Facing the Workshop: A Guest Blog
–by Amy Kuether
Do you remember your first workshop? Your first conference? The feeling of community you experienced? Perhaps a moment of identity as a writer, an intoxicating and thrilling moment of connection?
My first conference was the Florida Writers Association (FWA) annual conference last year. That experience prompted me to attend my first standalone workshop at a local college in January. The workshop was an experience I will never forget – like running a first marathon or getting your first job or even your first boyfriend or girlfriend. If you have not yet attended a conference or standalone workshop, it’s time.
At the Florida Writers Conference I listened to short sessions on craft – addressing language, character development, and other elements. But it was like licking the salt off the top of the margarita glass without drinking the margarita. I needed more. My toolbox was empty. And the only way to fill it was to expose myself – not by talking about my ideas, but by putting them on paper and showing them to people.
It was at the FWA conference that I discovered the flyer for a week-long workshop at a nearby college. At first I dismissed it. I didn’t have 25 pages to submit. Perhaps this could wait. But writing had been waiting all of my life. It refused to let me ignore it any longer.
In my head I’d worked on an idea for a novel, a concept I’d shared with my new friends at the Florida Writers Conference. “Brilliant!” they’d exclaimed. “I can’t wait to read it!” It had been trapped inside me by my own unwillingness to face my imperfection and to embrace discipline. But after FWA, I had the courage I to get serious about this writer talk of mine. I wrote 25 pages of that story and applied for the workshop. And I was wait-listed. But by some miracle, someone dropped out and I was let in.
January arrived without much fanfare. It was a warm morning when I drank the bitter hotel coffee, felt it slide down my esophagus and land in an unsettled stomach. That morning it was my turn to sit and listen while 12 other writers discussed my work. They were clinical in their analysis of structure and language, while I sat, toes tapping under the table, lit with emotion, forced to remain silent.
It was the second day of the workshop. After listening intently to day one, I knew what to expect. My point of view was a disaster ‒ who was telling my story anyhow? My structure was all over the place. I used too many adverbs. All the mistakes of a beginning writer were bundled into a neat package. Why, my manuscript could have been a what-not-to-do teaching tool!
How painful. How glorious. I learned just how terrible my pages were. But I also found hope and inspiration. I was taken seriously as a writer. These people, who had been working very hard on their writing, squeezing in time between family and jobs to really work at it – to work at the craft, not just to spill words on paper like I had – they took me seriously enough to think about what I’d written, to criticize the structure, to like the characters. These were people, some of whom had finished novels, taught, or were even published. If they were to take me seriously, maybe I too could take myself seriously. Allow my imperfection to spill on the page. And allow myself to be a writer.
Amy Kuether comes to Florida and the Florida Writers Association by way of Washington DC and Wisconsin. She is a recovering government analyst who has taken the plunge into fiction writing. Her interests are literary and young adult fiction and she is working on her first novel.
BLOG NOTE: FWA offers myriad opportunities for writers to receive feedback, from local writing and critique groups to mini-conferences to the annual conference. Check floridawriters.net for details. Questions? Contact ConferenceMarketing@FloridaWriters.net. Upcoming events:
October 17: “Writing Your Book…Step By Step,” an all-day, tax-deductible seminar by mega-bestselling romantic suspense author Mary Burton at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary. Sponsored by the Florida Writers Foundation. See http://www.floridawritersfoundation.org/.
October 17: Pre-Conference pitch workshop, 1:00-4:00 p.m., presented by Chantelle Osman at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary. Register at http://shop.floridawriters.net/category.sc?categoryId=36.
October 18-20: FWA’s annual conference, “The Greatest Writers Conference on Earth,” 3 days of workshops and events, opportunities with interviews with agents and publishers. See http://www.floridawriters.net/2013_FWA_Conferences.html.