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Writing Workshops – The Good, The Bad, and How to Ditch Dead Bodies

When I started on this journey to become a published romance writer, I shied away from writing workshops. I read a fantastic book on writing by Elizabeth Berg (Read it!), in which she suggested that while writing classes and workshops were helpful, they could also undermine one’s confidence. I figured, that made sense, and I have you know, “low self-esteem” like many of us do, so I avoided any and all writing workshops.

But then…

I was prowling around the RWA Web Site one day and checking out the vast array of resources that were available to help one’s writing career. One of said resources was a yahoo group devoted to announcing workshops. I figured what the hey, can’t hurt to check it out, right? Turns out, WRITERS are good at coming up with catchy names for the workshops they teach that make ’em sound super interesting to take!

…so I took one…and I liked it.

My “first time” was with mystery author Wendy Lyn Watson who has a fantastic series of novels in the works that manage, quite fantastically, to combine murder and ice cream. The first, I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM, is available now, and it’s freaking hilarious. There are some limitations that I have to acknowledge having as a writer, and the inability to use the word “gazongas” as effortlessly as she does in a sentence, is one of them. It makes me sad.

Wendy’s Workshop, on the other hand actually made me quite happy. It was called “Write Naked” and it turned out to be a really good first workshop to take because it was all about finding your voice as a writer. Too many times I will read a novel and LOVE the writers voice so much I find myself trying to channel their writing style. Problem is, it’s a little like finding that author’s home and trying to fit into their pants. In one way or another, it’s going to land you in some trouble.

I have taken the following other workshops thus far, all of them were well worth the time and money:
– Mauled Men, Drowned Dames and Crispy Critters; a Body Disposal Primer for Writers by Jeanne Adams. If you ever have to kill a character and want to make sure you do it right, this is the workshop for you!

– The Warrior Writer by Bob Mayer. This was one of my favorites because his approach is so unique, he is a former Green Beret and brings that experience into his teaching. He focuses more on strategy than art, which is very important. He also has an excellent book out called Who Dares Wins that is a worthwhile read.

– Effective use of POV by Carrie Lofty. This workshop, REALLY helped me to improve the overall quality of my writing. If you want to write deep point of view, this is a fantastic workshop. She really gets into the psychology of your characters and how to make sure they aren’t seeing/experiencing things that aren’t realistic. For example, men aren’t just women with penises. This was a HUGE mistake that I made many times over in my writing. I mean I knew that, but I didn’t KNOW it, you know?

– Loglines, Queries, and Synopsis by Elle James and Delilah Devlin. I found this workshop to be quite painful, but in a good way. None of us want (none of us who are sane, anyway) to write all the other stuff that is required to help us sell our books. They have a great formula that they have put together though, and this is a very worthwhile workshop.

– Pitch Perfect by Kerri Nelson. Kerri also does private online tutoring for creating pitches, synopsis, etc and I can say that her pitch method is DEFINITELY effective because I just got a request for a full manuscript after using the pitch I developed in her workshop!! My old pitch was just God awful, so I can’t thank Kerri enough.

– Marketing for Introverts by Tina Gallagher. As Bob Mayer points out, the writer personality type is the exact opposite of the promoter personality type, and to get your name out there, you’ve got to promote. Tina tells you exactly where to go and what to do!!

So these workshops are great, what’s BAD about them?? Now maybe it’s just me, but I found it EXTREMELY easy to get overwhelmed. I made the rookie mistake of signing up for every damn workshop that looked interesting and there are lots of ’em. Like I said before, writers are good at making their courses look interesting. Thing is, I have found that as a stay at home mom with two kids still in diapers, finding the time to write, maintain my blog and web site, etc. already is a struggle for me. Add in a couple of workshops (many of which have actual ASSIGNMENTS) is quite hard. Then there’s the fact that these workshops are offered by a variety of RWA subchapters, so when you’re tooling around on the interweb signing up work workshops willy-nilly, you can run into some problems. For example, I am signed up for four in August. FOUR.

Previously I determined that two is about all I can handle at a time. I just forgot which ones I had already signed up for.

Also, I was notified by a very polite treasurer with the Low Country RWA subchapter (they have a fantastic course offering btw) that I signed up for the same workshop twice. Twice. As in, I signed up for two workshops twice accidentally. Probably this won’t happen to you, unless you have been running on 4 hours of sleep a night like I do.

So don’t pull a ME and get in over your head with the workshops, be judicious in determining which ones are most important to you, and writing workshops are, in my view, a fabulous way to enhance your craft, your understanding of the industry, and of course your career.

Oh, and join the RWA, because they are your best bet for finding out about workshops, either via their yahoo distribution list or in the back of their Romance Writers Report.

So, You Want to Publish Your Romance Novel?

Step one, join the Romance Writers of America. This advice was given by JR Ward in her BDB Insider’s Guide. Damn good advice it was. Seriously, the good decision that has lead to all other good decisions.

The RWA is a cornucopia of information for all romance writers, both published and unpublished. There are a bazillion subchapters both geographical and related to specific subgenres, and they host contests and workshops, both of which can play a HUGE role in helping to improve your craft, and get your work looked at by industry professionals who might not otherwise take the time give your work so much as a passing glance. Some subchapters even let you take their workshops for free if you join the chapter. RWA National also publishes a monthly magazine called the Romance Writers Report that contains TONS of useful info. It’s one of the only magazines that I have ever read literally cover to cover. They’ve also recently started something called RWA University, currently the focus of that is to teach all about the various publishing avenues in the industry but it looks like there will be more topics in the future.

Best of all there is an annual conference where magical things happen (especially since this year it’s at Disney World!) like live workshops, opportunities to pitch your books to real live agents and editors, and rubbing elbows (or so I’ve heard) with some of your favorite writers. I’ve never been, but it’s my goal to go next year.

Although, as a pre-published writer, I have this sneaky suspicion that the RWA Published Author Network is some sort of special, magical place where you get all sorts of perks much like the First Class section on British Airways (where you get not only a real bed to sleep in but also special jammies!). I don’t yet have proof, but as soon as I get published, I’m asking for my jammies.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have Reached a Verdict

So I decided to drop the PG-13 limitation that I had initially imposed upon myself for this blog. It wasn’t fitting with the stuff I write and since what I write is most definitely NOT PG-13 it didn’t feel like it made sense. Now, I do know some of the people who were reading this blog will possibly be offended by stuff i post in the future and I truly do apologize for that.

Despite the fact that belief in God and writing erotic fiction would seem -even to me – like they might be mutually exclusive, after a lot of prayer this is the path I have felt lead to take, for now.

Deep Point of View Homework

I’ve been taking some online writing workshops, for those of you who are looking to beef up your abilities or perhaps learn more about the business of writing I highly recommend this. In particular, if you ever have the chance to take a class on POV from the AWESOME Carrie Lofty, DO IT!! I’ve taken a lot of workshops and many have been helpful, but her perspective has caused me to look at my work in an entirely new way. She’s wicked smart, her books rock, and she makes a mean Apple Brown Betty (Okay, I have no clue about that last part, I just wanted to indulge in the momentary fantasy of being invited over for dessert by someone so awesome. I also dream nightly about making hamburger helper with JR Ward while we watch old episodes of Six Feet Under).

Anyhoo, the passage below is my crack at a young heroine who was a survivor of rape, first when she meets a man who will later be her love interest, and later when he declares his love for her:

——–

Nellie’s eyes flicked around the restaurant, hastily roving over the gaggle of dreadlocked hippies, past the geeks and nerdlingers, before lighting oh-so casually on the table of rugby players who sat across from her. Intensely dark eyes met hers from across the way, and hot embarrassment crept up the back of her neck as she watched his hand brush a stray lock of ebony hair from his forehead. Oh God, did he know she was looking? She couldn’t help but chance another peek moments later, and the loveliest mouth she had ever seen was curled into an amused smile and seemed to be aimed in her direction along with its partners in crime up above. Yikes.

Her friend Bryan nudged with her toe, a movement she barely registered because she was busy wondering if the guy’s skin had that same smooth chai latte color up close. “I think he’s checking you out,” her friend whispered. Nellie’s heart skittered in her chest, jack-rabbit style, but she shook her head and bent with renewed interest over her tofu scramble. “Nuh-uh, probably checking our waitress out.” she gestured vaguely behind herself. Ah, but yet…hunk ho! He has risen from his table and was striding towards them, that cute little smile still perched upon his face, all rippling biceps and casually slung Diesel jeans which seemed -if she were being honest with herself- to be heading right her way. “Hey there,” he said with a voice that was clear and husky all at the same time. A smoker maybe? She glanced up tentatively at those dark eyes, that now seemed to smolder and dance, and the lips parted to show off a set of pearly whites that would make any dentist proud. The thin cotton of his t-shirt strained and stretched under the movement of a marvelously sculpted bicep as he reached into his back pocket for…a bright orange flyer. “You like Weezer?”

Ah, he was a party promoter. The breath she didn’t realize she had been holding wheeshed out of Nellie in a long stream, taking some of her nervous energy with it. The frenetic pace of her heart slowed down. She indulged in one final glance at those crazy-sexy eyes before smiling and taking the flyer from his long fingers. Turned out his skin did look just as smooth up close.

——-

Rick poised on the brink of entering her. Hovering, he seemed to float effortlessly, but she could see a slight tremor in those biceps she loved so much. Hands that were calloused from his summer construction job caressed her face, dragging one dark, reassuring finger across her jaw in an almost reverent manner. He had been biting his nails again, she would have fo ask him why later.

He brought his face close, as if studying her, and she did the same, focusing carefully on his deep chocolate eyes. The little flecks of green and gold around his iris glittered in the dim lamplight, shining from what looked to be a little sheen of extra moisture. Nellie had never seen him so emotional. Running her hands up his arms and across his back, she absorbed the detail in each ripple of muscle, the straining stretch of his traps while he fought to stay poised on this precipice they were preparing to jump over.

“God, I love you,” he breathed raggedly, as he slid home, and Nellie’s heart hammered. Her entire body trembled like crazy. Her fingers gripped tight to his shoulders, she focused on the movement of his muscles as he made love to her, never letting her eyes leave his face. Memorizing the fall of dark hair that dipped over his nose, his perpetual five-o-clock shadow…those glittering eyes. Everything that made Rick, Rick. She thought inanely about that  afternoon’s engineering lecture on aerostatic flutter, the vibrational force that caused the collapse of that huge bridge in the forties. Jesus, there was love and passion all over his face as he moved in and out of her, and all she could think about was hoping that she didn’t break apart just like that bridge.

I can’t be the only freak…can I?

So I made my first agent pitch, and though knew to expect it I am still majorly bummed about the response i received. In a nutshell, she felt that the vampire thing is old and tired, and no agent or editor wants to hear it anymore.

So I get it, vampires are hot these days and everyone is writing them and as an agent she sees all of it. That must get old. But here is the thing: as an avid reader myself, I came to writing my own series by way of wanting more reading material. Not to mention, i belong to plenty of email lists (devoted to lovers of vampire romance I might add) where readers constantly ask what series they can read now that they have finished series x, y, and z and what can they read next? There are a lot of voracious readers out there who LOVE to plow through series after series of hot, vampire love. I don’t know that there is such a thing as too many. And I’m sorry but I am just not into writing steampunk. I love vampire novels, and I can’t get enough of them. I know I’m not the only one…am I?