Illustration Credit: Ginny Tilby
I’ve had a couple of people ask about how the WIFYR workshop worked, so I thought I’d explain the process. This is the first workshop I’ve done, but from what I’ve heard from others, it’s pretty typical of the way writing workshops are run. (Though sometimes they might have a more specific genre or age range focus. And I’m sure there are some that are handled differently.)
- There were 12 writers in my workshop.
- All of the novels submitted were either YA or MG. They could be any genre. (We had two MG blends of fantasy and contemporary—like mine, one MG fantasy, two YA historicals, two YA paranormals, two YA fantasies, a YA dystopian, a YA contemporary, and a YA retelling—which was actually a short story.)
- For this particular workshop, we exchanged the first 6000 words of our books (approximately 20 pages) for critique. (There were other workshops at the conference that worked slightly differently, including one where you submitted your full novel. There was also a picture book workshop where they submitted multiple books, I think.)
- Not everyone had a completed manuscript—a few people didn’t have much more than those first 6000 words done. It’s never too early to workshop a piece!
- We got people’s submissions (some came earlier than others because they ended up merging two workshop sessions) with instructions to read them through once and then go back and read them again, making notes. Then, we had to print them out and make notes on the printed copy. I think this is a great way to do critiques—instead of jumping straight into critique mode, you want to get a feel for the piece.
- Trent Reedy (who ran the workshop) started out by talking about the process: what sorts of things we should be focusing on when we did our critiques (story, characters, POV, writing—not grammar and punctuation), etc.
- We went over two to three manuscripts per day (the workshop ran from 8:30-12:30).
- First we went around the room and everyone talked about what we liked about the submission. It’s always nice to set the tone with positives, and it puts the author in a much better frame of mind when we get to the next part.
- Next we went around and talked about “opportunities for revision.” Trent was very specific about calling them this because he pointed out that this is truly the way we should see them. One person’s ideas for improvement don’t necessarily mean there was a problem with the manuscript (even if that person sees it that way). But there are always ways to think about a manuscript differently, and sometimes those can make it work better.
- Trent asked that we not address the author directly, but instead speak about the writing, the story or the characters. So, for instance, instead of saying, “I love the way you used metaphor here,” you’d say something like, “I loved the use of metaphor in this section.” This was actually really hard to do! (We messed up sometimes and had to be reminded.)
- One thing Trent stressed was trying to rid ourselves of our preconceived notions about our own books. Sometimes we have an idea and we get locked into it, even if it doesn’t serve us in the end. For instance, Trent gave us an example from his own book, Words in the Dust. Originally, the elderly teacher character was blind and lived in a cave. His editor asked him why and he gave her all the reasons this would make sense. But then she said something along the lines of, “No, I don’t want you to justify it, I want you to ask yourself why she needs to be blind and live in a cave.” These two elements didn’t add much to the overall story and they added a lot of complication that didn’t need to be there. He had never even thought of taking them out because that’s how he first imagined the character.
I learned SO much from the critiques. Not just the critiques of my books, but everyone else’s as well. And I got some great feedback that helped me revise those oh-so-critical first 20 pages of my manuscript as well. The book is definitely stronger for it.
In the afternoons, we had keynotes with agents and editors and breakout sessions that focused on topics like worldbuilding, revisions, rhetorical devices, voice, etc.
We also had the opportunity to submit our query and first two pages and meet with an agent or editor to discuss them—a scary but exciting prospect. (I met with Kelsy Thompson at Jolly Fish Press and she asked me to submit to her!)
That’s about it. Have you ever attended a writing workshop? Was the experience similar? Do you have any questions about how it worked that I didn’t cover? I want to know!
NOTE: The fun WIFYR illustration used in this post (with permission) was created by the very talented Ginny Tilby. If you click on the link, you’ll be brought to her post about WIFYR and the great insights she got in the picture book workshop. You should also check out her adorable picture book, You Should, You Should. I am in LOVE with it!