Tag Archives: workshops

Kindred Spirits

Greetings Scriblings! PJ Sharon here.

I had the good fortune of attending a few days of the 2014 IWWG Summer Conference this week. If you aren’t familiar with this acronym, it stands for International Women’s Writing Guild. Despite the fact that I’ve been heavily involved in the romance writing community for several years, I’d never even heard of this organization.  Here’s why.

Romance writers and literary writers tend not to associate or travel in the same conference circles. Whether this is due to some misconception that one is better than the other or that the two are diametrically opposed, I can’t say, because my experience with this incredible group of amazingly talented women was nothing but educational, inclusive, and uplifting–not to mention well organized and fun. These ladies write everything from poetry to memoir, creative nonfiction to essays. A few write fiction as well, and many are published, either traditionally or Indie.

Workshops included a study in Metaphor with the fabulous Susan Tiberghien,  a chance to make “mischief” with Kelly Dumar, where we explored our childhood prankster selves and acted out stories of our misspent youth.  I learned some new plotting strategies from the excellent Chris Eboch in the workshop, What I Learned from Nancy Drew,  and Dr. Dixie King’s extremely helpful Nourishing the Writer Within was an eye opener! Dr. King took us through a step by step guide of smart goal setting and challenged us to pinpoint the barriers and limiting beliefs that hold us back from achieving our goals. I was only able to attend two days of the five day conference, but I felt so welcomed and appreciated by the group that I felt as if I’d met some kindred spirits.

IWWG conf. 2In addition to the wonderful workshops and new friends I met, the food was outstanding and the venue at the Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT was absolutely lovely. I even walked the labyrinth at sunset and spent some time in meditation, which is an area of my life I’ve been neglecting and was sorely needed.

IWWG Conf. 6There was an opportunity to showcase my books at the book fair and take center stage to share from one of my stories.  I was completely floored by the quality of each and every writer’s work that was shared. Poignant stories of family,  deep inner journeys, and prose that gave me chills and had me laughing and crying within the same three minute reading. These women are powerful and brilliant, I tell you!

Regardless of genre, we were all writers and all women–sisters of the pen–there to support each other. I feel so blessed to have been a part of this group if only for a couple of days. It gave me just the shot in the writer’s arm that I needed. I learned some important things about myself in the process and hope to meet these lovely women again in the future. My eyes are open a little wider and my heart has been touched by the gift of their words. Thank you IWWG!

Here’s a little about the organization:

The IWWG, founded in 1976, is a network for the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing and open to all regardless of portfolio. As such, it has established a remarkable record of achievement in the publishing world, as well as in circles where lifelong learning and personal transformation are valued for their own sake. The Guild nurtures and supports holistic thinking by recognizing the logic of the heart–the ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events and emotions- alongside conventional logic.

Have you stretched your wings and made some new friends lately? When was the last time you just wrote for fun? Because if you aren’t having fun, what’s the point, right?

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.

Starting the Next Book

Starting the Next Book

My favorite part of writing is starting a new book. The story brews and stews in my mind for weeks—sometimes months—before I actually begin the process of putting it on the page. I hear dialogue in my head, develop an image of my hero and heroine, and think about the characters as if they are new friends I’m getting to know. I work out plot details, figure out my turning points and make sure I understand the goal, motivation and conflict before I jump in. I’ve learned the hard way that being clear about what is driving the characters is essential to me getting to know them before I’ve already written 200 pages and then have to go back and fix everything. After muddling through seven novels, and taking dozens of workshops, this is the process that has evolved and seems to work best for me. This is about as much prep as I can do without cramping my ‘pantser’ style.

Once I finally sit down to write, the first 100 pages fly out of my head and onto the page like I’m singing an aria. The ease and fluidity give me such a high, I can usually blast out that 100 or so pages in a matter of a few weeks. In that time, I’ve set the scene, introduced my loveable, and not so loveable characters, and hopefully am well into the meat of the story. Then, comes that dastardly sagging middle. You know–the part when a lot is going on but nothing is happening. I start biting my nails, popping over to answer e-mails, and generally avoiding the ‘what comes next?’ I will the story to miraculously write itself (so far that hasn’t panned out for me). So, I wait patiently—or not so patiently–for the characters to tell me where to go. Eventually, the next piece of the puzzle shows up, but I agonize for a while and fill the time doing research or going back over my character grid and conflict charts to see what I’m missing.

Once I get beyond that middle muddle, the end comes into view and it is a race to the finish where I tie up all of my loose ends. Since the revision process is the hardest part for me, and I have proven to myself that I can finish a book, I do some amount of revision as I go. I don’t feel the need to just keep writing to get to the end before I start revising. I often go back and layer my character’s conflict or add a meaningful piece of dialogue that came to me in the car or shower before I move on to the next scene. The cool thing is, the process for every book is different. I’m still learning and struggling with the revision process, but I’m becoming more efficient with each book.

I currently find myself in new territory once again. I’ve started the next book, which is entitled 21 DAYS. I’ve done my preliminary work and I’m on the second chapter. I want to sit down and blast out those first 100 pages, but the demands of self-publishing are hot on my plate. Gone are the days when all I had to do was write the next book. I plan to have a few more chapters behind me before I leave on my seventeen day cruise to the Mediterranean–which is where much of the book takes place and will be written in real time. But instead of writing the next chapters, I find that I have final revisions due on HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES and have to organize myself to get the book to reviewers before I leave. Again, it goes back to juggling all of those balls. I’m working hard to keep in mind that the most important job of a writer is to start the next book. Lucky for me, that is the part I am most passionate about.

So tell me, what part of writing are you most passionate about?