At Wildcat Comic Con, I gave a presentation called, “Know Thy Characters, Love Thy Villains: A beginner’s writing workshop.”
I’ve been giving writing workshops as much as possible lately because I love them. If you’re in Williamsport and you want to take an incredibly inexpensive workshop with me at Pennsylvania College of Technology, click here. I’m offering three that begin in about two weeks.
I always do group writing prompts in workshops. In fact, the Know Thy Characters workshop was more prompt than presentation. In my workshops at Penn College, we’ll do one prompt at every meeting. The first ten minutes of class. It gets us in the zone.
Last year, a lot of Big Thinkers were talking about how the workplace is trending more toward collaboration and socialization and how this is not good for certain types of creative introverts. (Those links are gold, btw. The first is to a NYT Column, the second to a very entertaining TED talk). Penelope sees a lot of evidence of de-valuing the individual in Generation Y (of which my sisters are a solid part, and of which I am on the cusp–I was born in 1980. Most of my behavior and the way I view the world is very Gen X.)
So I’m not here to tell you that you ALWAYS should write in a group. No no no.
I will tell you that it’s probably almost always better to write alone.
But here’s what happens for me whenever I write in a group, or even with one other person, or even spend a few hours (not writing) surrounded by other creative people:
1. The gates between my inner and outer life are opened for a bit.
- It’s really easy to get too lost in my own head, to forget that there’s a rest of the world, and to remember that my ideas are generally best when I let them out of my mental vacuum.
2. The energy of other creative people comes in through the gates.
- I never get more breakthroughs in my thinking about my writing writing than when I’m writing in a group. This is almost never a breakthrough in terms of phrase or diction, it’s an idea breakthrough. For example, I’d been having trouble with a character in my book, Delta. At Comic Con, when I was surrounded by creative people and taking part in this amazing buzz of enthusiasm and energy, Delta got an identity, or at least a skeleton of an identity.
3. I surprise myself.
- This is going to sound egomaniacal, but I surprise myself a lot in general. I think that’s in large part because whenever I am alone, I am convinced that I’m an uncreative loser with nothing to contribute. So whenever I have a great blog day or a big idea, I am surprised. The ways in which I surprise myself whenever I write in a group are different. I get these brilliant phrases and I think, “I don’t write that well.” It’s attributable to the open gates thing, and to the fact that whenever I write in workshops, I do it with a pen on paper and not–where I do most of my writing–at the keyboard.
And Here’s What I’ve Noticed for my Students:
1. They surprise themselves!
- I’m using the Comic Con Workshop as an example because it’s the most recent, but this kind of stuff has always happened. The writers who came to my workshop were all over the place in terms of their ages and writing achievements and ambitions. I had very young students all the way up to adult students who were teachers themselves. One guy found out that his villain wasn’t really a villain. Another was surprised that her hero was more like a villain.
2. They get more out of the workshop.
- People are accustomed to getting droned at. Sometimes, you can watch their brains shut off in their faces as they walk into a classroom. Writing prompts, engaging in a creative process with other people, opens them up again. Even if you only follow the prompt with one question, and that question is as lame as, “What did you think of that prompt?”, the students are re-engage and contribute more. This engagement and contribution increases as the workshop proceeds.
3. They get inspired.
- The day I gave my workshop at WCC was my best weekend blog day to date. Where I normally have 20 or fewer views on a weekend day I don’t post, Saturday of WCC I had almost 100. People were looking for my workshop. So that’s one action, but another–and one that I’m sure happened, and may still be happening–is that the folks had big ideas that have helped to propel their stories. Some of them even told me that they never thought about loving their characters before, especially their villains, and they seemed jubilant about it.
So do you want to get inspired? Come to my workshop. The ones at Penn College will be a ton more involved than the one provided here, and I won’t be using Powerpoint (at least not all the time).