Making Workshops Work

Over a period of thirteen years, I’ve had 31 publications, yet I’ve also quit writing several times. A large part of this has come from involvement in writers workshops and groups. A good experience empowers me. A bad one convinces me to tear up all my ongoing projects and pursue another profession.

These things encountered at workshops and groups wasted my time or left me unfulfilled/ despondent:

  • I had poorly-defined goals. I expected praise; I went for the credits; I knew I ought to attend but I wasn’t ready yet so I wasted resources.
  • I was unprepared/distracted. I didn’t research people because I thought I’d wow them with my work alone; I clung to the few people/groups I knew and shunned others; I failed to bring my own supplies and scrambled to make do.
  • I got spread too thin. I was so psyched to help everybody I never helped myself; I came across vampire-like people who sucked me dry and stole my day.
  • I held a shoddy attitude. My confidence fell apart at the first massacre of my work; I rejected any/all negative opinions.

So how can I make a workshop work for me? Here are changes I’ve made:

  • Have a plan—know exactly what I want to achieve and who I need to meet.
  • Come prepared—research key players, work out my pitches, bring business cards, and have a portfolio created for specific people.
  • Be distraction-free—I pack my briefcase/lunchbox using a checklist, set out my outfit, and have everything ready the night before so nothing breaks the rhythm of my studies or deters me from my purpose.
  • Help others—it takes a village to raise a writer/artist, and if I can help other writers/artists, I usually learn something, too.
  • Adopt a different point of view—as a writer, I have something akin to unrequited love, holding this big awesome world in my head and hoping against hope that I can put it forth and it will be accepted. When it is rejected, I feel rejected, but I discovered there are three points of view at work in this relationship: mine as a writer, others as readers, and the agent/publisher/editor POV. I need to be fluid in which point of view I adopt; it is not personal.

For readers, a book is an invisible friend or a magic carpet that transports them to a new world; it welcomes them into its fold. When I receive feedback from readers, I want to know if I have inadvertently betrayed them. I either fix it or find a different market.

For the agent/publisher/editor, a book is an investment. They put themselves on the line, and they need assurance that it’ll be worth their time, resources, blood, sweat, and tears. It isn’t enough to be a fantastic read; it needs to sell. This feedback offers a new means of presenting/selling my work.

Using these guidelines, I can make the most of these workshops and succeed.

©2012 Joanna Celeste (

[Article originally published in the November 2012 issue of SPAWNews.]

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