Today we have something a little different for you – a conversation between Mary Buckham, whose writing workshops are always in demand, and Margaret Crowley, who has organized workshops led by some of the biggest names in romance. Scroll to the end to find out about Mary Buckham’s giveaway!
I’m Mary Buckham, published author and writing craft instructor. With me is Margaret Crowley, writer and volunteer extraordinaire. Margaret planned and hosted big writing events for her RWA chapter for years. Today, she’ll give you tips on planning a workshop. She’ll also tell you how to get the most out of attending one. I’ll give you the opposite POV. I’ll tell you what an instructor strives to do and how attendees can get the best lecture from me.
MB: Margaret, when we met several years ago, you were coordinating COFW [Central Ohio Fiction Writers] daylong workshops. Since then our paths have crossed a number of times in different ways for which I’m profoundly thankful. Recently we talked about what it means to commit to attending a workshop, or a conference, or any event that motivates us to expand our understanding of the craft of writing. As a participant and planner, what would you tell people preparing to go to workshops?
MC: This is your time. And your money. Make it count. Commit to being present. Something in this workshop will improve your writing. In a productivity workshop I took years ago, I learned Susan Elizabeth Philips used a chess-timer to make sure she wrote three hours a day. That didn’t work for me, but all was not lost. I adapted her idea. When I’m stuck in a scene, cookies go in the oven. Before that timer rings, the scene must be finished or those cookies burn. (Be still my heart! Burnt chocolate chip cookies: quelle dommage!)
MB: Oh, I wish I’d known this. Susan Elizabeth’s advice and the fact you could write to get cookies. Win-win!!
MB: From an instructor’s perspective, I love seeing students take advantage of a different perspective, a different experience being available. If an instructor prefers to come in, teach, and step away, then take advantage of her or his expertise in the classroom.
MC: Ask questions. Get clarity if a concept is not clear to you yet. Trust me, if it’s not, someone else in the room is probably confused also. If the instructor is available for meals before, after or during the workshop, it’s a clear sign it’s okay to talk shop. Pick their brains. Talk about recently read books or changing trends they see. About insights on…finding time to write, juggling social media with writing, recommendations of craft books, etc.
MB: Margaret, how do you find a speaker who meets the needs of a chapter?
MC: The key is to find a teacher. Just because someone is multi-published or an expert in their field, doesn’t mean they can impart their knowledge. A real teacher will reach everyone in the workshop. In your Power Plotting Workshop Mary, I discovered that shorter sentences speed up pacing. The published mystery writer sitting next to me fixed her manuscript’s sagging middle. We both loved your workshop.
MB: What should the student think about in committing to taking a workshop?
MC: Thank you, Margaret, and you’re right on the money in understanding that teaching and sharing knowledge are very different than being a writer or an expert. The challenge for an instructor is to provide information that benefits both the newest writer and the multi-published author. It’s a tricky thing but it can be done. Furthermore, instructors need to make their information appropriate for their audience and what the audience is writing. I’ve listened to instructors be emphatic about a concept without explaining that said concept is most appropriate to one genre, sub-genre or even publishing house. If this happens, speak up, ask questions. The instructor doesn’t know that you are the only student in the room writing a gay lesbian cowboy space opera, or that half the group is writing thrillers and the other sweet romances. Your questions will help not only the class, but also the instructor, who will appreciate knowing how to modify their class to help everyone.
MB: How do you find a qualified speaker?
MC: Google is your friend. Check out the potential speaker’s website. See if they’ve taught online, at other chapters or at National and talk to people who’ve taken their workshops. Ask for suggestions from people in nearby chapters. See who spoke at the breakout workshops at last year’s big regional conferences. (Spring Fling, Moonlight and Magnolias, Emerald City Writers, New England’s Chapter Conference to name a few.) Finally, RWA has a speaker’s bureau. https://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=547
MB: Great ideas, Margaret! Also ask coordinators at other chapters who have had the speaker give a workshop. Students can do the same thing. In a few minutes of research you can discover where the speaker presented recently and find at least one person at that event who might be able to answer a few questions. There are some big name writers who are brought in for their name, not their ability to teach. Some instructors motivate as well as impart information. Some instructors can speak to a certain market understanding because they are very well-versed in that market—Category Romance or Breaking Out or Social Media. All have something to offer, as long as you are aware of their strengths and your expectations.
MC: Hey, it’s Margaret. It’s my turn to ask Mary questions. But first I’d like to say that volunteering is arduous – as is committing time and money to taking a workshop. Luckily both come with rewards. Meeting Mary was a huge reward for me. She’s become a good friend. She’s also one hell of a teacher. Mary’s taught everything from hour-long workshops to four-day retreats.
MC: Mary, can you describe the difference between short and long workshops? How people should prepare for them and what they should expect from them?
MB: As a student of workshops myself, I prepare mentally by going into any workshop with a specific goal: I want an answer to a question, or insights into how to incorporate what the teacher is saying and applying it to my work, etc. But I also stay open to hearing what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. To me, learning is about pushing our comfort levels, making us stretch our perceptions and understanding. I personally know I’ve reached the point where I’m learning when I get that scared feeling, that sense of I-don’t-know-if-I-can do it. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but that’s not a negative thing. Think of it as a growth opportunity.
As for different length workshops, a shorter one is like an appetizer. It can be a good introduction to a topic or approach and give me a sense as to whether I want to explore the topic in some depth or spend my time and attention elsewhere. Longer workshops can be challenging because we’re not used to spending that much time in one session with intense brain-work, even as they can be hugely beneficial digging into a subject or offering a range of information. Think marathon not sprints. Stay away from sugar because while it may taste good it’ll also crash your energy as the day progresses. Take time to walk around during breaks, breathe fresh air, grab some protein to keep going. And drink water, lots of water. Small commitments on the students part can help them continue to learn throughout the day.
MC: What are the emotional benefits? I always leave your workshops so inspired.
MB: Thank you, Margaret! To me a good workshop is like a good craft book–it juices a writer to want to write. A good workshop offers lots of ah ha moments, not just one or two. A good workshop challenges a writer to improve, experiment, explore. A nice side benefit is the shared camaraderie of the other writers. Once the event or the day is over, there are still people around you who had insights, took notes, can practice the concepts with you. That’s invaluable for long-term learning. Plus you now know about an instructor who might have more to offer—other craft books or classes their fiction work to read to see how they put the concepts they taught into play, a website or newsletter that continues to offer insights and learning opportunities.
Coordinating, attending and teaching at a workshop are all part of the same coin, with participant and instructor in a collaborative endeavor. It can be a win-win for everyone, as long as each of us participates.
Now it’s time to hear from our blog visitors. Best words of wisdom you heard at a workshop? Have you ever recommended a teacher to your writing group? What advice do you have for another writer who is looking to attend a workshop? Or to a writer who has stopped attending workshops?
Take a moment to share your insights and you’ll be eligible to receive a copy of Writing Active Hooks: Book 1 from Mary Buckham. There will be two lucky winners with names drawn forty-eight hours after this blog is posted. Best of luck to all!!
Check out MARY BUCKHAM’S plotting workshops here: http://marybuckham.com/live-events-2016/
BREAK INTO FICTION Power Plotting Workshop in Columbus, Ohio: http://marybuckham.com/power-plotting-columbus/
Author TONYA KAPPES joins us on Friday, January 22.
Margaret Crowley is a contemporary romance writer without a shoe fetish. She attributes her lack of Louboutin lust to working in the news for years. She liked the stories but the death and destruction: not so much. Now she creates flawed characters, grappling with the ridiculousness of love. Laughing, Margaret’s found, is the best way to stay sane while finding a Happily Ever After. Margaret is a member of RWA and Central Ohio Fiction Writers. You can find her on Facebook @MargaretCrowley and on Twitter at @Margaret_Crowle.
USA Today bestselling author Mary Buckham writes the Amazon best selling WRITING ACTIVE series for writers – WRITING ACTIVE SETTING and WRITING ACTIVE HOOKS.
She is also the co-author of BREAK INTO FICTION with NYT author Dianna Love and has taught online and live writing workshops to writers of all genres around the US and Canada. Her most recent non-fiction release: A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting: How to Enhance Your Fiction with More Descriptive, Dynamic Settings (Writer’s Digest) was released in January, 2016.
Mary doesn’t just teach writers though, she practices what she preaches, writing Urban Fantasy w/attitude. Love romance, danger & kick-ass heroines? Find it in her Alex Noziak or Kelly McAllister series!
A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting: How to Enhance Your Fiction with More Descriptive, Dynamic Settings Paperback use pre formatted date that complies with legal requirement from media matrix – January 1, 2016
Author – Mary Buckham
Enhance Your Fiction with the Power of an Active Setting!
Setting is one of the most underutilized and misunderstood elements of the writing craft. And when writers do focus on setting, they often pull readers out of the narrative and jolt their attention from the action on the page.
A Writer’s Guide to Active Setting will show you how to create vivid, detailed settings that bring your story to life. You’ll learn how to deepen character development, anchor readers to a specific time and place, reveal backstory without slowing things down, elevate action sequences, and more.
Drawing upon examples from authors writing across a variety of genres, Mary Buckham will illustrate exactly how the proper use of setting can dramatically improve your story. You’ll learn what’s effective about each passage and how you can use those techniques to make your story shine.
“Takes an all too often overlooked technique, and elevates it to a next-level game changer for powerful fiction.” —Cathy Yardley, author of Rock Your Plot