A Gathering of Writers

Sorry to take so long to blog about this, but last week was full of events (none writing-related for me; I gave a book party for a friend’s latest book); and I was fighting off a cold. The one-day writers workshop sponsored by Press 53 and Prime Number Magazine in Winston-Salem was a jam-packed day with great instructors and the opportunity to mix and mingle with other writers–one of my favorite things to do.

Press 53 is a small press based in Winston-Salem, NC, and specializes in publishing collections of short stories and poetry. It is also the publisher of Prime Number Magazine, edited by my writer friend, Cliff Garstang. In just seven years of existence, Press 53 is set to release its 100th title some time in October. For the past few years, it has sponsored “A Gathering of Poets.” Prose writers demanded equal time and got it.

As with A Gathering of Poets, the first-ever Gathering of Writers aimed for 53 attendees. The actual count was in the forties, which was promising for a debut. The workshops offered each featured an author published by Press 53 as the instructor, and the topics covered fiction, nonfiction, and publishing. Each instructor gave his or her workshop twice, in the morning and in the afternoon, so you didn’t have to miss one you wanted. As it was, there was time for only four workshops, and six were offered. There’s always next year.

These were the offered workshops:

Creating Immediacy in Fiction, John McNally
Crafting Dialogue that Moves, Valerie Nieman
Going Vertical in Memoir: How to Move your Creative Nonfiction from Slush Pile to Publication Success, Tracy Crow
Creating the World in a Short Story, Clifford Garstang
Scene Construction: Building a Scene Layer by Layer, Susan Woodring
Your Path to Publication, Kim Wright

I signed up for McNally, Nieman, Garstang, and Wright’s workshops.

McNally provided a handout, “20 Things that Lessen Immediacy,” and went over each. Rather sobering to read through the list and see just how many of the 20 “offenses” I’m guilty of, but no more. Very eye-opening and enlightening but practical as well.

Nieman used screenplay excerpts to demonstrate how dialogue in a non-screenplay should read, but the fun part was these were movies we were all familiar with; and workshop participants got to “act out” the dialogue by reading it aloud. Then, we had a short dialogue exercise to write based on a prompt. The prompt was a snippet of a real conversation Nieman had overheard. A lot of fun and very helpful.

Wright, who has been published by a Big Six press, a small press, and self-published gave us the pro’s and con’s of each type of publishing. It was refreshing to hear someone be honest about each type, rather than being all rah-rah Big Six and boo self-publishing. Wright was careful to balance the presentation without showing any favoritism for one form or the other, but she was able to provide good information to help you choose which version might be appropriate for your work. We ended with an exercise where we paired up and described our current works to each other; then, the other person had to give an elevator pitch of your work. Also great fun and showed us just what is important for an effective pitch.

Garstang’s workshop I had seen bits and pieces of before, but as a whole it was a workshop that offered just the practical information with very little fluff. Key to the presentation: Write what you don’t know from the basis of what you do know, and show AND tell. Of course, it was more in-depth that than, and Garstang provided specific references from other writers’ works to illustrate his points. And we left not only with a reading list but suggested exercises as well.

Between the workshops and at lunch, we all had the opportunity to meet each other and discuss writing. I could do that all day, every day. I came away with new Facebook friends, and after listening to those new friends talk about which literary magazines had recently published them, I realized I hadn’t been living up to my resolution to submit more work. Though that wasn’t really a workshop, it was an example to inspire me.

Sometimes the first of anything can be disappointing, but not this–well organized, well produced, and worth every dime spent. I can’t wait until next year’s Gathering of Writers.

 

 

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