Nancy: Diary of a Writing Workshop Dropout

Sometime in January: Dear Diary, today I got an email notice that Donald Maas, author of one of my go-to writing texts, Writing the 21st Century Novel, is giving an online workshop in March. I want to take this class. I have no time for this class. I am crazy to even think I should consider this class. I WANT TO TAKE THIS CLASS. I cannot take this class.

Sometime in February: Dear Diary, I just signed up for Donald Maas’s online class.

March 11: Dear Diary, today I got an email reminder about an online writing class. Apparently, in a moment of abject denial about the reality of my life, I thought I could handle a class. While working 80-hour work weeks. Was I drunk?

March 15: Dear Diary, my online class started yesterday, and the first assignment – to write a blurb for a WIP –  is due today. It looks like nearly everyone has already posted theirs. I can’t get past the first five words. It’s 11 PM. Opening my travel-size bottle of Drambuie and praying to the writing gods for inspiration. Don’t judge me, Diary.

March 17: I missed commenting on fellow workshoppers’ blurbs, and on commenting on their comments on mine. The second assignment is to craft a paragraph (after much analysis) that captures the protagonist’s inner journey and what will make him/her relatable to readers. I haven’t started the analysis. It’s 11:30 PM. I am out of Drambuie.

March 24: Dear Diary, tomorrow, the online Donald Maas workshops ends. I never got through the second assignment, and haven’t even read lessons 3-6. Turns out, I really didn’t have time for this class.

OK, I admit it. I didn’t keep a diary of my failed writing class attempt. But if I had, it would have looked a lot like what you just read.

But despite my poor showing in the workshop, I did manage to get some good stuff out of it. I got my head back into one of my stories, even if just for a very brief time. I have access to the forum and can read other people’s stuff and learn from those examples when I have the time to go back and really absorb it all. And I wrote a blurb, which can serve as a jumping off point for discovery of the story I hope to write (in a year or so). Here’s how it started:

Small-town burglar Frannie James has done her time and wants nothing more than to take her hard-earned booty and slip away into obscurity, but when the men whose money she and her ex-best friend Andie stole are coming after Andie, Frannie has to choose: will she stand her ground, or take the money and run?

Then I got some helpful comments from both my fellow students and Le Donald. And here’s how it looks after some rework:

Small town burglar Frannie James did her time and kept her mouth shut to protect partner in crime Andie and give her a shot at a good life. Now free, Frannie just wants her share of the booty and a shot at her own life, but when the men whose money they stole come after Andie, Frannie has to decide: will she stand her ground, or take the money and run?

That and my story notebook in Evernote, which contains exactly six notes and a picture of a bedraggled poodle, are all I have thus far for a future story, Take the Money and Run. But all the best stories have to start somewhere, and with a few months (or a year) and some full-size bottles of Dramnbuie, I might just have a book on my hands.

Have you had any flashes of inspiration lately? Advances in your WIP? Good bottles of liqueur?

5 thoughts on “Nancy: Diary of a Writing Workshop Dropout

  1. Time is a premium here too. Unfortunately I don’t drink. I keep trying to force myself through an outline. I get the occasional glimmer of a nugget that might get me through another chapter. I finally think I have the first act 75-80% sussed out, and am sliding into act 2. I keep wondering if planning and outlining have become an excuse not to write…. but then I think back to the many problem-plagued failures sitting there, waiting for me to figure out where they went wrong and if it is possible to ever fix them (even after multiple attempts) and I force myself back to the outline. I know deep down in my soul I am still learning and it should get easier, but right now I feel like a lost writing soul and slacker myself. Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on it to be. And I feel you on the courses (they say if you lack confidence – learn more- get better – sometimes I think it just adds more pressure perform and is overclocking the poor working soul). So, have a drink for me too, please. 😀

    • Sorry about the course, Nancy. I feel your pain. I signed up for a self-editing course with Angela James last year and was really looking forward to it. I made the first post – you know, the one where you introduce yourself and talk about your reasons for taking the course – and read everyone else’s. Then Life intervened and the next time I logged in was to take a copy of the materials to read and digest in my own time. After that, I decided no more courses until I’ve finished a draft of the current WIP.

      Note to Penny – I was also trying to force myself to write an outline but have given up for now because it wasn’t working for me at all. I wish I had one, because there are big (huge) chunks of story I know nothing about yet, but since I went back to discovering the story by writing it, details are slowly filling themselves in and those lead to more details and more discovery. It’s not as fast as I’d like, but things have been going much better so I’m going back to pantsing it for now. If you have the first act almost figured out that’s kind of a stand-alone chunk of story so maybe it might be worth writing it to get back into the rhythm and see if it turns out the way you’ve planned before you plot out Act 2. None of my business, of course, but it sounds as though you’re putting pressure on yourself and maybe it’s not helping??

      I do most definitely drink, in fact we have half a bottle of Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc waiting until the sun is over the yard-arm, so I’ll raise a glass to you both this evening 🙂 .

      • I’ve been wondering the same thing. I feel like I’m chomping at the bit to be writing and “doing” something. I think I’ll look at the first act – and get writing this week. I’ve been told I like freedom too much to be tied down – I’ve been trying to see the outline as that ability to be creatively free… but I might not be there yet. We’re all growing, I just need to put on my boots and go adventuring. Thanks for the back-up and the glass. 😀

  2. My stuff is so character-driven, that I really don’t mind if I don’t have a plot. My problem right now is a huge character-shaped hole, and I haven’t quite figured out to fill it — I think that’s my problem right now, anyway. I have a lot of bits and pieces, but I spend my time surfing the internet trying to fill in the gaps to make my antagonist real. Or at least, real enough that I can dive in without a plot and know what’s going to happen.

    In theory, I love the idea of plotting an outline, but I rarely stick with it, even if I have a pretty good idea of who my characters are. Better Ideas Happen, and then before I know it, I’m either in a mess, or I’m finished with a short story.

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