Sunday, April 17, 2011

Workshops: How do you like 'em?

As some of you may know, Five Scribes has close ties to Colorado writing conferences, particularly the Crested Butte Writers Conference, which will be held June 17-19, 2011. This year, Co-conference Chairs Barbara Crawford and Sandy Competition Coordinator, Theresa Rizzo put me to work. I'll be helping with the workshops, ensuring the speakers have all the visual aids and handouts necessary for attendees to get the most out of the workshops.

And that's what it's all about, isn't it? That the attendee receives his money's worth at a conference. So far, I'm impressed. We have editor, agents and authors presenting some fabulous career, craft and motivational sessions for authors and aspiring authors to put to use in their writing.

Which brings me to you. When you attend a conference, what works better in your mind and/or which do you prefer? Are you content to listen and absorb? Or are you more into interactive workshops? I'd love to hear about the best workshops you've ever attended. You have the floor. Thanks!


Kristi Helvig said...

Donald Maass did a fabulous interactive workshop at a Colorado conference I attended last year. I learned a ton from that one, and I also really liked the first pages sessions where agents/editors gave immediate feedback on what they thought worked or not.

So I guess I prefer more interactive type workshops. Though this year I've decided to attend a 5-day writing retreat w/ editors/agents instead of going to a conference. I think I'll like the more intimate atmosphere and interactive quality of the experience.

Donnell said...

Ah, Krisi, you want the one on one and intimacy. Can't say that I blame you. Thanks for sharing.

Donnell said...

My apologies for misspelling your name Kristi (sigh) flying fingers.

Edie Ramer said...

For conferences with usually an hour or so workshops, I think talking about something that excites my imagination or makes me see something in a different manner works. At National last year, Donald Maass spoke to the RWA-WF group. Because of the time constraint, it wasn't interactive. But he still presented questions we should ask about our characters that opened my mind to possibilities. I love possibilities.

I believe Michael Hauge will be their speaker this year. Another great speaker.

Donnell said...

Thanks, Edie, yes, I've seen both of those dynamos in action, and Crested Butte did have Donald Maass a couple of years back, and people are still raving.

This year we're having people like Writers House, Stephen Barr, St. Martin's, Holly Blanck, Helen Breitwieser, Marisa Corvisiero, Random House's Mike Braff, Robin D. Owens, Sophie Littlefield and Julia Goodson-Lawes, and Kaki Warner.

So while we won't be bringing you Donald Maass or Michael Hauge, I think there is so much to learn at this conference.

But back to my main question: What, as a writer, do you prefer--listening and absorbing or interactive?

Vince said...

Hi Donnell:

What I like in a workshop is a speaker who has an insightful original idea which allows the listener to see writing problems in a new way. This new POV should allow the listener to come up with solutions to writing problems that he or she would not otherwise have thought of. If this approach is done well, the listener can’t wait to get to a computer and try out this new approach on his or her current WIP.

I would like to see the speaker present this without notes or Powerpoint. The value of the concept should be obvious enough to command the listener’s attention with simple explanations and examples.

Last year James Scott Bell did just this at the Crested Butte Writers Conference with his
L O C K system.

Lead character readers want to follow

Objective that is crucial to character’s well being

Confornted by forces that stay in effect to the very end of the book – don’t end them too soon.

Knock Out ending. The last chapter sells the next book.

What is not very useful is having an author using a Powerpoint presentation, with type too small to read, cover non-original material that can be totally gleaned from the handout without the need of a speaker.

Not everyone can be a James Scott Bell but everyone can learn from him.

Ideally: a workshop should provide what you can’t get any other way.

That means a way to ask questions and get feedback. It also means exercises that are unique to the event.

Last year, one of my favorite workshops was when the agents and editors had to say, after being read one page of a manuscript, if they would accept the book.

Almost all of them said 'NO' to successful published books! The one who got it right, had read the book or she would have probably missed it as well. This exercise was the one that was the most fun to attend.


P.S. I've conducted over 3,000 three-hour seminar/workshops so I'm not your average participant. : )

Donnell said...

Vince, I have to say, there is nothing average about you. Very interesting. I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, but you are an auditory learner. You absorb words. I do this too, which is why an online workshop is difficult. I'm a former court reporter, and one of the most difficult things about my job was that I listened.

My instructors would say, oh, don't worry, you'll soon be able to separate these tragic events and while taking down testimony, you'll be making our your grocery list.

Never happened, Vince. I hung on every word. What made me a neurotic court reporter, made me a good writer, however. I love to listen.

Your comments on Power Point are well taken. I, too, can find them distracting, but then my kids have made it plain, that this world isn't just about me ;))) Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Vince.

Donnell said...

Oh, one more thing, Vince. Theresa told me about that workshop where the agents reviewed anonymously, of course, published work. I thought this was a perfect example of subjectivity.

Leslie Ann said...

Workshops that work best for me are the ones that leave me time to try an idea that is being pitched.

Not really interactive, but taking the concept just presented and given some time to make it work and try and absorb WHY it works, or why not. Not fill in the blanks but seeing on paper with my own thoughts applied.

You can talk until you're blue in the face, but unless I can take something and try it, I'm lost.


Donnell said...

Ah, LA. great point. We all know that successful authors can write. What we're looking for is how we apply it to our own work. Great point. So no matter if it's interactive or auditory, they must have the ability to transfer their idea and apply it to the audience. Excellent. Did I get that right?

Leslie Ann said...

Hi D,
Pretty much you nailed it. Although I wasn't sure if audience meant the group of writers or our readers.

But there is one more important part.

By trying their example or their idea we, the writer must figure out if it works for US, the writer.

I've heard lots and lots and lots, been to a zillion conferences and workshops and some times the stuff just won't work for me.

So by trying it at the time it's presented and then trying it again at home, I know whether it will make me a better writer or not.

However, if I just hear it, I know generally it won't stick so I frankly don't bother to try it out to see if it's for me.

It's all about what works for me, since I'm the writer trying something new. And then of course making it shine for my readers.

Make sense?

Donnell said...

LA. Thanks. I believe, Grasshopper, you are saying if it messes with your system that is working, you're not going to go there.

In the interview I did with Darynda Jones, she tried somebody else's system. It cost her months of writing. If you have a system that is working, keeping going. :))))

And BTW, Hugs.

Leslie Ann said...

Yup. I also tried a system that set me way back.

Always looking for those nuggets of gold, however.

Hugs to all

VR Barkowski said...

For me, a variety works best - larger panels where experts share wisdom (followed by a Q&A) combined with break-out interactive workshops. This keeps things interesting. If all the presentations are the same, no matter how informative, the conference can get tedious. Been there.

I've had the pleasure of attending the Book Passage Mystery Conference in Corte Madera, California several times. For my money, it is the epitome of what a writers conference should be: educational, collegial, and inspiring. The authors, agents, and law enforcement pros who participate are there to teach - selling books is secondary - and each session is unique, tailored to the presenter(s) and subject.

Vince said...

Hi Donnell:

"Theresa told me about that workshop where the agents reviewed anonymously, of course, published work. I thought this was a perfect example of subjectivity."

This is an example of subjectivity but it is something else, too. Unpublished writers need to have a great hook in order to get read past the first page. Published authors do not need a great hook.

When these bestsellers opened slowly, the agents kicked them out at once! Sometimes after only a sentence or two.

In reality, the unpublished authors did better than the published ones because they did open with better hooks.

In addition to subjectivity, there is also a double standard to consider.


P.S. "While you can control what you say, you cannot control what people hear." When I give seminars I always ask questions that the listeners can only get right if they understood what I said. This is a must in trying to reach the three major types of learners.

Susan M. Boyer said...

I loved the session at RWA nationals last year where a couple of agents and an editor did a role-play of an editorial meeting where projects are presented by acquiring editors and discussed with marketing, foreign rights, group sales, and several other department representatives. It was eye-opening to say the least. Volunteers from the audience played some of the roles--the first "volunteer" was a ringer named Sophie Littlefield. :) It was awesome. I think it's been done by different groups at several conference.

Donnell said...

Oh, Viva, this conference sounds fascinating. When is it held. And receiving praise from you is high praise indeed!

I agree, having one speaker talk at for lack of a better word, unless that person is entirely well rounded and giving, and not just promoting his wares, can get monotonous real quick. Thanks for sharing.

Donnell said...

Susan, I love role playing and interactive. I missed that at National last year.

But... the good news. Sophie Littlefield and Julie Goodson-Lawes will be at Crested Butte this year! Yay!!! They'll be presenting three workshops.




Pretty cool, eh?

Ellis Vidler said...

Donnell, I enjoy a mix--some lecture/discussion and an exercise or two if there's enough time. I took an all-day workshop from Bob Mayer that (if I remember now) was mostly lecture but a lot of variety in how he presented the information-short videos from his computer, a whiteboard, questions, and loads of information. There may have been a couple of very brief exercises. It's one of the best I've ever been to. Glad you reminded me. I need to get out his book, Fiction Writers Toolkit, to re-read. Wish I could get to Colorado for yours.

Donnell said...

Ellis, this sounds very interesting. Thank you.

Pamela S. Beason said...

As an intermediate (soon to be NYC published writer), I find the only events of use to me are focused workshops where the attendees must compete to get in; that way we all start at a higher level. But those are hard to find; and qualified instructors are even harder to find. (Professional authors tend to be busy writing books, go figure...) Talking about the art of writing with others is ALWAYS fun and inspiring, though, no matter what the venue.

Pamela Beason