Sunday, 25 May 2014

Why Writers Shouldn't Overshare

When I was teaching English several years ago many of my students struggled with creative writing.  They’d write one or two sentences and then call me over to read them, expecting praise and feedback for the tiny bit of work they’d done. 

I blame this partly on the over-sharing, instant-gratification culture we live in where every fleeting thought and emotion is often considered Facebook or Tweet-worthy. People not only expect but need to be acknowledged and getting ‘liked’ or retweeted releases feel-good chemicals in the brain that cause us to become addicted to constant feedback.

Writers are not immune to this and when there are so many forums to publish our work and get read, it takes a lot of self-control to hold things back and not hit the publish button too soon. I shouldn’t include all writers in this because there are many who thrive on feedback and interaction, using it to produce better work, but I’m not one of them.

As soon as I put something out there in the public domain, that’s it, it’s over for me. I never want to revisit that piece of writing again. I don’t have a folder of drafts that I can go back and work on when the creative well runs dry because I've put nearly everything I've written on Amazon or on my blog. I really wish I did have some pieces to fall back on that I'd kept to myself.

I’ve come to believe that putting something aside and letting it sit there, untouched, for a few weeks or months is one of the most important things writers can do to improve their writing. With this in mind I’m going to focus on writing a few first drafts and then just leave them alone for a while.  Not only will this hopefully help me to improve my writing but it will also free up the creative juices when there’s no self-imposed pressure to produce a finished piece of work. 

Time is not only a great healer but it is also helps remove the blinkers from our eyes so we can see more clearly where our strengths and weaknesses lie. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Sister Wives, Miserable Lives

Until last night I’d only ever seen a few minutes of Sister Wives as I was flicking through channels looking for something else to watch. In the minutes before I moved on the husband was consoling one of his crying wives and I thought he seemed reasonably kind and attentive. I've never been able to understand what attracts women to polygamous relationships but each to their own, I thought. If it works for them then that’s their business.

Last night there was absolutely nothing else on TV so I decided to give Sisters Wives another go. The first thing that struck me was how utterly miserable three of the wives seemed and how lacking in warmth their relationships were with each other. Meri looks like she’s permanently on the verge of tears, Janelle is clearly over the whole thing and can’t stand Kody (with a K. Maybe he should take one of the Kardashian’s as a sister wife, or all 3) while Christine just faded into the background. The only one that seemed content was Robyn, the most recent and considerably younger trophy wife. All of them, apart from Robyn, seemed bitter and starved for affection, and how could they not be when they only get one quarter of a husband? The rest of the time they’re on their own knowing that Kody’s shacked up with another woman.

The only women this kind of relationship could possibly work for are those that can’t stand their spouse and want to spend as little time with him as possible. I can imagine that if your husband is an abusive jerk  then not having to cook his dinner and perform your wifely duties each night would be a very nice arrangement. For those who actually want an equal, mutually satisfying relationship with a man who is committed to fulfilling their emotional needs it is a recipe for disaster.  I can also imagine that if you are popping out a baby each year it might be nice to have a support system of other women in place to share the burden and help with the child-rearing. This utopian ideal is clearly what the Brown family believed would change peoples’ perceptions about polygamous relationships when the show first aired. In reality the opposite is true.

The wives' hideously ugly McMansions with their dusty, barren yards are perfect symbols for this emotionally dysfunctional family who, as one of them acknowledged in a recent episode, are not much closer to each other than ordinary neighbours. The kids are clearly devoted to each other and provide the only real warmth in the show. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grown up in a household with a father who is parenting 17 children in four separate homes. I question how strong the relationship could be with even the most devoted father in these circumstances, let alone a self-absorbed, narcissistic patriarch like Kody. There’s just no way that he is able to spend the quality time with all of his children and wives that they need and to think that he can is pure arrogance. His emotional distance from his offspring is quite evident in the fact that he refers to them as “Janelle’s eldest” etc. I strongly suspect that he doesn’t really care much about anyone beyond himself. You can see the glazed look in his eyes whenever he has to deal with his wives’ problems. His arm might be around them and he might be saying all the right things but mentally and emotionally he’s nowhere in sight.
The empathy is overwhelming
Despite my strong dislike of Kody I even feel an inkling of sympathy for him. It must be completely exhausting having to move between four needy and insecure women. He doesn’t even have a place to call home as the houses belong to his wives. It’s not humanly possible to love four women equally and there has to be one woman he’d prefer to be with above the others, but instead of being able to admit this and release them all from this torturous situation he has to carry on with the farce that they are one “big happy family.” The whole situation makes me surprisingly angry and my advice to all of them is to stop pretending and face reality.

Meri: You are struggling with where you belong in the family now that your daughter has left for college. Do you really think this situation is going to change? It’s not, it’s only going to get much worse. You face many years of unhappiness unless you get out of this “marriage” and find a man who can give you the undivided love and attention you deserve.

Janelle: You are a very smart woman and you have already shown that you can make it on your own. Your weight problems are directly linked to your unhappiness in this five-way relationship. You’re supressing your emotions through food and the only way this is going to change is to deal with the situation that is causing you pain and misery. Get out of his sham marriage, shake the blinkers from your eyes and show your children what you’re made of.

Christine: Kody started courting another woman when you were pregnant and took off on his honeymoon shortly after the baby was born. He then made it clear that you had been replaced by a newer model. This man is not deserving of you. You don’t need to feel “grateful” for the meagre scraps of affection he throws your way. Kick him to the curb where he belongs and find out what a real relationship is all about.

Robyn: You might feel secure now but remember, what goes around comes around.

Kody: For God’s sakes, grow up and man up. 

Disclaimer: After watching another episode of Sister Wives I think I was a bit harsh on the Browns who seem to be a lot closer and happier than I thought. Sorry Browns, but you did provide a focus for my PMS.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

What's Your Story?


In her book This is the Secret of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett says that all writers have one basic storyline that they repeat in every book. The characters, locations and problems might change, but the basic storyline is there, underpinning the whole thing. At first I didn’t believe this, but it got me thinking about my books and I started to see that there is some truth to it.

A storyline that I’ve repeated several times already has been that of a woman alone in a strange place, having to find her inner resilience. I used this storyline in Shadows of Yesterday, Hunger of the Wolf and Colton Manor. Pleasure Island also follows this storyline in some ways but in this case two characters are thrown together on a deserted island for a reality TV show.  In Eternal Hunger Lucia leaves her old life behind when she joins the vampires.

Is this a sign that I need to expand my horizons and find something else to write about?  Possibly, but taking characters out of the familiar environment is a common strategy for writers because it means we get to start with a blank canvas. It’s easier to write about new relationships than it is about ones with a long history. Putting characters in an unfamiliar place and confronting them with all the challenges this entails also brings out their strengths and weaknesses.

These are all good reasons why many writers use this storyline and if you think about it, so many books and movies are based on this premise. For me it’s also a psychological thing. Being an introvert I crave solitude and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I put my characters in the position of being alone. It’s also no accident that my characters are often involved in creative careers and that they frequently escape somewhere beautiful to focus on their work because this is something I’d love to do. Who wouldn’t want to write in a cabin in the woods or look out at an empty windswept beach from the window of their study in an historic mansion? There’s definitely an element of wish-fulfilment involved. I’ve moved quite a few times throughout my life and had to start again in a new place so this definitely comes into play in my writing.

We write about what we know, and even when we think we’re writing about something completely separate from our experience, the emotional struggles and heartbreaks are often our own. I find this both comforting and disconcerting. The upshot of this knowledge about the single storyline is that I’m probably going to make a conscious effort NOT to use it in the future. It's handy though to recognise what drives you and what to avoid if you don’t want to become stale.

What’s your basic storyline and what does it say about you?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Secrets of a Social Outcast


Term One
28th January
Hello diary and welcome to my life! I’ve never had a diary before but I’ve decided to keep one this year because I know it’s going to be a really important year for me and also because I need somewhere to vent my feelings. Sometimes it seems like no one in the world understands me and I’m just going to bust if I can’t let my emotions out somewhere. Before you decide I’m a total Nigel-no-friends I do I have a bunch of besties, including my BFF Katie who lives two houses away from me. I tell her nearly everything but there are some things you just don’t want to tell anyone because you don’t even want to say them out loud.
I wish I could keep this diary on my laptop like a normal person but my parents check my computer all the time in case I get stalked by a paedophile (or more likely to find out if I’m looking at stuff I’m not supposed to). Seriously! Do they really think I’m going to hook up with a total stranger I meet online? I’m not completely brain dead but they obviously don’t agree because I have no privacy whatsoever. I’m not even allowed to have Facebook until I’m 14 and that’s almost a year away. I don’t know how I’m going to survive till then. All my friends and even my 10 year old cousin are on there. It’s so embarrassing being the odd one out. It’s totally my parents fault for depriving me of the basic necessities of life. If I end up being a social outcast it will be all their fault.
Tomorrow is the first day back at school in Year 8. It just seems like yesterday I was so nervous about my first day at St Barfs (it’s really Bartholomew’s but Barf’s is so much more appropriate). This year it’s my turn to give the Year 7’s a hard time. LOL. Not that I would ever actually do that to anyone because I remember what it was like being the newbie. Last year the older kids gave us wrong directions to classes and generally tried to mess with our heads. They thought it was so funny but I just thought it was mean.
I have a lot of hopes and dreams for this year but my biggest one is that Tyler Martin will notice I’m alive again (and ask me to marry him!). We used to be sort of friends in primary school but when we got to high school he started hanging out with a bunch of cool kids. He hasn’t talked to me since the second week of Year 7, not that I’m keeping track or anything!  Now half the girls in our year are in love with him.
We get the same bus to school and that’s my favourite part of the day. You should see him, diary, he has floppy, sun-streaked blonde hair that’s always falling in his eyes and the cutest smile ever (well, I think his hair is sun-streaked but Katie’s convinced he gets foils. She’s just jealous because her blonde streaks aren’t natural). Katie says I’m hopeless for liking him but she can’t talk because she has a crush on Jamie French and he doesn’t know she’s alive either.
My other wish is that I will finally grow decent sized boobs this year (at the moment I’m AAA cup. Tragic, I know) and start to look more like my older sister, Lucy, who everyone says should be a model. Grrrrrrrr. I was one of the last girls in my year to start wearing a bra and I’m still almost completely flat-chested. I still look like I’m about 10.
In the holidays I went to some street markets with Lucy and I wore my hair tucked under a baseball cap. When I was lining up at a hot food stall the old lady behind the counter said, “How can I help you, young man.” To be mistaken for a boy at 13 is total humiliation and it had to happen right in front of Lucy who has never let me live it down. Sometimes when I’m talking to her she’ll pretend she didn’t hear and say, “How can I help you, young man?” She thinks it’s so funny because she was practically a DD cup by the time she was 13.
I’m just so tired of feeling inferior and being told that I’m not in the same league as my sister. Like I didn’t already know that. At least I’m not completely delayed because I finally got my period last October. Now that I’ve had it a few times and know what it’s all about I kind of wish it would go away for another 13 years.
Lucy is starting Year 11 this year and she loves herself to death. That’s enough about her. I’ll have to make sure I hide this diary very well from her because she’s such a snoop and I wouldn’t put it past her to go through my stuff when I’m not around. KEEP OUT, LUCY, OR I’LL TELL MUM AND DAD ABOUT THE NIGHT YOU SPENT AT JACK’S HOUSE WHEN YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE AT SHERIDAN’S!!! (I found this out when she left her laptop on the dining room table logged into her email account. How dumb can you get!).
My other big wish is that me and my friends become more popular and get invited to the best parties this year. My group is kind of in the middle. We’re not popular but we’re not losers either. This year I’m going to make a big effort to move up the social ladder by getting noticed by all the right people for all the right reasons (that’s the secret to social success according to Lucy’s Cleo). I can’t really make witty conversation over cocktails like the article says so I’m not sure exactly sure how I’m going to achieve this yet but something will come to me. I hope by this time next year all my dreams have come true. Gotta go to bed now. I can’t wait to see my besties at school tomorrow. It’s been 5 weeks since I’ve seen most of them and I’ve missed them soooo much.
February 5th
School has been back for a week and things are different this year. I can’t really put into words what it is but something has changed. Maybe it’s because over the holidays everyone kept in touch with each other on Facebook and Synced (the latest thing that everyone at our school is into). I’m not even banned from Synced cause Mum and Dad don’t know it exits but it’s a bit hard to be on there when I don’t have an iPhone. I still have one of Mum’s ancient mobiles from the prehistoric era because they’re too stingy to buy me a new one of my own. Lucy of course has the latest model because she’s sixteen. That’s their answer for everything. I really hate my parents sometimes.
I visited Nan for 3 weeks in the holidays which was really nice but the only people I talked to over that time were Katie and Brooke. Me and Katie went to the movies when I got back and we spent a day at a beauty spa getting pampered (one of the few decent Xmas presents I got this year). We went shopping a few times too for clothes and stuff. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as what the other girls did though. When we were sitting in our new seat in the courtyard today, Charlotte and Stacey told us about how they went to Sydney to visit Charlotte’s sister who goes to uni there. They met some boys on the train and snuck out to meet them at night in the city.
 It sounded like fun but I told them I don’t know if I’d be game enough to do that. Stacey said, “Oh, Gabby, you’re so cute,” and they all laughed. “But what if they’d turned out to be weirdos or something,” I said. Charlotte rolled her eyes and said, “But they didn’t, did they. At least we actually did something in our holidays besides go to the movies like we’re still 10.” She said it in kind of a bitchy voice and I felt bad, but I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it. Things will go back to the way they were soon and I’ll laugh at myself for worrying over nothing. We’ve all been friends since we were in Year 4 and I know we’ll all still be friends when we’re old and grey and 40.
PS. Tyler hasn’t been a school at all yet. Hope he hasn’t moved away or got sick or something : - (
February 7th
Tyler came back to school on Wednesday and he looked hotter than ever. He just got back from a holiday in America and on the bus on the way to school I heard him talking about all the amazing things he did there. His family can afford holidays like that because they’re filthy rich. On top of that they all look like super models. They live in this mansion on the hill and Katie calls them the beautiful people. I always ask her if I’ll be one of the beautiful people too when I marry Tyler. She just rolls her eyes.
It was so funny because Katie kept trying to talk to me on the bus but I wasn’t paying any attention to what she was saying because I was listening to Tyler. When she finally realised why she put her ear buds in and poked her tongue out at me. She hates Tyler and can’t understand what I see in him, but I can’t understand what she sees in Jamie, so that makes us even.
In maths I heard Annakey Lucas say how cute he is, but I know he thinks she’s a ho because he said so on the bus once (Katie and me call her Skanky Annakey). She’s one of the worst bullies in Yr 8 and the only reason she’s so popular is because everyone’s scared of her. I’d die if they started going out together but I don’t think that’s going to happen. One day I just know he’s going to start talking to me again and he’ll see that I’m the perfect girl for him! Until that day I’ll just have to wait and be patient. Good things comes to those who wait!!! (that’s what my Nan always says when she buys a lottery ticket. She’s been saying it for as long as I can remember. The way things are going she won’t have many years to enjoy the money if she ever does win, but I don’t point this out to her. LOL).
February 8th
OMG, I have the best news ever! In history today Mr Collins put us in groups for an assignment and Tyler is in the same group as me. This is the first time we’ve had a class together since primary school because he’s always been in lower classes than me. It’s not because he’s dumb or anything but just because he doesn’t try and he’s always getting into trouble.  They’ve decided to mix classes together this year which totally works for me!
Normally I hate group work because I’d much rather do things on my own, but this time I’m so glad. Now he’ll have no choice but to talk to me. *Doing a happy dance in my mind.* It doesn’t even bother me that one of the other people in our group is Creepy Kevin who always tries to talk to me and even asked me to dance last year at the school disco. Rumour is he likes me and wanted to ask me out. I don’t think so!!! I’m supposed to be moving up the social ladder this year, not down it and Creepy Kevin is definitely at the bottom. I can’t believe he actually thought he stood a chance with me. Talk about deluded.
 The rest of the day wasn’t great because Charlotte and Stacey were acting really strangely. They kept whispering to each other at lunchtime, but they wouldn’t tell me, Katie and Brooke what they were talking about. Then they got out their phones and starting texting each other right in front of us. How rude! Normally we all sit together for the whole of lunch but today they left early and I saw them near the canteen talking to Skanky Lucas and her megabitch friends. Weird. Normally she won’t have anything to do with any of us because she thinks we’re beneath her. Who knows what’s going on with them and who really cares because on Thursday I get to be with Tyler in history (well not really “with” him but you know what I mean. LOL).
February 11th
I can’t believe what happened today. Me and Katie and Brooke were sitting at our table in the courtyard at lunch time when Charlotte and Stacey turned up late. As soon as they sat down I could tell something was wrong. They just looked different, like their faces were really hard and cold, then Charlotte said they were going to sit with Annakey Lucas and her friends from now on. Katie said, “But why, what have we done?” They said it’s because we’re too immature for them now, and they need friends who are on the same level as them. What is that supposed to even mean? Do they need friends who hike their skirts up really short and have fake orange tans?
It got even worse when Stacey turned to Brooke and asked her if she wanted to go with them or stay with us. Brooke kept looking at us and then looking at them, and then she kind of shrugged her shoulders at us and said “I’m sorry.” What a complete bitch! If it wasn’t for me she wouldn’t even have been part of our group. When she started at our school she didn’t know anyone and I felt sorry for her and started talking to her. The others didn’t like her at first and I had to convince them to let her sit with us, and this is how she repays me, by dumping me for the popular kids. I was the one who was supposed to be moving up the social ladder this year, but I would have taken ALL my friends with me, not kicked them to the curb like garbage.
They even brought up the fact that I’m not on Facebook and Synced as one of the reasons we’re not on their level, which is totally not true because Katie’s on there and they still dumped her. They said that we can all still be friends but they just don’t want to sit with us anymore. Then they just got up and left. My heart was pounding so hard and I couldn’t breathe, like the time I pushed myself too hard in the marathon and fainted at the finish line. Me and Katie were too shocked to say anything for a while and we just sat there staring at each other. I could tell Katie was trying not to cry.
Who are we going to hang out with now? We can’t just hang out on our own. No one at our school is in a group of just two, you get called lezzos and other worse stuff. Not that there’s anything wrong with lezzos. My cousin Penny is gay and she’s one of the coolest people I know, but this is high school and no one wants to stand out or be different. It’s like those wildlife shows where you don’t want to get separated from the pack or you’ll become a prime target for the predators. Believe me, there are plenty of predators at our school.
 Now we have to find a new group to get in with really fast. This whole thing is so unbelievably stressful and I don’t know what I’m going to do. Thank god I have class with Tyler to look forward to. It’s the only thing that can take my mind off this nightmare. 
February 13th
Things are a bit better because Katie and I have started sitting with Jasmine and her group. They’re pretty cool. The only one I don’t really like is Bernadette. We were friends in Yr 3 and used to go to each other’s houses and have sleepovers and stuff but then I became best friends with Katie. Back then we only used to hang out with one best friend so I blew her off (hey, I was 8). Bernadette still wanted to hang out with me and she even got her mother to call mine and ask why I didn’t want to play with her anymore. For weeks she followed me and Katie around the playground crying. Talk about awkward. I don’t think she’s ever gotten over it, which is pathetic considering it was YEARS ago. I could tell she didn’t want me in the group, but luckily I’m friends with all of the others.
 I saw Charlotte, Stacey and Brooke with Annakey and the cool kids today near the canteen. When I walked past them they ignored me. So much for staying friends! Brooke sent me a text message the other night saying sorry for everything but I didn’t write back. I might one day but at the moment I just hate her too much. I know that sounds terrible but it’s true. I thought she was a real friend, but I guess you never really know anyone and what they’re capable of. They can walk out on you just like my real father did to us when I was a baby. Makes you wonder if it’s worth trusting anyone when they can hurt you so badly. 
Tomorrow is the swimming carnival and I’m so not looking forward to putting my flat-chested, lily-white body on display. All the hot girls will be parading around showing off their great figures and tans. God I wish my boobs would just hurry up and grow! I know that’s one of the reasons why they don’t think we’re good enough for them anymore, because I still look like a little kid. In primary school I never had to worry about any of this stuff. Life was so uncomplicated back then. Sometimes I wish things could have stayed like that forever. High school really is no different from the animal kingdom but instead of the fittest it’s the hottest who survive. That is just so depressing. I’m sure for those who are at the top it’s pretty great, but for the rest of us it sux epically. *sigh* Humans are no different from baboons.
Hey, at least I’ll get to see Tyler in a pair of board shorts tomorrow. Yum!
February 14th
One thing became very clear to me at the swimming carnival yesterday: teachers should never be allowed to show their bodies in swimmers under any circumstances. They should be made to wear neck-to-knee gear like in the olden days (except Mr B who is young and hot and should be made to come shirtless every day of the school year hehehehe). Mr Konrad on the other hand shouldn’t even be allowed near a swimming pool, especially in a pair of budgie smugglers. *shudder* How am I ever going to get that image out of my mind and be able to concentrate in maths again?
For most of the day me and Katie and the other girls sat in the shade as far away from the pool as we could get and gossiped. I had to sit under an umbrella as per usual and even then I still turned red. I went in one race because I knew Mum and Dad would chuck a fit if I didn’t “participate.” I actually got first place without even trying. When I was walking back to my friends after the race Charlotte, Stacey and Brooke were sitting with their new friends. Queen Skank (Annakey, who else) said really loudly, “I’m not surprised she can win a race. It’s not like she’s got any tits to slow her down.” They all burst out laughing except for Brooke who just looked away. It was awful and I felt my face turning bright red. Hopefully everyone thought it was sunburn.
 Seriously, isn’t it bad enough that that Charlotte and Stacey left our group and made us feel like absolute rejects but now they laugh when their new BFF puts me down? I know they’re just trying to look cool in front of Annakey. Katie said she’s jealous because she couldn’t win a race if she tried. The only reason she has big boobs is because she’s so fat and if she got into the pool she’d sink right to the bottom. Her family are all a bunch of complete bogans. I’ve heard that she lives in this really horrible housing commission house that’s falling down and filthy and her parents are always fighting. The boys wouldn’t look twice at her if she wasn’t such a big fat ho. I’m not going to let myself worry about someone so pathetic because it’s not worth my time.
February 18th  
I haven’t told Mum anything about what’s going on at school but she must have seen the text messages from Katie and Brooke or heard me talking on the phone because she asked me if everything was okay on the weekend.  I told you I have no privacy whatsoever! The reason I haven’t told her we’ve been dumped is because I know she wouldn’t understand. She’d just say lame things like, “If they treat you that way then they’re not your real friends anyway,” and, “You’re better off without them,” or, “You just have to be yourself and the right friends will appreciate you for who you are.”
Yeah Mum, great advice but it doesn’t apply to high school where image is EVERYTHING and what you’re really like on the inside doesn’t count at all. No one wants to be friends with someone who is “genuine” (Mum’s favourite word). The only people who count are those who are:
1.    Hot. This is the single most important thing in the baboon teenage world. If you’ve got this going for you then you don’t need anything else. All the cool kids will want to be your friend and you’ll be envied by everyone.
2.    Funny/Outgoing. If you’re not good looking you have to make people notice you some other way by being a class clown or just loud and obnoxious . For people like Skanky Annakey this means putting other kids down to try and make themselves look cool. I hate this part of high school the most. There are some kids at our school that get bullied really badly, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just glad I’m not one of them.
3.    Rich. If you’re not hot and can’t be funny or outgoing the only other way you can get status is by having heaps of money or something people want, like an awesome boat or a holiday house somewhere great which makes people want to be friends with you.
Some lucky people like Tyler hit the jackpot and have all three things. He’s hot, funny and his parents are loaded. The things you don’t want to be in high school are ugly/fat/too skinny/flat-chested/pimply/gay/nerdy/quiet/sensitive/different in any way. These things mean social death. Things haven’t really changed at all from what they were like in the 80s movies me and Katie love to watch like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. In those movies the decent kids always get what they deserve in the end and the jerks are put in their place. If only real life was that fair.

Friday, 4 April 2014

My Workshopping Nightmare

My first creative writing workshop was a total disaster. It was my first year of university and I was painfully shy and awkward. I managed to avoid speaking up in tutorials for other subjects but thought that creative writing would somehow be different. I’d always been told I was good at writing, so surely this was the subject that would bring me out of my shell. The lecturer was a sleazy older guy who put me on edge from the start. After I dropped the subject I saw that someone had scrawled on a toilet door in the union building “Paul K is a sexual harasser.”
 About twenty of us sat around a long table for these workshops, and in the first class the lecturer made everyone come up with a story off the top of their head. Being put on the spot in front of a large group of strangers is pure torture for an introvert and I just froze. I’d been reading a lot of New Age books at the time so in a panic I told them that I’d recently had a near death experience and “seen the light.” Other people had told stories that were obviously fictional and everyone realised this but for some reason they thought I was telling the truth. I was too embarrassed to set them straight so from then on I became pegged in their minds as a nut job. To make things even worse just after I’d spoken the lecturer told everyone to keep the stories they’d heard to themselves, “no matter how weird you think someone is.”
That was all bad enough but a couple of weeks later we had to share something we’d written with the class. For some totally unknown reason I volunteered to go first to read my story about this lovely, kind, intelligent girl who is being persecuted by a bitchy friend. It was so transparently autobiographical that I still cringe when I think about it. You can guess which character I was. After I finished reading there was dead silence in the room and I can’t remember any of the comments that were made. I’m not sure when it dawned on me just how bad my story was but I dropped the subject soon after that and hoped never to run into any of these people again. It actually put me off creative writing for a very long time.
Last year I finally overcome my fear of creative writing workshops and enrolled in a subject at university. Things have changed dramatically since my last foray into workshopping, and being able to do everything online is a godsend for people like me. I still wasn’t thrilled with the idea of workshops because I thought it would involve plodding through a lot of boring stories until I finally got to share my own writing. A selfish attitude I know, but thankfully I’ve been proven wrong.
Not only do I find reading and commenting on other people’s writing to be extremely beneficial to my writing, but I actually enjoy it. It’s fascinating to see how ideas develop and I love the feeling of being able to give people constructive feedback and encouragement. In fact I like it so much that I’ve even started looking online for sites that allow you to critique writing. One of the best is Flogging the Quill where you can analyse the first page of well-known published author and newbies.
When I finish this course I will need to find a critique group to continue workshopping. I’m just glad there are so many out there and it’s just a matter of finding the right one for your needs. I’m not interested in polite praise and only positive feedback, I like getting down to the nitty-gritty and hearing the truth because it’s the only way to grow as a writer. This hasn’t always been the case but one of the other major benefits of workshops is that you quickly develop a pretty thick skin, and that’s something that comes in pretty handy for writers.
Now I’ve procrastinated enough for one day so it’s time to get cracking on the two major assignments which are due in the next week. Gulp.