Photos from The Writers’ Summer School, Swanwick were taken by me, Allison Symes. Many thanks to Julia Pattison for taking the image of me at my editing workshop. Other images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.
I was privileged to lead a one hour workshop for The Writers’ Summer School, Swanwick on Editing – From Both Sides of the Fence. I had the experience in 2020 of being edited on my book (Tripping the Flash Fantastic) and, simultaneously, I was editing someone else’s book for a small publisher. With my third book given the nod, it wouldn’t surprise me too much if I find myself in the same position again.
I thought it would be useful to give some pointers as to how to make the most of an in person workshop (though many of the points I make will also apply to online ones).
What Do You Want To Get From The Workshop?
I apply this to whether I’m running or attending a workshop.
- I want information I can use. When running a workshop I know I want to be sharing information others will use. (Good marketing. People will remember you for this. May book you for other workshops. Has happened too. Would like to happen more often! Also as a delegate, I am there to learn. I want to develop as a writer so there has to be useful information to take home with me).
- Follow up links are useful. You can’t get everything down in a workshop so having links you can follow up on when you have more time at home is helpful. When running a workshop, I try to give these links myself but I also put in an advert or two for my own writing such as details about my website. Nobody minds this. Everyone expects it. You just keep it to the point.
- One of the things I love most about The Writers’ Summer School, Swanwick is the fact that workshop and course notes go up on their website (password protected) for those who went to the school. This is phenomenally helpful. It also gives me a flavour of the ones I couldn’t get to and I will bear them in mind for another year. Why? Because every workshop I have ever been to in person has had additional material on top of the notes available. This is often based on questions put to the workshop leader by the attendees. These questions vary from workshop to workshop. So even if you’ve read the notes, it still pays you to get to the course if you can. Also workshops are updated regularly.
- I want to see website links etc for the tutor. This is because I am often interested in what they have written but it also gives me a means of checking their track record. No reputable workshop leader minds this. Indeed, they welcome it. The nothing to hide principle is at work here and again it can be seen as marketing. It will encourage others to book you.
- Writing exercises to do at the time – and to follow up on at home. You learn by putting something you have learned into practice. For creative writing, if you’re going to a course on short story writing, an opportunity to have a go at some of what the tutor has taught you in the session is great. Nobody expects a perfect piece of work. That’s not the idea. The idea is to get something down you can work on and polish up later. I always set writing exercises as part of my flash fiction workshop. I show examples of editing tips in action as part of that workshop so people can see what I am going on about.
- I want to feel as if I have experienced a good “meaty” workshop for however long it is on for. I need to feel as if I have got something from this as a delegate. As a tutor, I want to know people have found my sessions useful. Often questions and answers can be great for helping a tutor work out what other material could usefully be brought into their topic and may even give enough material for a complete new workshop. Strings to bows and all that!
Why Writers Need Workshops and Why They Give Them
One of the things I love most about the writing community is that, with few exceptions, people are happy to share information. I’ve learned so much from workshops I’ve been to myself. I also know I can now share useful information with others. That in turn will encourage folk to check my written work out.
Again, it is a form of marketing but it is a lovely one. I like to see it as giving back. The writing world continues to give me a great deal of joy and I like to share some of that.
For the flash fiction group I run online monthly for the Association of Christian Writers, it has been a great pleasure to see people take the prompts I’ve shared with them and then gone on to write those pieces up, edit them, submit them, and get them published. Some of us had our festive flash fiction pieces broadcast on Hannah Kate’s Three Minute Santas flash fiction special on North Manchester FM last year. We’re all hoping to do that again and will use our meetings to help us prepare pieces we can send out.
No one writer can know it all. Developments happen. Publishers come and go. The world of publishing has been shaken up in a good way with print on demand, making it easier to self publish or find a small independent press (with traditional and honourable contracts) to publish you. So there are workshops available now on self publishing etc which would not have been around only a few years ago. There are workshops on aids to writing (such as on the Scrivener program I use).
Most writers are also aware of the need to develop and practice their craft. There will always be a need to learn how to put a good story together. There will always be a need for workshops on using social media as a writer. Workshops are a great way to give you the “fuel” to help you make progress.
Besides which they’re fun!
Most writers also don’t just earn royalties etc. Most have to do things which are associated with writing such as editing and workshops and many, like me, do both. These back up your writing record. They help other writers along their way. We’re not in competition with each other. I can only write as me but I can use what I’ve learned to help someone else make progress (and hopefully go on to be published).
Running workshops can be a good way of getting your work known. As with any writing, they take time to research, write, and rehearse. (I practice my talks/PowerPoints by recording them and playing them back. It’s amazing how hearing something can make you spot a missing gap. Great. I can edit my workshop and fill in those gaps, making my material even more useful to others. Also helps me get my timing right of course).
I think you also need to be realistic enough to know you need to keep learning about your craft. With time you get better at it. Doesn’t mean the learning stops though. And those presenting workshops can also learn how to improve on doing that making you as tutor even more useful to others. Hopefully in time that will lead to more bookings too!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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