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Jack Whyte
Jack Whyte's picture
Workshop Thoughts...

“Hi,” he said, emerging from the shadows after almost a month of utter silence. “It’s nice to be back…” And so it is. I have just spent the entire month of March here in the Coachella Valley of southern California, “vegging out” as people used to say, and enjoying some much needed R&R. I’ve been playing golf, soaking up sunshine, reading for pleasure and even doing a little bit of pressure-free writing now that the Deadline monkey is safely off my back.

Deadlines are necessary, of course, but, Lord, they can be enervating. I mentioned the cause of the particular pressures applying on this one in an earlier entry here, when I discovered, with four months to go, that the trilogy I thought I was writing had, unbeknownst to me, become a quartet somewhere along the line. That caused a small tsunami of consequences, not the least of which was that I had to rewrite, almost from scratch, the manuscript on which I had been labouring, transferring great chunks of it from one novel to the newly-discovered “next” one and sorting out and reconfiguring what was left into the current, newly finished Book Two, “Renegade”… Thank God I did it, though, because the final version is so much more satisfying, logically sound and convincing than the original would have been.

That’s the trouble with dealing with huge themes of the kind I find myself falling into all the time—the subject matter is so engrossing and the research so massive and so unpredictable in its outcomes that too often you find yourself being simply swept along with the tide of discovery… Take a look at my Arthurian saga, for example, which started as a single novel (I fondly believed) and exploded into nine big books.

Anyway, thinking along those lines and lurking here in the site occasionally, I’ve been fascinated and delighted with the way the Forum has heated up recently, and with the calibre of the discussions that are going on, and that led me to a thought that I discussed with Webmaster Mark. He liked the idea and so we’ve decided to put it out to our readers and members for your initial input and thoughts…

What’s your opinion about setting up a new section here within the site for Works In Progress? I’m not talking about mine, but yours. We seem to have a number of budding authors/writers out there who might enjoy and benefit from a Workshop of their own and the peer opinions and feedback that might be gained from the exercise. That’s how Diana Gabaldon’s first novel, OUTLANDER, came into being… She started submitting chapters to the old Compuserve Literary Forum many years ago and the positive feedback she got from the other members resulted in her phenomenal success. The old Lit Forum, as it existed then, is long gone, but it left a huge hole in the writing firmament. Might it be hubris for me to wonder if you, our members, might be able to fill that hole yourselves? If it is, I think it might be a gentle hubris; a very minor form.

The whole point is that this new section of the site would be your own stomping grounds as writers. We’d have to put a limit on the maximum length of submissions, of course, purely out of self-defence, because this is not a publishing venue we’re talking about but a workshop in its best sense. And NOBODY, believe me, wants to start their day with an unpublished (and perhaps unpublishable) 200,000-word manuscript in their Inbox. As we see it, you’d submit a chunk from something you’re working on, probably up to 3,000 words, and it would be open to discussion and critique from other member-users. If it’s good enough, readers will ask for more and things can develop as they will from there. We’d put no limits on the kind of stuff submissible, either; poetry, short fiction, whatever. As long as it’s a Work In Progress and you think you could benefit from an empathic audience, that’s good enough. The feedback you receive, or the lack of it, should serve its own purpose, so think about the idea and let us know if you’d be interested in getting involved.

Let me be very clear here, though, that my own participation would NOT be an ongoing feature of that Workshop. I’d supervise it and ride herd on it, and I certainly would step in and stomp on anyone I believe is being abusive purely for effect, but I simply don’t have the time to be greatly involved in it and what little time I do have is being eclipsed by other things going on in Europe and particularly in the UK where my books, for a variety of complex and frustrating reasons, have never really seen the light of day in what would appear to be their most natural marketplace.

So there it is; a room of your own, if you’re up for it. I look forward to your comments.

Splynter
Splynter's picture
OH YEAH!

Cool idea Jack! You can count me in! A chapter or so as a forum for critical discussion on ones unknown work sounds good to me! Hope others jump on this as well.

andersm
andersm's picture
Good idea, Jack!

Welcome back. I hope you're refreshed and ready for another round.

I think it's a splendid idea to provide a forum for aspiring writers to present their work to collect valuable input. We may have to learn our way into this a bit until we all have a good grasp of how to give truly useful feedback.

Perhaps we could put together a list of pointers/guiding principles for the right way to serve up feedback so it benefits both the giver and receiver.

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Jack Whyte
Jack Whyte's picture
Format

No "perhaps" about it, Andersm. You, and the others who might want to chip in, definitely should give thought to what you'd like to see and how you'd like to shape it. That's what I meant when I made the reference to "a room of your own," so go for it.

Incidentally, your login's oddly impersonal. What's your first name?

admin
Ah, now, Jack...we give forum

Ah, now, Jack...we give forum visitors the choice of using their own name or a nom de plume, so Andersm, please forgive my Overlord's overstep, he does enjoy direct contact with his readers.

andersm
andersm's picture
No worries

Admin - I've just gotten into the habit of registering with a username. I used andersm since the early 90's. I'm a regular commenter at many of the online newspapers and the swords are very long and sharp in those venues. Better not to have a real name where they can hunt you down even if you make if from the battlefield unblooded. *L*

The people are more civilized here.

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

andersm
andersm's picture
Getting started.

My name is Marlene Anderson. You'll also find me over at your Facebook group page. I'll edit my username here so there's no guesswork.

I have a couple ideas on what I'd like to see. As I've already told John (Splynter) you ask my opinion at your own peril. :-)

Just to get us started, and as I mentioned above, the group could devise guidelines on how to give and receive feedback. I'll list some things and I would love everyone to join in to add, subtract, adjust so we create something workable for us. Okay, here goes.

Guidance for receivers (writers)
1. You are rewarded for your results. Feedback is the best tool to improve those results.
2. People generally want you to succeed.
3. If you have some areas where you feel you have a weakness, point it out so your reviewers can watch for it and let you know whether or not it's actually problematic.
4. If you provide a chapter or even just a scene, also include a preamble so the context and setting is clear.

Guidance for those giving feedback (readers)
1. Be honest but respectful. It takes courage to put your writing in front of others.
2. Understand the writer's goals so you can shape your feedback to best help him or her.
3. Craft your feedback so it focuses on the work, not the author.
4. Be specific and give examples wherever possible.
5. Feedback includes what's right along with what's not.

That seems like enough to get started. Let's hear from others!

Marlene

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Splynter
Splynter's picture
Guidelines

First of all....I have to say I like the "my Overlord" thing! : )

Now, Marlene, I like your guidelines BUT, with respect there are a couple I am not too sure of.

Point 3. Identifying weaknesses. - I sort of agree with you there. But that is something I would rather have a reader find out for themselves. As we all know, I am not published and have no real groundwork and "pro" experience to base my views on, but for some reason I prefer the idea of a reader approaching the story "blind" in a manner of speaking. My percieved weaknesses as a writer may not be yours as a reader and IF I were to point these things out....chances are, you would see them as I do because you've been directed to. I did that a couple of times with my manuscript when I HAD issues with what I wrote to some degree. Pointing those issues out, my readers saw them too. I think in some instances, they were waiting to come across them. Anticipating and most definitely seeing them. Then I decided to go with the "blind taste test" situation and I found the critique was far more honest when it wasn't steered. No matter how subtle or gentle you steer, chances are you will unknowingly convince someone to see it as you, the writer does. I got in to the habit of handing over what I wrote, leave for a while and come back for my critics opinion. That worked for me. I even found some minor scene I may not have been thrilled with....played amazingly well for my reader!

Now, if someone reads and catches your percieved soft spot? Cool! You're on the same page and you can go ahead from there confidently because as the author, your own opinion of your work was probably fair and honest.

Point 4. - I think if I was to supply a chapter a little background is a good thing. And may be vital. But I also see it where a chapter presented unheralded may in fact be a harder, more valid test. If it can stand on it's own, perhaps create a desire in the reader to see just where this is going....I think that would be a true test.

That's it! I kind of prefer the trial by fire method as you can tell and I'm not fearful of burns. Having said that, your point about respect is an absolute must. Tact is a wonderful thing and creative people, regardless of medium or ability, tend to be somewhat fragile when it comes to being judged.

Respect would have to be a hardline rule from my point of view. I'm used to being critiqued due to past "artistic" ventures, so with me.....you can all let fly! You ain't gonna hurt me! LOL But others? Putting something out there can be a very scary thing and they deserve to be treated properly when they get up the courage to "expose" themselves. For no other reason than the simple fact it does take courage.OK, I'm done! Good ideas Marlene!! Nice work there Gracie! : )

andersm
andersm's picture
Point 4

I forgot to speak to point 4 re: providing background ahead of an excerpt. I agree that if a book is making satisfactory forward progress a chapter should be able to stand on it's own. If we are only providing a scene, then context may be necessary to understand what just happened. Just thinking like a reviewer on that point. Perhaps it's a judgement call on the part of the person making a submission.

As you can see I'm firmly in the middle of the road on that point.

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Splynter
Splynter's picture
To the point

Hi Marlene!
I agree 100% that some info may be required. It may be absolutely vital for the reader(s) to even get a slight hold on what the subject matter is. You're right. I think it all depends on the content of what's been put forward though. For example, if I was to provide say, chapter 27 of my Bruce tale....you have an idea already what my story is about, so you can proceed. I just find something immensley compelling to see if a battle scene ( or whatever ) stands on it's own and creates a desire to-

1...see where it goes.
2....more importantly... to see where it came from. My take on that is this, - If it can all by itself create that "need to know", the author was successful indeed.

I think the detail provided about the story beforehand could be a detractor. To a degree. That, I think as you stated, is something each and every "writer" will have to decide BEFORE they make their work public. Even if they provide no info....the questions themselves ( posed by readers about the tale ) will likely aid the story's construction in some way. Just as they will probably shore up the writer simply because people are interested it what they have created and show that by asking those questions.

Jack Whyte
Jack Whyte's picture
Article 3 and Weaknesses...

In this instance, Marlene, having taken your side against the Chief on one hand, I now have to champion John on the other. I agree completely with everything he has to say on the topic of telegraphing one's punches. Not something that ought to be approached or undertaken lightly. There's no body language in email submissions and far too many people take everything they see literally... If you hint that you might have a weakness, they'll go through your hide with a fine-toothed comb to find it. Much better to say nothing and leave the "weaknesses" for them to find on their own... Then you'll know the weakness is real and you'll recognize valuable feedback..

andersm
andersm's picture
Advice taken

I love discussions where people kick ideas around and pull them apart to make it better. It is indeed a privilege to have two very honest individuals sharing their thoughts.

I concede the point that keeping your mouth shut about your own perceived weakness is the way to go. Once you implant an idea it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Splynter
Splynter's picture
: )

Not really adding anything here. I already stated my case. BUT if you use your imagination right now.......I'm doing a "happy dance" because now I know I'm not delusional! LOL Thanks Jack and Gracie!

andersm
andersm's picture
Oh George (in my best Gracie Allen accent)

I've finally met my match in loquaciousness!

Your points are well taken and I'm sure we're going to learn our way into this unless we get an experienced pro in to set up the clubhouse and post the rules. Just sayin', not advocating.

How about practical questions like whether we post straight text or issue a pdf doc that can be opened by the user? Logistically, what kind of a massive strain would that put on the forum to run the text full straight into the comment box?

Marlene

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Splynter
Splynter's picture
Hmmm.......

Well, the "techno" stuff is beyond me as to what is better. I have no clue on that. So no opinion.

As far as the set up itself goes, I'm more of a "go with the flow" kind of guy...but rules most definitely will be needed. No matter how civil this space may be right now, that could change in a hurry when people start putting themselves out there. I for one do not want to see anyone get hurt for being creative. I've seen that before in a past life LOL and it's not nice. I've seen "nice" people in a chosen artistic field grow very bitter and nasty strictly because they encountered someone who could and did something beyond their own abilities. The sad thing about the internet in general is the simple fact that there are many out there who do nothing but. It's the old "telephone tough guy" thing. Flap your gums at a safe distance while inflicting as much damage as you can for thrills. We can't let that happen. So, rules must be in play. I would hate to find out one day that a persons hopes of writing were completely derailed because of some jealous dolt when THAT new, fragile author actually held the literary worlds Sistine Chapel inside them, just waiting to come out only to have that door slammed shut forever.

andersm
andersm's picture
Perhaps a moderator?

I get what you're saying exactly. Young authors could really get the door slammed on their fingers and choose never to enter that room again.

I don't know how big an effort it is to put comments into a holding pen until a moderator gets a chance to look them over and approve them. Newspapers have a 'report abuse' button in their comments section that might weed out the nasty types.

There's also the 'kick ass and take names' approach by other users that generally runs out the worst offenders. However, preventing problems is far superior to solving problems.

For myself, I used to manage large groups of people, shift teams at a manufacturing plant. I have a thick rhinoceros hide covered in teflon.

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Chief Scott
I'm not so sure...

Are we talking about posting things here we might want to one day publish to a broader audience? If so, we might want to think about an off-site exchange rather than an in-thread posting, which for all intents and purposes, "publishes" the work.

andersm
andersm's picture
Chief

I'm not sure I follow. Are you saying presenting excerpts from a book would technically constitute being published? I see more than a few authors on FB, Twitter and other social media publish snippets of novels under construction. I would expect this would be a golden opportunity for a novelist to throw tantalizing little bits of bait to entice readers to want the whole story and thus buy the book.

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Splynter
Splynter's picture
Me too! Not quite following.

I'm curious about your post as well Scott. Assuming you have some experience...could you shed some light? I see an "open" forum of sorts having the potential to be a really good thing in possibly.....just maybe, getting a would be writer to that next step towards the ultimate goal. If there are pitfalls to doing so, could we have a "closed" forum for those who wish to share? I'm on other forums ( mostly music related ) and they all seem to have these VIP lounge, type of things. Those are in place to keep the lurkers and troll types away from the more serious stuff, should they decide to be buttheads. Just a thought! I'm technologically deficient......so go on without me if this gets to be a hi-tech talk.LOL

Splynter
Splynter's picture
First victim

I've been thinking an awful lot about Jack's idea for a workshop type of thing starting up and I have to admit I am jazzed by the whole thing! Big time! I hope it does happen and if it does......I am more than willing to be the first sacrifice. Why you may ask? Am I brave? Na! Foolish? Maybe. Mostly it's what I've stated above. How I am used to being poked, prodded, shredded, sliced, diced and occassionally embraced for my artistic or creative endeavours, so I'm not overly sensitive to potential negatives. Having said that, if Jack and his IT team provide the doorway for hopeful writers, I'll go through first if others are willing to follow into the darkness ahead and take what may come. So, if it makes others more comfortable and helps them take that step....the first bullets from the shadows can come my way. Besides, I may be so bad...the shooters just might run out of ammo and you could all charge in, safe knowing that every last ounce of hot lead was wasted trying to take out the longhaired, skinny, big-mouthed dude! LOL

Seriously though, the way I see it, the very worst that can happen as a result of one's honest efforts to create a good story and then sharing it with others, is...............nothing!

andersm
andersm's picture
I'm looking forward to it

I hereby award you the Order of Canada for having an adventurous spirit.

I'm still a bit perplexed on how this is going to work logistically. A word limit may be in order, at least just to get started. We could begin with just a scene and work up to a chapter. The quickest and easiest way is just copy and paste with something simple., you know, just for practice. Heck, why am I saying you - it could just as easily be me. There's an old business adage that progress is often halted by "paralysis through analysis."

For the next couple days I'm a bit stretched for time - writing a eulogy today, delivering it tomorrow and Sunday is a wash. So, if you post anything it may be awhile before you get any feedback. I will do my best, though, I'll get on here whenever I have the chance.

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Splynter
Splynter's picture
Award? Na...not me : )

First off Marlene, my sympathies. I never know what to say in such situations, so if I fall flat on that, I apologise.

As far as the "shop" is concerned, I have no idea as to how it would be done. Beyond email and such....I'm in the woods. Without a compass or flashlight! I hope it happens. And you're right. You can go first! LOL I only offered because I know how scary it can be for people who have never put themselves out there like that. And I'm cool with it. The first time I displayed a piece of work for public scrutiny I was terrified. I got over that real quick when I took in the positives and negatives and discovered the reasoning for both.

So, no medals for me.I'd be happy enough in showing something I created and having it well recieved. If I can do that? Who needs medals? Besides, I'm an 80's long haired rocker type and that kind of flash doesn't go well with my daily garb! LOL

John

andersm
andersm's picture
Thank-You Mr. 80's rocker kinda guy

John,
Just popped in for a bit. First of all, thanks for your expression of caring. It was a friend and we knew it was coming for quite awhile. The request to do the eulogy only cropped up Friday morning.

I'd be glad to go first and as soon as I get some personal things out of the way I'll hunt up a passage that isn't too long and and is self-contained enough to stand alone. I'll open a new discussion forum and post there. We'll figure out whether we can cross the river by walking out on the ice until one of us falls through. :-)

Marlene

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Cathy
Cathy's picture
A thought

You know, I've seen message boards that have certain sections in them that are only accessible by those who have been given privileged access to them.

I don't know if Mark can set something up like that here, but it might be the answer to those who would like to bounce their writing ideas off each other, without said writing becoming the public domain.

It's just a suggestion.

andersm
andersm's picture
The Writing Room

Good suggestion Cathy. Either password protect the area or make submission of an original work as the rite of passage to be given a key. I'm sure Mark will know how to set that up. People like Bill Troll who incessantly posts over in the 'Jack's Belief's' forum will be a destructive and disruptive force.

Marlene

Marlene
"How you do anything is how you do everything."

Splynter
Splynter's picture
A special room

I'm sure it can be done. How involved though? Beats me. All I know is that some other forums I frequent have VIP type of set ups strictly to keep the bad elements out. Can't stop 'em all, BUT for the more serious discussions ( the ones I refer to are music related ) they have that area set aside. That way we can get more involved in what we are dealing with, without a constant barrage of the mindless "Metal sucks!" or "Rhianna is hot!" crap, that people feel is so vital, it just needs to be shared. Even when others are discussing the finer points of their chosen "weapon" and how to improve it for their own needs.

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