a deadline. If you’re late, I can’t promise to review your manuscript. And don’t even think about submitting your story at the last minute. Our full agenda leaves no time for reading stories on the spot.
What should I write about?
Any person, place or experience that helped make you who you are today. Whatever your subject, it should summon vivid memories and evoke deep feelings. Pick something that enchants, inspires, amuses or troubles you. Maybe it’s a story you’ve shared with all your friends because it captures your essence like no other. Maybe it’s a story you’ve kept to yourself for fear that it wasn’t important or that no one would believe you. If you care about this story, it’s important. And you have the opportunity to make your reader care, too.
A few words of advice:
- Stumped for story ideas? See my article “Story Prompts for Memoirists,” written by popular demand and posted here. And take a tour of the archives on this site. I’ve written about homes past and present, friends lost and found, teachers who challenged me and hats that make me smile. By excavating these topics and a great many more, I’ve uncovered defining moments in my life as a more or less grown-up woman. You can, too.
- Stick to 2,500 words maximum. Trust me, that’s more than enough. The Globe’s Facts and Arguments essays run about 800 words. Longer does not mean better.
- Forget about achieving perfection. No one ever does. You have to start somewhere, so make it a place that matters to you. In the workshop, we’ll look at making it matter to your reader.
- Don’t be too attached to your draft. Our discussion may suggest a change of focus in which some of your favourite lines have no place. I can’t tell you often I’ve cut lines I love to shape a story that works.
What should I bring to the workshop?
You won’t need a laptop unless you plan to use it for your notes. The one essential: a print-out of your story and everyone else’s. This may sound like a minor detail but in fact it’s extremely important: those print-outs are a living textbook for the day. If anyone forgets, I’ll have to scramble to replace the missing copies when I should be leading our discussion. Please come prepared so that we all get the greatest possible benefit from our full-to-bursting day together. And speaking of how full that day will be, starting time is 9:30 sharp. Do you want to be the one who has the rest of us looking at our watches? Didn’t think so.
What’s included in my workshop fee ($350 + HST)?
- Lunch; morning and afternoon snacks; coffee, tea and soft drinks
- My annotated copy of your essay. So that you won’t get lost in my jottings about individual words and phrases, I’ll also give you big-picture comments on your two or three key opportunities for a sharper, more convincing second draft.
I have a serious food allergy. Can you reassure me that my lunch will be safe to eat?
Yes. Just make sure you alert me a week in advance.
Do you run a Part Two workshop for returning writers?
Not as such, but quite a few of my students have taken this workshop twice or even three times. Every session is different because every group brings different stories to explore.
I’ve still got a question…
I’m listening. E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Need a little inspiration?
My students say: