‘How to get a story going, grab your reader’s attention and . . . ‘ That’s what I said I’d talk about in my workshop yesterday. I recently had the experience of reading something like sixty 3 chapter submissions for a writing competition, and what struck me most was that so many of the beginnings were unengaging. So I said I’d focus the workshop on how to really make an impact. Of course, when I started planning, I realised what an immense task it was. Those first couple of pages need to be so tight in hooking the reader and introducing them to character, conflict, motivation, obstacle, plot – y’know, the usual stuff. Oh, and then there’s all the stuff you have to avoid in your opening.
To compound all of this, it was the first time I’d run a workshop. Anyway, I thought long and hard, I planned carefully and in the end it seemed to go pretty well. At least, I think it did. I enjoyed it, people joined in and discussed things, and they did a bit of writing. Some of the people who came along had things on their mind that they needed to maybe see from a different perspective and so went away with a new angle. Others needed a little spark to get them writing, and went away with a few ideas in mind, so that’s good, right? And others had the chance to grill me about the publishing process and my experiences of it.
And that, to me, is the real heart of a workshop. It’s about interacting with other writers in a like-minded environment; it’s about airing your thoughts and finding alternative perspectives. It’s not about someone telling you what to do. It’s about sharing ideas. Because writing advice is such a . . . loose thing. A lot of it is just opinion. Creative writing isn’t a science is it? It’s creative. That’s the clue, right there.
There are no rules. There are guidelines and tools a writer can use but they don’t have to. Creative writing is an art and writers can break all the so-called rules, do all the things they’re told they’re not supposed to and still they produce good work. And, similarly, someone can follow the guidlines, obey the ‘rules’ and still produce something unreadable. I really believe that you can help a writer improve their craft, but if Joe Bloggs isn’t a writer, can someone really teach him how to be? I’m not so sure.
And when it comes to publication, what advice can anyone give? After all, if your manuscript is good, it’s all down to chance. It needs to land on the right desk at the right time. If it doesn’t . . . well, we all know what a rejection letter looks like, right?