Are workshops worth the effort? But isn’t writing a solo activity? Yes and yes. It’s a contrast worth exploring.
When writing, I spend a lot of time in my head. I’m quite content wandering in my thoughts, reflections, and memories. Without outside voices, however, my view is skewed. Without outside voices, I am queen of my special version of reality. Workshops shatter the facade and reveal new angles, constructs, and possibilities!
But … workshops also intimidate me. A small group of fellow writers evaluating each other’s writing makes me nauseous. What will they think of my words? Will I be able to offer valuable comments about their manuscripts? Will I misinterpret a metaphor or an image or a theme?
Then my friend, Leslie Leyland Fields, told me she an opening in her Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop. Alaska. Adventure. Writing.
Be at peace, O my soul!
I’m not gonna lie, it was the location that finally drew me to commit to the workshop.
Craft of Writing
One morning Jeanne taught about metaphor. She noted its importance as a tool for poets but also the value for creative non-fiction writers. Hmmm. Jeanne described metaphor like an old companion. She demonstrated good & bad metaphors and shared exercises to practice metaphors. For example: Start a notebook to record 20 metaphors every day.
Another morning, Luci challenged us to attend. As we lean into the world, we experience all it has to offer. Busyness leads to distraction which in turn prevents gleaning lessons from passing moments. Attend. Treasure attention to the moments.
“My joy is words and language,” Luci smiled as she shared about her life. The title “writer” was not one she had purposefully sought. Instead, the poetry and essays and words flowed through her observations and divine inspiration. Her guiding question is “What do you have for me next, God?” As a woman moving through her eighth decade, Luci’s spirit for adventure and dedication to the Lord challenges a retirement mentality.
Other mornings, Leslie led our discussions. She guided us in meditations on God’s call (Ezekiel 3:1-15), the phrase “Christian Art,” and the joy of discovering new artists. From Ryken’s anthology The Christian Imagination to CS Lewis classics, our conversations waded among the masters. We delved into biblical metaphor and the calling “to speak the truth among us.” As Christ-followers, our perspective of truth emanates from the pages of Scripture. Indeed, its words shape my own faith and my understanding of God.
Each morning, we also spent time in our workshop groups. In our circle of eight, we relaxed in the upper room of the studio. Tea and coffee steamed while Leslie continued instruction about creative non-fiction. One morning she gave the writing exercise to describe a household appliance. I wrote about a vacuum cleaner. That amused me. Cleaning is NOT a favorite activity of mine.
We then turned our attention to each other’s work. Workshopping a draft is probably one of the scariest things a writer can do. The purpose is to share a manuscript that is not ready for public consumption. Intentionally. It’s putting a wee bit of your soul out there for others to critique and evaluate and assess. I’m uncomfortable but I also really want input.
Four guidelines anchored our discussions:
- Give a 2-3 sentence verbal synopsis of the piece
- Share what you love about it
- Respond to the writer’s concerns (we each submitted our concerns about our own pieces)
- Share other ideas that could help the manuscript
In this supportive environment, we reviewed my piece. It’s a new book idea about missions and the local church. I received incredibly valuable insights! I was immensely grateful for the time everyone had spent preparing to discuss my manuscript. Our conversation led me to change the opening illustration, include resources for conflict resolution, and restructure the first few chapters.
I received their gracious comments that the book’s message is an important one. They also shared how they found my writing to be engaging and approachable. These words continue to encourage me even now as I am home working on the chapters. The workshop improved my manuscript well beyond a week’s worth of solo writing at home.
Being in Alaska was a journey on many levels. Ezekiel literally lived the metaphoric messages from God. His actions and voice carried prophesies the people of Israel needed to hear. Metaphors create a unique space where we surprise ourselves in discovering new meanings and delivering new messages.
My writing journey takes me to far away places, both physical and mental. An infinite number of places exist for our exploration. We need only begin. The Harvester Island workshop served as an all-inclusive cruise of the writing life. Quiet afternoons allowed hours to journey around my heart and soul. My new friends and travel companions gave me courage to speak the truth. Incredible meals of salmon and halibut and king crab legs and fresh vegetables and stunning desserts sustained lengthy conversations about the writing life.
As you consider opportunities to grow as a writer, I highly recommend a writer’s workshop. I’m partial to the Harvester Island Wilderness experience. I hear that Philip Yancey will be one of the 2017 workshop leaders! And, Ann Voskamp will be at Harvester Island in 2018. I know it’s an investment of time and money. It’s worth it.
(For more about our wildlife adventures, check out Journey to Alaska.)
Posted by Sharon R Hoover