Improving My Craft

Writers of the Future Workshop Week Wrap-Up: Part 1

I have been home from Hollywood for almost two weeks now, but I’m still struggling to get my feet on the ground. Between jet lag, a nasty case of food poisoning the day after I got home, and general exhaustion, it’s been a tiring few days.

I’m still processing all the information I learned in the workshop. It feels like it will help me level up my writing, but my brain needs to re-calibrate to deal with the new information.

Our group bonded almost immediately into a tight-knit family unit, with Dave Wolverton and Tim Powers as our writing dads. The two of them have such different personalities, writing styles, opinions on writing, but they compliment each other so well in the class. Throughout the week, they showed such a deep personal investment in wanting to help us become successful. Knowing that there are folks like Tim, Dave, and the other teachers who genuinely want to reach out to neo-pro writers and help us grow and become better is both inspiring and humbling.

We began on Tuesday with Dave and Tim. They talked to us about training ourselves to become professional writers. They shared with us their own personal styles of writing, and encouraged us to find our own style, to figure it out for ourselves. A big part of this is simply developing the habit of writing.

If you love it, people shouldn’t be able to talk you out of it.

We talked about character, plot, themes, story ideas, and stretching yourself to try new things. We talked about looking at things with a paranoid squint and using our imaginations to dig deeper and figure out why someone really does a certain thing. We talked about the importance of building a believable cast of characters. Not just names on paper, but fully fleshed out characters that will make the story come to life.

Tim Powers dropping some serious knowledge on me.

They filled my mind until it felt like it would burst!

At the end of the day, Tim passed out a random set of object for us to use as story inspiration for our 24 hour story. The 24 hour story is a hallowed tradition of the WOTF workshop. It’s exactly what it sounds like. 24 hours to write a complete short story. Yikes. There would be three components to the story: a random object, some library research, and a conversation with a stranger. The whole point of this is to demonstrate to us that we can work under a tight deadline, that we can generate ideas from unexpected places, and that we are capable of drafting work quickly.

My object was a thing you stick into the tailpipe of your enemy’s car. It would make a horrible noise and frighten them into stopping so that they could be apprehended. Surprisingly enough, no one volunteered to let me try it out with their cars. Hmmm.

Receiving our random objects that will help inspire our 24 hour stories.

On Wednesday, we were all feeling the looming dread of the 24 hour story.

Dave and Tim spent more time with us that morning talking about working with agents and editors.

You don’t want an agent. You want the agent.

We spent a little time talking about point of view, Dave’s preferences in the stories he sees, and how to avoid clichés.

What is it Dave looks for when he’s reading a story?

From there, we moved on to the public library for a bit of research. Go time for the 24 hour story was rapidly approaching, and I was cooking on some ideas, but I wanted to explore a bit in the library. And I wanted to put off talking to a stranger for as long as possible. Talking to a stranger scared me more than writing the actual story.

As it turned out, my “interview” with a stranger was easy. At the library, I asked a man if an empty chair at his table was free, and we struck up a conversation. So easy. So natural. Thank goodness!

Striking up a conversation with a stranger. Not as hard as I thought.

That afternoon, we got the GO to begin writing our story. We would have until 4 pm the next day. We scattered. We gathered. I wandered from place to place, unsure of where to write. Some places were too loud, others too quiet. Some to crowded, others too empty. I settled for a bit with some of my fellow WOTFers poolside. And wrote. And wrote.

Writing poolside

I ate dinner with this same crew, then went back to my room and wrote some more. Even with all that writing, I managed to get a solid night of sleep, but I woke early the next morning and wrote some more. This is the most hours in a day I’ve ever written–the most hours I’ve ever been able to write without life interrupting. It was glorious. Energizing. I finished my story, all 5,400 words of it, and handed it in an hour early. Glorious.

That afternoon, we gathered in anticipation of seeing our illustrations for the first time. This is another hallowed WOTF workshop tradition. We don’t get to see our illustrations until this moment. We gathered in the lobby outside the Hubbard library, and waited anxiously. Our illustrators had already gathered within the library. Our illustrations were in there. Waiting. It was tense, but even in that moment of anticipation, Dave Wolverton was able to lend his calm, steady presence. He sat beside me, and we talked about balancing writing and family, our children, and more topically, how they would choose which of the 24 hour stories to critique next morning. Sitting beside Dave in a chaotic room is like holding on to an anchor in a stormy sea. His calm seems unflappable, and his voice never raises above the gentle tone of a patient teacher.

Finally, they let us into the room. I saw what I thought was my illustration out of the corner of my eye, so, of course, I walked in the opposite direction. I knew once I got to mine, I wouldn’t make it any farther and I wanted to see the illustrations of my friends’ stories first. I am so glad I did! The illustrators did a gorgeous job. I mean, the artwork was–is–stunning.

Then I got to mine.

Obsidian Spire – Illustrated by Aituar Manas

To say Aituar captured my character well would be an understatement. It’s like he was able to look inside my mind and see Varga just as I imagined her. He did a beautiful job, and yes, once I saw her, I couldn’t move any farther. I just stood there and cried and hugged the wonderful Laurie Tom and Megan O’Keefe, past years’ winners who hung out with us to help keep us sane during the business of the week.

After the big reveal, the momentum of the week shifted, and we went into a series of workshops that I will talk about more in my next post.

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