Writing Workshop Misfits

As an author, I’m constantly learning from craft articles, from other writers, and from a variety of sources. Recently, though, I decided to try something new and attended my first workshop. What I learned from the experience was that you need to find the right workshop if you want to benefit from it. For me, this one was a misfit.

I attended the workshop I did because I wanted to network with other writers (that is, socialize with people who didn’t mind shop talk) and because a website guru was slated to speak at it. I was thinking this would be a great opportunity to learn some new web and promo tips.

What I discovered was that almost all of the authors in attendance wrote as a hobby and were unpublished, not to mention they did not write in my genre. Someone who writes children’s stories for fun has very different needs than a writer of erotic romance, let me tell you. Of those few who were published, I gathered from what little they said that they had used a vanity publisher. Not an auspicious start.

I will say all the authors were wonderful, friendly, and welcoming people. I would have enjoyed getting to know them better, but I quickly learned that this workshop worked more like a grammar school class. Grown women were shushed when they tried to speak. We had assignments, too. The workshop consisted of two writing prompts. We had twenty-three minutes (I know, an odd number in more than one way) to write a story about an old man on a bench. I was a good sport and wrote something sappy. I then had flashbacks to my school days as everyone read their stories aloud. I thought for sure we would follow up with discussion or something, but we were moved right into a second writing prompt.

The second prompt was this: “You/your character are on an elevator, and a man you didn’t notice behind you whispers in your ear, ‘I have a surprise for you when we get off the elevator.’” Being a romance author, here is what I wrote in the 12 minutes we were given for this exercise:

His warm breath brushed the shell of my ear as he leaned in close.

 “I have a surprise for you when we get off the elevator,” he said.

 Despite the fact that he whispered, I recognized his voice and smiled. “Oh really? Do I get a hint?”

 His soft chuckle gave me shivers. “It’s a nice surprise.”

 “Good to know,” I said, “but that hardly narrows it down. Surely you can do better than that.”

 “All right.” His continued nearness made me tingle. “When we get off, I plan to abduct you.”

 “That doesn’t sound nice.”

 “In a limo,” he added.

 My grin widened. “Getting better.”

 “There will be flowers and champagne and chocolate inside.”

 “Now you have my full attention. What else?”

 He kissed my nape. “There’s a privacy screen.”

 “Oooh. And?”

 “And the rest is the surprise.”

 “Wicked man,” I told him.

 I felt his lips curve against my skin. “That’s a promise. Happy anniversary, baby.”

Not my best work, I’ll grant you, but I didn’t think this was too bad for twelve minutes. I resisted the urge to edit it as I retyped it here.

I can’t complain too much about the writing prompts, though that was not why I was there. I can complain about how the rest of the workshop turned into a sales pitch. For only $39.95 — $49.95 to outsiders — I could have prompts and assignments like this e-mailed to me every day for the whole month of November. What a bargain! I mean, how many services can you find that will give grown people homework assignments for less than $2 a day? No actual review of the assignments, but what can you expect for that price? I’m being sarcastic, of course.

Then the so-called web-guru came to speak. Did he give us tips on web design, dynamic html, or how to boost your status in search engines? No. He did promise us a $300 discount on his services. Unable to take any more, I snuck out of the workshop before learning his sales price, so I’m afraid that’s a bit like the term “lower fat” (that is, lower than what?). I didn’t wait to find out his price because it only took five or ten minutes to realize what this man was really doing was, in his own words, “teaching writers to use WordPress” for his fee. That’s right. WordPress. I gather he meant WordPress.org and not WordPress.com, although it struck me as a rip-off either way since authors can easily educate themselves about these programs for free.

“I don’t mean to scare you,” the “guru” informed us, “but if you use a free site like WordPress or Blogger, those companies can shut you down at any time, for any reason. You could lose your whole business.” (I made a heroic effort to control my eye-rolling. I really did.) “Another reason you don’t want to use WordPress is because you can’t use third-party links on your blog,” he then announced. Now, I use WordPress, and I have buy links to all my books, no problem. That’s all most authors need from a website. Ah, but then he explained, “If you write about dogs, and you want to link to other books and videos about dogs, you can’t get a percentage [for referrals] if you’re using WordPress.” Okay, are we a referral business or are we authors? Because I thought we were authors trying to sell our own books, not salespeople trying to earn a commission by recommending other products. “I want to teach you to be financially independent through WordPress,” he insisted. Independent to what degree? As in making a full-time business off of WordPress? Shhh. Better not tell anyone about this incredible opportunity, or everyone will want a piece of the action.

Snarky of me, I know, but I don’t like to see people getting snookered. It was about the point when one of the authors shared how she had ripped the color pink off her website after hearing Oprah say that healing men was the key to healing the world that I ducked out. I haven’t a clue what the woman was talking about and wanted to escape before they started handing out Kool-Aid.

Am I against writing workshops? Of course not. The key, I’ve learned the hard way, is to find the right one for your needs. I walked out of this one disappointed because I didn’t learn any new promotion or website tips. I know another author left annoyed because she was looking for a critique partner, and this group doesn’t do that sort of thing. And yet another writer just wanted recommendations on a good editor-for-hire so she could self-publish her mother’s memoirs. This workshop was sort of like those garments my mom likes to call “one-size-fits-nobody.”

Have you had a similar experience with a workshop? A better one?

2 responses to “Writing Workshop Misfits

  1. Sounds like an … ‘interesting’ weekend!! I’ve never attended a writer’s workshop. The one I’d really liked to have attended was run by a group of Harlequin published authors – it did look excellent – but was way out of my price range at the time.

    Sorry the course didn’t turn out better 😦

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