I have just spent two days at Barbara Kyle’s Master Class “Your Novel in Workshop” at the Toronto Writer’s Center. Ten writers, all writing fiction in a variety of genres. A rich, rich weekend that more than met my expectations. Getting the reactions and the feedback from other writers on the first draft of the first twenty-five pages of “The Fourth of July Game” was inspirational. I learned ten crucial things this weekend.
- The nine other folks at the workshop amazed me with the range of their imagination and creativity. Writing and story telling is deeply buried on our genes. Perhaps the impetus to write, to entertain, started when our species was first living in tribes, filling the evenings with verbal stories that came out of the experiences of each day.
- I can handle character and plot, but have far to go on style.
- Suzan Frazier and Hob Hoberly, my core characters, have taken on a life of their own in my head. That is normal other writers assure me. Writers live with their characters full time.
- I can learn the craft needed to become an effective writer of fiction. I must bring the imagination and the creativity to the writing process. I must supply the discipline to apply the craft that I am learning so that my imagination and my creativity produces results that appeal to readers, not just to myself.
- Stories that entertain can teach. Readers love to learn in the process of being entertained. “To move and to delight, in order to teach.” That quote comes from my English 101, over forty years old- the Renaissance definition of the purpose of art. Still so true today. Re-learning that will have far reaching implications for my professional consulting work.
- Writers are extraordinarily generous in sharing their already limited time to help other writers. Most of the folks at this workshop struggle to find the time to write. Yet they all took the time to share their feedback on my work with me. Every experience that I have had with other writers in other places reinforces this.
- Readers can be trusted. That means that about two thirds of the words I write I am writing for me, not for them. My second drafts need to reflect this by being less than fifty percent as long as the first.
- Every piece of writing that I do, whatever its intended audience, needs to reflect my commitment to writing. No more sloppy e-mails. The craft that I am learning while writing fiction will impact all of the writing that I am doing – from day to day e-mails to the professional material that I create.
- Publishers are looking for material that appeals to an audience. The fact that mine may not appeal to them is a reflection of my inability to shape it into a form that appeals to readers, not a reflection of publishers’ lack of interest in finding publishable work.
- Writing means reading, but with a difference. At least some of the time, I need to read to see how the author has applied the craft of writing, not just for my enjoyment.
Originally published on November 10, 2008