Monday, March 15, 2010

A Tale of Three Workshops

It’s only mid March, but I have already been in three writing related workshops so far this year. I say ‘been in’ because my role was quite different in each. The first was Confronting your Poetry Phobia at Senior College in Belfast, Maine. Upbeat all the way. Went well, ended well and the feedback was invigorating. I care about the feedback because I was the instructor. I told the class at the beginning of the first of four sessions, “You know I don’t know that much about poetry, right?” With that out of the way we were free to roll, and roll we did. I taught about meter, forms and for a good time even introduced a brand new form: the villanellie. It is a shortened form of the villanelle based, of course, on my name. Hearing me explain meter is funny enough, but I surprised myself leading a discussion about the little red wheelbarrow. (It’s a painting people; it’s a painting.) We had a good talk.

There were about 10 of us in the class and we have kept in touch through email. People have even sent me poems they have written. Just got one today and I’m honored to receive it.

I recently joined Grub Street in Boston, so in January I was pleased to go to my first class there. It was a free, one session event taught by Rick Barot, winner of Grub Street's 2009 National Book Prize in Poetry. I really enjoyed the class, checking out my new writing venue, and thought I did alright. I understood the class without making a fool of myself. I really didn’t have to do much more than show up, but I did more than that. I absorbed.

This last workshop was the zinger. It just happened this past weekend, both Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The schedule alone might have been almost too much for me, especially because I had just spent Friday in an all day workshop on Managing the Non-Profit Organization in Belfast – a good four hours north of Grub Street’s office in downtown Boston.

This one was interactive and taught by Sorche Fairbank, a Boston, no, a Cambridge-based literary agent. We had all emailed a query letter and the first five pages of our books to her before the class. We met as the group of twelve, we split into groups, we networked, we workshopped and we revised. She gave us general feedback and individual feedback. It was both exhausting and informative. Sorche clearly put a lot of effort into this.

I was surprised to be the only memoirist in the group. I sometimes hear, "Why are you writing memoir anyway? Everybody is writing memoir. The market is flooded." I thought there would be more people like me who, as I have been told, think we are or should be famous. Instead, I was surrounded by a great mix of writers and their writing, mostly fiction. It was good to be hearing about thrillers, science fiction, and romance. I thought the whole thing went well, for the most part. I already have two new Facebook friends and I’m even more sure joining Grub Street was the right next step for me.

Throughout the weekend I was alternatively encouraged and discouraged. Sometimes it seemed I had done nothing right and then I’d get some great feedback. When it was all over, a few of us were still in the room packing up. The instructor told me she hoped I had enjoyed writing my memoir and if it ever got published that would just be extra.

Maybe I needed to hear that, maybe I should have known already. I often speak in my workshop Writing Thru It that sometimes the writing is all about the process. Now I have to hear my own advice. I left the weekend workshop devastated. I may just have to enjoy writing my book. I have so far and I will enjoy polishing it up to send out to agents this spring. If that is all my work amounts to, then, I’ll just have to enjoy that. If I only get rejections, I’ll get over it. I’ve had worse news.


Joy said...

Like your attitude Ellie. Indeed, there can be much worse news than receiving a rejection.

I do have fun working out the twists and turns in my novel so yeah, I do enjoy the process.

Now you're making me want to go take on a poetry workshop.:)Pity, the guy whose workshop I used to attend passed away last year.

Ellie O'Leary said...

Thanks, Joy. Being diagnosed with breast cancer twice has been very liberating. I don't cringe in anticipation of news about writing.
I didn't think I had a lot of poetry in me, but realize there is more than then I thought. I am looking forward to reworking some of my verse when I am on my annual writer's retreat this summer.

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