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Writer School – Day One

Four hours of school yesterday, focused on the essential skill of manuscript critique, which will be much used, developed, and honed over the next eleven months, as we workshop each other’s work. I’ve been doing manuscript crits with my online writing group (yay, PCG’s!) for years, but it’s always good to know the parameters and format being used, and to get a general sense of the group’s approach to and tenor of critiquing. And it was a useful session.

Workshopping is about unpublished work that’s destined to be revised, and thus is different from reviewing final or published work. Workshopping is supportive, and it’s about the piece, and what works and doesn’t work. It’s not about whether the reader like the piece, it’s about whether the piece works. We will be workshopping pieces that aren’t our usual fare, in subject matter, tone, or genre. We don’t have to like everything we read, but we do have to be able to separate ourselves from someone else’s work, to be able to see and critique the work on its own terms. In a workshop, you are on the writer’s side. You want them to succeed.

The goal of workshopping is to make the writer excited about revising their work.

I think the discussion, and the practice workshops we did, got the class excited to start giving and getting critiques. Pretty sure it wasn’t just me, anyway.

We’re still getting to know each other, and some of us are slower than others. I can name a few of the members of my mentor group – Sean, Jordan, Trevor, Cormac, Samira, Anne – and a few of the other people in the general cohort* – Trace, Margreet, Deepthi, Jacquie, Soraya (or is it Sorya) – but not everyone yet. And I can’t for the life of me come up with the name of the lovely woman I had lunch with yesterday. I truly truly suck at remembering names until I’ve met someone at least three times. Apparently even if we’ve gabbed over a pub lunch that was just the two of us. (Yes, we went to the pub. We don’t get many sessions that include a lunch break, and I’m worth more than food-court sushi. I’ll bet I was the only student who had a beer at lunch. It’s been that kind of week.)

Oh, and as I left the building after class, I discovered the Vancouver Pen Shop (which doesn’t have its own website – why???) across the street. So, a pub at the back, a bookstore downstairs, a library upstairs, and a pen shop across the street. Is this a fantastic location, or what?

*according to yesterday’s handout, the etymology of the word “cohort” translates roughly to “those who are in the same yard or garden”; co = with; hort = hortus, with the same root as horticulture. The handout notes its military usage, but sticks with the ‘garden’ theme. TWS describes its writers as tending the same garden, but I get a silly sort of delight out of thinking of us as growing in the same garden. Runner beans for poetry, potatoes for non-fiction, cauliflower for fiction, Brussels sprouts for the cumbersomely named ‘speculative fiction and young adult fiction’. I’m not sure why I’m picturing us as food rather than flowers, but I am. Well, it worked my head.

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