Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 20, 2018

Confessions of a Writing Workshop Addict

Amy Sue Nathan

Twelve years ago, right in the middle of a memoir writing workshop online, I started writing fiction instead. From that day forward, I continued doing two things: writing novels, and signing up for online writing workshops. The comfort of taking a class while wearing my pajamas appeals to me almost as much as the bottomless bowl of popcorn by my side.

This started off innocently enough. I had been a journalist. I had articles and essays published. In these arenas I wrote the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It was that memoir workshop where I realized I wasn’t willing to write anyone’s story but my own. Memoirs contain anecdotes and storylines about other people. Without that, my book would have been thin and flimsy and unpublishable. And that’s what I wanted. To be published. The only way to give heft to the story I wanted to tell was to take myself out of it and make stuff up.  

I didn’t discriminate much when it came to workshops. Anything would do. Anything could help. I found workshops that focused narrowly on things like dialogue and structure, to workshops that offered broad strokes of knowledge on writing and publishing. All I needed was someone who knew more than me, and that was everyone.

An equal opportunity addict, I signed up for workshops by reputable companies and well-known authors, as well as bloggers who simply “seemed” to know what they were talking about. One of the best things I did was not limit myself to my genre. Thriller writers and romance writers were welcoming and flexible when helping me modify some content to fit the women’s fiction genre.  

Tip #1: Look outside your genre box for workshops, or even for writing books. There’s always something to learn from other writers who are masters of their craft. No matter what they write.

With time I found that workshops differed in two major ways. Some provided lessons and posted “homework assignments” and I received feedback from the instructor only, while some are structured so that the workshop participants posted their homework and the class chimed in with feedback of its own. I was always open to having as many writers cooking in my story kitchen as possible. Sometimes the feedback was relevant, sometimes it wasn’t, but even that showed me I was started to grow my writing spine. As I was starting to know myself as a writer, I became more confident in discerning which feedback worked for me or didn’t. And more importantly, why.

Tip #2: Do the homework. Sometimes I’d be in a workshop with ten or twelve writers and only two of us would do the assignments. Can you say extra attention from the instructor?

As I moved forward with my writing, I looked for genre specific workshops, or ones tailored to a struggle I was having with a work-in-progress. I found workshops on countless methods of storytelling and outlining, from three acts to five acts, from timelines to snowflakes. I have taken workshops on how to write flashbacks and others on how not to write flashbacks, on happy endings and tragic ones.

Tip #3: When it comes to any workshops, feedback, or conflicting ideas, take what you need and leave the rest.

You might think I stopped signing up for workshops when I found an agent or had novels published. No way. Accountability and camaraderie inspire me. Meeting new writers intrigues me.  Reading and giving feedback challenges me.  I always say I’m a workshop junkie. I’m always Googling different topics to see where and how I can learn something new or strengthen a skill.

The thing that did happen after my first novel was published, I was given the opportunity to teach workshops. Not only did I begin to help and connect with writers near and far, of all backgrounds and ages and interests,  but –you guessed it—I had access to the workshop materials! For me! Two birds, one workshop.

Tip #4: Being a writer is a never-ending learning process. It can be a solitary endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Do you take workshops? which kind? Any tips/recommendations?


Amy Sue Nathan is the author of Left to Chance, The Good Neighbor, and The Glass Wives all published by St. Martins Press. She is also the founder of The Women’s Fiction Writers blog, named a Best Website for Writers four years in a row by Writer’s Digest. Amy’s essays and articles have been widely published in print and online, including The Chicago Tribune, Writer’s Digest, Psychology Today, YourTango and Huffington Post. She is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter, a member of Tall Poppy Writers, and has been a freelance book coach and editor since 2009.

Amy lives near Philadelphia, is the mom of two grown children, and the servant to one geriatric dog. When she’s not taking workshops (and even when she is) she’s working on her fourth novel.  

You can connect with Amy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram where she’s @AmySueNathan (clever, right?),  her website, AmySueNathan.com, and her blog, WomensFictionWriters.com.



27 comments on “Confessions of a Writing Workshop Addict”

  1. Wow, Amy. Learned something new about you with this, and I have to say, your method obviously worked! I love workshops, classes and books on craft. Not quite as much as you, but I owe so much to those wonderful events!

  2. Great post, Amy. I, too, enjoy workshops. Like you, I wrote all my life but when I decided to pursue publication I started with the basics: Grammar 101. LOL. And from there I found many helpful workshops that enabled me land publication. And no, I haven't stopped. I downloaded a lecture at the beginning of July that I'll be reviewing once I'm done fast drafting my WIP. Workshops are helpful and you get a chance to connect with other writers. I'm glad I'm not the only one who adores workshops. I'm lucky I only found two that weren't worth their weight in the money I dished out.

    Mind you, I haven't taken as many workshop as you.

    1. Maggie, I can usually find something in a workshop that helps me. Of course our needs are always changing!

  3. I’m so pleased to meet another addict. I always tell people I’m a learning junkie. And. I. Won’t. Stop. From my habit I can share with struggling friends who’ve had hard feedback or who need inspiration. Or I just to try and light a fire in them. So many want to write but don’t actually do it. I want to change that. Learning and doing go hand in hand. Thanks for sharing Amy.

  4. Another workshop junkie here although I differ a bit from you, Amy, in that I prefer in-person workshops. It lets me have one on one face time with no only the instructor but my fellow writers. I've traveled to Oregon to sit at the feet of Donald Maass, to Dallas and Tennessee to soak up pearls of wisdom from Steven James and Robert Dugoni, to Port Townsend WA to learn from Mary Beckham, to Colorado where our favorite Margie Lawson holds court in her cabin in the woods. And right now I'm writing from the Iowa Summer Writing Festival on my 12th out of 14 days here. I've also taken on-line courses (although I don't particularly like those that REQUIRE you to comment on each and every single one of your fellow student's submissions because it can get to be a lot of work and somewhat redundant, although I don't mind commenting if it's voluntary)- but for me, nothing beats the face to face high of workshops away from home. Plus it's a nice vacation!

    1. Maggie, if this is a contest you would win! I’m envious that you’ve gone to in person workshops, they were never available near me or at a place I could go. Plus I do enjoy doing workshops in my pajamas . 😉

  5. I love writing workshops, even those I've heard previously if it's from a great instructor. I always learn something new. And you are right, if you do the work all that extra attention is marvelous. 🙂

  6. I love this, Amy! I've taken quite a few workshops with different formats, and I learn something from all of them. Great post!

  7. I belong to the fabulous Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America. I've learned so much through their excellent general meeting workshops, special event workshops and on-line classes through the years. Margie Lawson - invaluable. Even repeat subjects given by different presenters give you gold nuggets to take away. It's nice to hear from another writer who appreciates writing workshops.

  8. I'm also a workshop junkie. And though published keep taking them as they remind me to always aim higher, and sometimes something that eluded me will be shown or taught in a new fresh way that give me that magic, ah ha, moment. I also read blogs and have a ever growing 'writing' library. I agree with the take workshops in other genres as it expands your creative mind. See you in a workshop soon.

    1. I bet We will overlap, if we have already! I also have a huge collection of Reading rocks and of course I can’t stop buying them.

  9. I love workshops, it's the first thing I examine with each new conference. I'm also an avid note taker, at any event. So it's a day full of hands-on learning, meeting new writers and coming away with fresh ideas for my WIPs.
    I too came away from writing my family's history with the urge to write fiction, mix and match life experiences and honor the heroes and heroines.

  10. Hey Amy,

    Workshops for me are a double edged sword. I finished my MFA recently, and by the time i graduated i was so tired of workshopping (all we did really) and really tired of having my work constantly pummelled and torn down by professors and other writers who just didnt get or like my genre (crime fiction) that I just needed a break from it all. So I've been writing in seclusion since...

    Recently a story was accepted into a major anthology, (can't reveal yet which) and it's currently being professionally edited! This is a first for me, and I think it will make a much bigger difference than just workshopping, and constantly tweaking my stories just to please/placate everytone in class. But, I never had the money to pay for one before, so I feel fortunate now!

    Will probably go back to public workshopping at some point for feedback. But only if I can find a group I gel with (didn't get to pick my cohorts in school.) If i do, it will happen!

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Writing workshops online (or IRL) i've found are quite different from a workhopping experience the way you mean it. By workshop I mean more of a short term class. Sometimes with feedback and sometimes not, but alway with learning. I now look at it more like a continuing ed experience. I've heard MFAs are tough especially for writers who aren't going the literary route. I'm sorry your work wasn't appreciated. CONGRATS on getting into an anthology and good luck with your writing.

  11. I've taken and taught online courses, and I'm always surprised how much people use or don't use the feedback available. Once you've paid your course price, you might as well squeeze out every bit of education you can. Thanks for the tips!

  12. […] Twelve years ago, right in the middle of a memoir writing workshop online, I started writing fiction instead. From that day forward, I continued doing two things: writing novels, and signing up for online writing workshops. The comfort of taking a class while wearing my pajamas appeals to me almost as much […] Source link […]

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