Thursday, July 24, 2008

Virtually Workshopping

I had to deal with NY again yesterday, so I'm running a little behind today. Tomorrow I will be posting all the information on how and when to send me the links for your LB&LI virtual workshops, and I'll repeat this post again on Sunday. I don't want to post it too early as that usually results in people either missing the info or sending it in too early.

A couple of you (you know who you are) have asked exactly how one goes about presenting a virtual workshop. The good news is you don't have to dress up, put on heels, have your hair and nails done or wear pantyhose (unless you have some sort of live webcam thing involved, in which case I recommend not wearing your SpongeBob Squarepants pajamas.)

The basic ingredients of a virtual workshop are 1) a place to hold it (ideally, your blog), 2) a writing- or biz-related topic you know well and can discuss with other writers and 3) a personal spin or approach to your topic that can be a benefit to other writers.

For example: On Monday I'm holding a workshop on power plotting. I am a militant pro-plotter and constantly look for new ways to prompt other writers into giving plotting a try. I also know that a lot of writers dread plotting (almost as much as writing a synopsis.)

I had an idea to use the mechanics of a main electrical panel as a metaphor for how plotting works and what it should do for a story. During my years in the commercial HVAC field, I learned a lot about industrial electrical systems (on which my guy is also something of expert, which gives me an in-house consultant.) I also have some excellent reference books on power service installation and basic wiring. By playing around with some standard electrical wiring diagrams, I came up with a new template to "wire" a story plot.

It's a lot of information to present, so I've condensed my notes, simplified the idea and put together three graphics and a universal template. When I present the workshop, I'll introduce the idea, show how it works, use it to solve some common plotting problems and offer links to other writers' sites with different approaches to plot outlining as second opinions and alternate resources. The rest of the workshop happens in comments, when my visitors ask questions and/or offer their opinions on the topic, I respond, etc.

More things to consider when giving workshops, virtual or otherwise:

1. Talk about what you know, and know what you're talking about. If you have problems with or aren't clear on your topic, that's going to come through during your workshop. Also, there's nothing more embarrassing than a visitor asking a question and all you can answer with is "I don't know."

2. Keep it fresh. One reason I looked for a new approach to plotting is because there has been so much written online about the more traditional methods. Also, much as I love to plot novels, plotting can be a very boring topic.

3. Make it fun for you and your visitors. When I was in RWA, I sat through so many dull workshops that I'm surprised they didn't give me narcolepsy. The best workshops are always those that use humor in some capacity, even if you just offer an ice-breaker with an opening joke that relates to your topic. Something like:

"In English," the college professor said, "a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."


One final note -- if it's not your style to use humor or a light-hearted approach when virtually workshopping, don't force it. Do what you're comfortable doing. While I'd rather use humor than get too serious, the two posts on PBW that to this day still bring in the most e-mails from other writers are two that didn't use humor at all: Courage and Mansions.

14 comments:

  1. I love the post on Courage. It makes me tear up a little--just a little!--every time I read it.

    Yes, you do know me.

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  2. I'd kind of like to see a blog or even a workshop on great devices a writer may need. Like the top ten things above $100 and the top ten things under $100 and reasons why. Like why use a Neo when you have a laptop, what are the difference? Perhaps even how to use it for those who are tech challenged..I can't host it, but I was wondering if someone else was or could...

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  3. Hey, just wanted to let you know I got an email from Amazon today featuring Omega Games! It's a notice to buyers who previously bought your books,and has a button for pre-ordering : )

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  4. The Courage post was before my time at PBW, and wow. WOW, Lynn. I'm in the midst of a hold on my writing because we're moving and I have to pack, and it's crushing me. I needed that, becuase as soon as we move, I can't wait to dive back in. Gosh, I miss it. I've climbed up, but amid the packing insanity and the stress, I've let the discipline and the rush go, and I'm greedy to have it back again.

    The line "Nothing is actually the scariest word in your vocabulary" ... well, YAH.

    (Oddly, I no longer fear not being able to complete a novel, at least.)

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  5. Yeah, right. Oh, that's classic.

    Back in the old days, the more negatives you put in your Olde Englishe, the more negative it got. No adding up the nottes to see if they all cancelled out then!

    I think humour is a great teaching tool.

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  6. I want to thank you again for running these workshops. I'm using them as a the biggest motherhumping carrot in the world to keep myself revising and rewriting through a major family crisis. (I'm four weeks past my deadline and feeling thoroughly worthless, but knowing that I HAVE to keep going or I can't participate in your workshops is the only thing that's getting words on the page. Yes, it's pathetic, but it's working.)

    I can't even try to be funny about it anymore. But thank God for you, chica, because I can finally see light at the end of this particularly dark little tunnel, at least in terms of my overdue novella.

    Hey, next year? How 'bout a workshop on how to keep writing when the rest of your life turns into a clusterfuck? I suspect that one would draw in the crowds. I know I'd be there with bells on.

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  7. Margaret wrote: Yes, you do know me.

    Same way you know me -- it goes both ways. ;)

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  8. Robin wrote: I'd kind of like to see a blog or even a workshop on great devices a writer may need. Like the top ten things above $100 and the top ten things under $100 and reasons why. Like why use a Neo when you have a laptop, what are the difference?

    Great suggestion. If no one does a workshop like that next week, I'd be willing to do the research and a couple of blog posts. I just did one like that on portable word processors, and found out a lot of things I didn't know.

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  9. Robin wrote: Hey, just wanted to let you know I got an email from Amazon today featuring Omega Games! It's a notice to buyers who previously bought your books,and has a button for pre-ordering

    Are you buying my books again, Robin? Lol. Thanks, it's nice to know Amazon is spamming people on my behalf. ;)

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  10. Jess wrote: I've climbed up, but amid the packing insanity and the stress, I've let the discipline and the rush go, and I'm greedy to have it back again.

    It's waiting for you to get through the chaos and disorder. It always does. ;)

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  11. Buffysquirrel wrote:
    I think humour is a great teaching tool.


    You'd make one hell of a teacher, hint, hint. :)

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  12. Selah wrote: I want to thank you again for running these workshops. I'm using them as a the biggest motherhumping carrot in the world to keep myself revising and rewriting through a major family crisis.

    No problem. And hang in, woman. I'm sending all my good thoughts your way.

    Hey, next year? How 'bout a workshop on how to keep writing when the rest of your life turns into a clusterfuck? I suspect that one would draw in the crowds. I know I'd be there with bells on.

    Excellent suggestion, and God knows, I have the experience to back it up. I just have to figure out how to write it without it making everyone who reads it burst into tears.

    Now, stop reading this and go write. I'm expecting to see you at the workshops.

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  13. The power plotting workshop sounds really cool. I love the electrical panel metaphor. I'd love to see how that works. I wish I could be there but Mondays are my worst, craziest day at work. But I'll catch it later for sure!

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  14. I'm actually running a workshop at about that time, though it's more of a group-project thing that's going to last through August.

    I'm calling it World Building Month, and a bunch of writers are going to make posts and thoughts about the importance of setting. :)

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