Top Three Reasons to Take and Teach Workshops

How is it Tuesday already? PJ Sharon here, bringing to you my top three reasons to both take writing workshops and give them. Of course my main reason is that I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning.

I also think we owe it to ourselves and others to pay it forward when we learn something useful. After all, sharing ideas is the reason we write.

I just finished taking an online workshop called YA Heroes Journey, offered by my YARWA buddies Jennifer McAndrews and Linda Gerber. It was excellent! I loved how they were able to give me immediate feedback on my WIP and help me to improve my grasp of plot, character archetypes, and the deeper motivations of my hero and heroine.

Over the past six years, I have taken dozens of online workshops through RWA’s individual chapters, Savvy Authors, and YARWA (young adult chapter of RWA), and have never been disappointed. In addition to these online workshops, I’ve had the privilege of attending the RWA National convention five times, CT Fiction Fest four times, and a Romantic Times Booklovers Convention for the first time this year. All of these venues offer incredible workshops and endless opportunities for networking—not to mention tons of fun!

 Here are my top three reasons why you should take writing workshops:

1)      To hone your craft. When I began writing down the crazy stories in my head, I had no idea there were so many rules to writing. From point of view and plot, to balancing dialogue and narrative, I felt as if I could study the craft for the rest of my life and barely scratch the surface of all there is to know. I make it a point to take workshops as often as I possibly can.

2)      Feedback on your WIP. This is probably one of the most valuable parts of taking a workshop. So many times, we struggle through the rough patches of our stories and suffer alone, feeling as if we can’t see our work objectively or find the forest through the trees. It’s great to have critique partners, but it’s also good to have objective individuals give you a fresh perspective on your work.

3)      Affordable and focused education. It takes about $30,000 and more than a couple of years of your time to obtain an MFA. During that time, you spend a considerable amount of energy focusing on literary critique of published works, reading and writing poetry, and working to earn grades rather than working on your own projects. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, but if you are planning to write genre fiction, it might not be the best use of your time and resources. The workshops I’ve taken range from $10-$25, are taught by talented and dedicated writers and published authors, and last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month. A very wise and doable investment in my opinion. You can take the workshops you need, when you need them, and take them for a fraction of the cost of college courses.

In addition to all of this fabulous learning, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of teaching. Over the years I’ve taught ice skating and yoga classes, done personal training with individuals and groups, and given workshops on health and fitness related topics. I’ve hesitated to jump into the arena of teaching writing workshops, mainly because I still feel like a newbie in so many ways. It probably doesn’t help that I teach a monthly writing class to a group of teens who constantly make me aware that they are much smarter than I am.

 But after doing a craft corner last year for the CTRWA group about writing fight scenes, I realized that indeed I do have something to offer by way of workshops. I know about martial arts, I know what makes a good fight scene, and I’ve taken a few workshops on the topic. So by popular demand, I’ll be offering my very first workshop, “Fun with Fight Scenes,” at the upcoming CT Fiction Fest conference on May 12th. Other presenters include Kristan Higgins, Jessica Andersen, Toni Andrews, and Jennifer Fusco, just to name a few. We also have the fabulous Sherry Thomas as our keynote speaker. Incidentally, there will be plenty of opportunities to pitch your story to some of the best agents and editors in the business. You won’t want to miss it! 

Here are my top three reasons to give a workshop:

1)      Share knowledge with other writers. If you’ve been working to hone your craft for a few years and have worked hard to complete a few novels, you know a little something about writing. Even if you don’t feel up to the task of teaching “on writing,” I’d bet  there is some area of expertise you could share with your fellow writers that would give them a leg up on their WIP.

2)      Networking. There is no better way to get exposure to new people than to teach a workshop at a conference or online. Getting our faces and our talents in front of industry professionals is an incredible marketing opportunity. If you are in the “business” of writing, setting yourself apart as an expert or authority on a sought after topic is a great way to get some notice.

3)      Public speaking experience. Again, if you are planning a career as a writer, there will be many occasions where you will be required to present yourself publically. Whether it’s pitching your story to an agent or editor, or doing a radio or TV interview, the more experience you have with public speaking, the better prepared you’ll be for whatever opportunities come your way.

 If you haven’t been to a conference in a while (or ever), there is still time to sign up for CT Fiction Fest. I’d love to see you there!

 What was the last workshop you took? Have you ever taught one? I’d love some tips on how to make mine stand out.


16 thoughts on “Top Three Reasons to Take and Teach Workshops”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I love taking craft classes that provide hands on feedback. Those are the most valuable to me and have helped me the most. I haven’t had a chance to take any workshops in 2012 (too busy promoting/writing), but I plan to take something before the year is out. The last workshop I took was on learning styles and how that affects you as a writer. It was very interesting to learn that I’m audio/visual/kinesthetic (I think it was taught by the same person who did the article in RWR magazine this month). She then taught us how that impacts our writing and how we could leverage to be more effective writers. Now I understand why I always hear dialogue first and can’t sit still in my chair when writing!

    1. That is so cool, Casey. I love understanding why we do what we do. It really does help us focus on our strengths and work on our weaknesses to make us better writers. Of course, you’ll get to take some awesome workshops next week at FF:-)

  2. Paula, great post. It is so easy to follow your writing b/c you have a beginning, middle and end. You wanted some input about teaching . . . If you teach the way you write it will be good. Abraham Lincoln said, “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” Stay focused, stay on track, offer time for questions “at the end.” Suggest they write any questions down for a question and answer time at the end. Questions in the middle interrupts everyone’s thought process. Be sure you explain that at the start, and if you can, maybe even provide paper and pencils. Teaching is public speaking. Have a bullet list. Time yourself, practice in the mirror, how long will it take to get your message across, leaving time at the end for those questions. Remember to thank your workshop groupies for coming. By the time you are done, you will be an expert, and maybe be asked to publish a book about epub. Sound familiar?

  3. OK PJ the great….need tips on giving workshops….here you go.

    1. Stop and check for agreement – frequently stop talking and look at the audience and ask if they are ok, do they understand or need further explanation. You job is to teach so make sure they walk out of there knowing the crux of your lesson.

    2. Never read to the audience unless you are illustrating a point from your lesson.

    3. Do not turn your back on your audience. It’s rude.

    4. Walk around the room. This keeps people on their toes and also let’s you know who may be bored stiff. If they’re bored you can liven up your presentation.

    5. Forget about the nerves. If you concentrate on the message you are trying to convey, you won’t get nervous.

      1. Teachers use walking around the room to make sure kids aren’t talking it works on adults too. Also I ask a random child a left field question. It makes the other kids nervous and keeps everybody on their toes.

  4. I have been teaching workshops for many, many years. Here are some pointers I’ve learned along the way:

    –Keep your audience engaged. This means coming up with exercises that they can do along with the lesson topic to keep them involved in the learning process.

    –Take frequent breaks. Everyone needs time to potty, stretch, snack, etc.

    –Use humor to lighten the mood. Don’t take yourself or anything else too seriously. Everyone enjoys laughter.

    –If you have handouts, only give them out when you are going to truly go over them. Give them out on topic. If you give all handouts out at once, people will spend time reading them instead of paying attention to what you’re currently talking about.

    –Be careful of the student who really wants to be the teacher. This person will do everything s/he can to monopolize the discussions and the attention in the room. It’s perfectly acceptable to say to this person, “Well, that’s off topic. We don’t have time to discuss that right now,” or to kindly say, “Thank you for sharing your experience, but we need to move on.”

    –In keeping with the last point, keep things moving and stay on time and on task. When you write an outline of your presentation, allot times for the lecture portion, the discussion portion, the activities, the breaks, etc. This helps you to stay organized and on schedule.

    –Enjoy yourself. Let your love for what you do shine in your presentation! This will keep people coming back to your workshops.

    Good luck!! 🙂

  5. I absolutely agree! I’m looking forward to taking a class from Tiffany Lawson Inman and attending the DFW Writers’ Conference this month. I will be learning more about craft and the biz and networking with some fabulous people. Best wishes with the workshop you’re teaching, PJ!

  6. PJ, I am always so grateful for the knowledge you freely give. I know I’ve said it before (because it’s true) but I am so blessed to be heading down this path with you. I think I would have given up a long time ago if it hadn’t been for you. 🙂

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