In the next several posts in my “Do Not Go Gentle…” series I plan to talk about some of the services, books, and people that helped me in my pursuit of a writing career.
A workshop environment is especially useful if you are writing short stories (fiction or non-fiction.) The standard procedure is for each participant to read everyone else’s story and provide written comments. Then the class discusses each story. With a well-run workshop most participants will come away with a good idea of what is working and what is not.
It's much more difficult to workshop a novel. It’s not feasible for everyone to read ten or more work-in-process novels so most workshops ask each participant to submit no more than fifty pages. That kind of workshop can be useful if you are in the early stages of your novel, but what do you do if you think the novel is ready to submit?
That was my problem. I had been working on Everyone Dies Famous for over two years. I thought it was ready, but I wasn’t positive. I decided to hire a story editor to help me polish the final draft. I contacted Rebecca Makkai, whom I had met at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference.
Rebecca is the author of the novel The Great Believers, a finalist for the National Book Award and one of the New York Times’ top ten books of 2018. She is also the Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago. She suggested I consider StoryStudio’s Revise and Launch year long workshop.
I was reluctant. I didn’t want to spend another year revising. I was on the ten-yard line. But as anyone knows who has watched the Bears play, the ten-yard line is not good enough.
I decided to enroll. My primary reason was that the format offered a comprehensive review of the entire manuscript by the workshop leader and feedback on fifty pages of the novel from the other participants in the workshop. In addition, there was class time devoted to the “launch” aspect of finishing the novel: writing a query letter and a synopsis, mini-craft lectures on writing, and opportunities to meet other aspiring writers. StoryStudio also organized a fall festival where we had a chance to meet with agents and publishers.
The feedback from the class was very helpful. It’s invaluable to get the observations and reactions of excellent writers who are also serious readers. The editorial critique by the workshop leader, Abby Geni (author of The Wildlands and The Lightkeepers) far exceeded my expectations. A very practical, comprehensive review.
The workshop helped me to make Everyone Dies Famous better.
Here’s one example. I had a scene where my main character encounters the three artists who live next door. The scene didn’t work well and as I digested the class comments, I realized I didn’t need three artists. The scene worked better with two characters. Nobody said get rid of one of those artists, but their comments led me to that decision.
A good workshop isn’t going to tell you how to fix your novel, but it can be extremely valuable at identifying the elements of your story that don’t quite work – and also what aspects really resonate with readers.
The StoryStudio Revise and Launch workshop was an excellent value and I highly recommend it.