I’ve been thinking about workshopping recently. It’s something I really miss.
It’s not so much the comments from other people, they are of course immensely useful, but the spur to go back to a piece of writing, re-examine it, and improve it.
Pootling along as I do in my own virtual vacuum, I spend quite a lot of time, moving my work from one screen to another, so that I can get a little objectivity. Even a different chair, a different type face, different lighting. I work on three different computers, one a Mac so that I have a new view of my WIP, because the hardest thing is to see those words afresh when you’ve read them a thousand times and frankly, you could recite them in your sleep.
When I was lucky enough to be on the Bath Spa Writing for Young People course, I had a fantastic workshop group including Gill Lewis, Sam Gayton, Che Golden, Sarah Hammond, Giancarlo Gemin, Titania Krimpas and totally lovely Julia Green. Everyone’s comments were really valuable. Sam Gayton would always begin with “I REALLY like this piece”, and Sarah Hammond with a carefully considered “Well…”. Everyone made pertinent comments, pointed out things I’d not spotted, and things I knew deep down were wrong. We’d discuss where the story had been and where it was going, whether the central character had the right voice, whether it was even written in the right tense. We played with each other’s ideas, lots of hypothesis; lots of laughter.
Afterwards, I’d tear home and spend the evening editing, re-writing, dredging up more ideas more ways to say what I wanted to say.
Each time we workshopped my enthusiasm grew, I wrote faster, I tore through ideas and made millions of decisions about the manuscript, all informed by what other people had said, but not necessarily influenced by them.
It made writing a whistlestop experience.
For about two years, we kept a tiny intermittent workshop group going, we’d meet over strong coffee and tons of biscuits and jabber at each other for four hours. Ultimately everyone’s lives became too complex and scattered and our group foundered.
These days, (with the exception of the Story Adventure*) my WIPs have a tiny number of first readers – my husband, my agent, and ultimately my editor so until my husband reads that second draft, it’s all horribly up to me.
It means that the desire to rush back and reconfigure the manuscript only happens after I’ve got to the end, and even after I’ve done the first edit. And it’s quite hard to keep the enthusiasm going for that long. I read what I’ve written and I have doubts. There’s no-one there to tell me what I’ve done right and what doesn’t work.
And then, because my lonely head’s been in that manuscript for so long, it’s pretty scary to show it to anyone else.
*With the Story Adventure, I had the weird experience of being edited every week – and THEN editing the whole thing again at the end. But editing isn’t the same thing as workshopping.