Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On the Value of Workshops

by Janis Patterson
Recently I was fortunate enough to attend MWA U (Mystery Writers of America University), a one day seminar with some of the highest powered mystery writers on the planet, including my heroines Hank Phillippi Ryan and Hallie Ephron. Since then  I was even more fortunate to attend a full day workshop with that same Hallie Ephron.

By the way, both events were simply superb. I wish that every writer could attend one, no matter if they write mystery and suspense or not.

Now there are some who will say, “You’re published. You’ve been published for a long time. You’ve published a lot of books. Why do you need to go to a conference/seminar/workshop/whatever?”

Sorry, but those are dumb questions. If you stop learning, you stagnate. It’s an unflattering comparison, but sharks will die of suffocation if there is not a steady stream of water going through their gills even when they’re sleeping. They must either keep swimming or lie in a place where the current flows against them.

So it is with writers. We need a certain amount of information, of mental stimulation, of simply being with other writers in order to feed our own writing. Otherwise we wither. Yes, this can be supplied with newspapers and other people’s books and intra-personal contact on an individual level, but a workshop with a superb teacher (like Hallie) is even better. It is informative, and energizing, and simply enjoyable. There is always something of pure pleasure when writers – a solitary bunch most of the time – get together to talk shop.

It is to my deep shame that I almost didn’t go. I was in the last, wrung-out stages of a miserable cold – not at all contagious, but still drippy and stuffy and exhausted. My voice sounded as if I were working at channeling Andy Devine. To make it worse, the workshop started at eight in the morning. It is one of my deepest beliefs that nothing good happens before ten, but this was Hallie Ephron. The Hallie Ephron! I got up, fortified myself with multiple mugs of strong coffee and off I went.

And am I glad I did. Less than half an hour into her presentation I was energized, all manifestations of a slow recuperation gone. By the end of the day I could have moved mountains. It was one of the best days I had ever spent. (And an email from Entangled Publications received during one of the breaks offering me a contract on my new gothic romance CURSE OF THE EXILE didn’t hurt, either!)

I can’t promise you’ll get a contract when you attend a workshop. (At least, it’s never happened to me before!) I do believe that workshops/seminars/whatever are essential to a writer’s growth. At every one you should find at least one new way of looking at something, one new technique to make your writing better, a deeper appreciation of the potentials of our craft. Add in the chance to network with and learn from other writers, and it becomes a marvelously enriching experience.

Oh – and I almost forgot the best thing – as continuing professional education, they’re tax deductible!

 PS – I would like to send a thank you to all who contacted me both by comment and private email in support of my attempts to get my rights back. The letters requesting reversion have been sent, both by certified, registered, return receipt requested snail mail as well as by email, but so far without comment or even any reaction, The date specified for official reversion is March 15, so unless there is a challenge, on that date I shall start notifying any retailers still carrying them that the rights have reverted to me and, if necessary, send them a copy of the official reversion letter. I would rather this be handled without lawyers, but do have one on standby in case there is a problem with any of the publishers or sales outlets. Thank Goodness I knew enough to copyright each book with the government before beginning this unholy circus. I'll let you know what transpires.


Morgan Mandel said...

Wonderful that you had such an uplifting experience! I always get a high after attending a writing conference. I've got one lined up to attend from my RWA chapter at the end of April. By then, the snow should be gone!

Janni Nell said...

Workshops are wonderful. I love that I keep learning new things and better ways to write.

(Written at 7.30am!)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Glad you had such a good workshop experience!

Linda Andrews said...

I'm glad you had such a wonderful experience. I'm always so afraid that new things will mess up my process, but I usually find a nugget that adds another layer to my writing.
Congrats on teh contract too!

Melissa Keir said...

I've always loved conferences! Both work conferences and writing conferences have given me new inspiration and excitement to get my nose back to the grind.

Best of luck with your battle for rights. :) I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Gemma Juliana said...

I, too, believe nothing great happens before 10am because I tend to be a night owl. What an amazing shift you experienced as the day progressed. Congrats on the contract!

Barry Knister said...

Conferences can be great, but it's important to choose them with care. The best thing that can happen at a conference is to make and then later maintain contact after the conference with someone willing to lend you a hand. This can take the form of help with manuscripts, agents, editors, etc. But it needs to be said that writers' conferences can also be little more than a cottage industry that employs people in the business who mostly want to get away for a while. I base all this on lots of experience with both good and not-so-good conferences.