Saturday, May 20, 2006

Workshops - a bit of a rant

Last weekend I traveled down to Kent to give a one day workshop on writing – writing romance, writing for Harlequin Mills & Boon, writing fiction, writing sexual scenes, writing heroes, writing characters . . we covered all that and some more besides. I promised that I would give Elaine and Kelly of Elaine and Kelly’s Writers’ Workshops a mention so I’m doing it now.

But not just because I promised I would but because I enjoyed myself – the workshop was a lot of work but it was a lot of fun as well. I had a great time. I met a lot of interesting and interested people. We had some real laughs. I had a delicious lunch and some fascinating conversations – and I talked about writing. I came home happy and I hope that the women who attended the workshop went home happy too. To judge by the number of email notes I received afterwards, I think they did.

Now there are certain authors who have taken me to task for giving workshops. One has even gone so far as to say that she disapproves of me doing so. I am, so some believe, ‘Training up the opposition’ – writers who will move in on the market, get their books published, take my place – and theirs. I’m also, apparently, giving the wrongful impression that getting published is easy. That all you have to do is to follow a few guidelines and Abracadabra – instant publication.

Hmmmm! And when, I have to ask, have any of these critics ever attended any one of my workshops, real or on-line? When have they heard me say ‘Okay, getting published is easy, all you have to do is A B and C and you’re in – published – just like that’? I’m far more likely to point out the huge odds against getting published, the long waits for royalties to come in, the need to write more than one book, to build up a reader base over several years – in several countries - in order to earn any sort of decent income from your writing. What I always say about writing is that if you only want to reach the goal of publication then you’re likely to be disappointed. But if you enjoy the journey on the way there, then you’re a writer – and I hope you do get published.

The other point these critics make is that I have a ‘How To Write’ book to plug.

Well, yes – I’m not going to deny that. I do have a How to Write book published - two in fact – one of which I’m actually very proud of. In fact, so proud that I’m happy to give it a little plug here too –

Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide To Writing Romance has won two awards - the Cata Romance Reviewers' Choice Best Book for Writers and CataRomance Readers' Choice- Best Writing Reference 2004. I’ve also been told by a lot of people who want to write romance - or indeed any popular fiction – that it’s helped them a lot. Which, seeing as that’s why I wrote it, makes me pretty happy.

So there – I’ve now ‘plugged’ my book much more extensively and with a lot less effort than I made traveling to and from this workshop – or any other.

Of course if I do a workshop I’ll mention the 12 Point Guide. I’ll also mention the 48 titles I’ve had published by Harlequin Mills & Boon. Why not? These are my qualifications for giving the workshop in the first place. The reason people come to them – often paying good money to hear me speak. But I’ll not enjoy a workshop any the less if no one buys a copy of a single title. The books are part of why I give workshops but they’re not the only reason.

I like doing workshops. I enjoy the process. I get a lot out of it.

I love talking about writing - about books and the process of creating them. I can spend hours on the phone to particular writer friends who are at the same sort of point in my career as I am. I go to conferences – the RNA, RWA RWAus, RWNZ – to meet up with fellow writers and talk writing.

And I get the same enjoyment from workshops. I like having to look at what I do - often by instinct and, these days, as the result of experience and long practise, and analyze it, break it down into the steps I take without thinking. I like looking at the way the Romance genre has changed (and it has changed so much – so if you’re one of those people who think that reading a couple of books published in the 1980s will show you what’s needed in 2006 then think again). I like talking about what makes a hero for the 21st century - or a heroine – why I put in a lovemaking scene here and not there – and it’s not just because sex sells. I love it when someone asks a question about something that I’ve done so often that I perhaps don’t think about it – or don’t think about it in quite that ‘how do you .. .?' way any more.

Workshops stimulate my thought processes as well as those of my students. I get a buzz from them, get new ideas. When I set writing tasks, I work on them myself, thinking of the book I’m currently working on and how I could get to know the heroine better, or the way I could add an extra layer to the ‘onion’ I use to describe conflict. (You’ll have to come to a workshop or read the book if you want an explanation). I come home thinking of new ways to approach things, or having solved a knotty point in the plot. I’m buzzing with enthusiasm and I want to sit down and write, feeling that I love writing even when it’s not going the way I want it to.

It’s a two –way process. Questions, comments, the ‘Can I . . ‘ or the ‘What if . . .’ all renew my interest in what I’m doing, why I do it and how I do it.

Training up the opposition? Well, maybe – if a student from a course learns something that improves their work and they are then accepted (and t it has happened) then fine – but I suspect they would have been published anyway – I just helped the process along. And With those 48 titles behind me they’re not going to snatch away everything I’ve achieved even if they do have a stratospheric rise to success. In my line alone (M&B Modern/Harlequin Presents) the publisher puts out 8 books a month – that’s almost 100 a year. I doubt if any newcomer will fill all those 100 slots, no matter how good.

And what about – my ‘disapprovers’ will ask – what about those who will never get there? Those who will never be published; who just don’t have the talent and the ability? Well, what about them? If they want to come to a workshop and learn some of the realities of getting published. If they want to find out some of the processes and the techniques that go into writing creatively and polishing that creation to make it better – what’s wrong with that? I don’t put a note on my workshop handouts – only those with supreme talent may attend. I talk to ‘hobbyists’ and amateurs – to the wannabes and the gonnabes and the never- ever-in-their lifetime-having-a-chance-to-bes. Why not? If that’s what they want to learn, to know more about, then more power to them. I’ve done courses in Learning Russian - I never wanted to be an interpreter. I’ve studied, cooking, dressmaking and embroidery - it didn’t make me Jamie Oliver or Yves St Laurent or Kaffe Fasset or Stella McCartney – it couldn’t – I’m not good enough. But does that mean I should be turned away at the door? The BM studies guitar – should he stop now because he’ll never be Eric Clapton?

No. Besides, if I started to restrict my workshops to ‘the next Charlotte Lamb’ – or even ‘The Next Kate Walker’ only then I really would be training up the opposition – the ones who would be likely to grab my spot in the schedule and run with it. But I also wonder how would I know? You only have to look at the phenomenal success of J K Rowling to see that no one can ever truly predict what books will take off and when.

So I’ll continue to run workshops when I have time – which isn’t that likely with a four book contract on its way to me. (If you want any details check out the Appearences page of my web site for dates and places) And I’ll continue to enjoy them. And if you’d like to come to one, you’d be more than welcome – whether you’re there for fun or to study writing seriously. Because I know that I’ll get as much back from them as I give out. I’ll enjoy the experience, I’ll possibly make new friends, I’ll see new places.

And yes, I’ll probably sell a book or two as well – Can’t be bad!


Anne McAllister said...


Workshops are always a two-way street. There are other perks besides. Hugh-in-a-towel springs to mind!

Diane said...

I think those authors who say you are training up the opposition are very insecure or jealous. They must know that not many full time writers earn a proper full time wage and often teaching and instructing is a valid way of making ends meet. Perhaps they'd prefer us to starve in our garretts ... as they must surely do. (Sorry, but I felt a soap box moment coming on.)

I love teaching. I love experiencing the thrill of someone finding out that yes, they can write. Yes, someone will publish it. And yes, they even get paid for it too. We've learnt hard lessons over the years and this is our way of helping others overcome that.

I also enjoy helping those who just want to write for their own benefit. Why shouldn't we help them learn the craft? Didn't I attend workshops and courses when I was starting out? Perhaps that's the problem, maybe they didn't.

Anyway, I'm all ranted out now.

The migraine is much better thanks.

I'll, erm, go shall I? :o)

Anonymous said...

Workshops, whether other "writers" think so or not, are important. It's not about us fledlings coming in and taking their spot as it is about us coming in and showing the world that there is more than one way to write a story.

I wish, Ms. Walker, that there were more authors like you--that were willing to show us youngins the ropes of what it means to be a successful writer. Thank you for doing exactly that.

Anonymous said...

I love attending workshops, particularly the ones that make a lightbulb go off in my head. If I learn not to make a certain mistake from a workshop, great!

Thanks for sharing your gems of wisdom with us!

Anonymous said...

If the comments I have received since Sunday are anything to go by, you did a sterling job and the participants went away inspired and bursting with ideas. The notion that you are giving away info and therefore jeopardising your own potential sales is ridiculous! I hope you continue to run your workshops and give as much encouragement to other attendees as you gave to ours on Sunday. we shall certainly be back in touch regarding booking a follow up session.
kind regards

Anonymous said...

It's so weird--I teach school. School is compulsory. Will most students use everything they learn at school? Will everyone who studies physics become a physicist? No way. Will everyone who studies Shakespeare become an author or a writer? No way. Is it agreed that it's a good thing to study this knowledge anyway? Of course. In this country it's seen as a basic human right to be educated.

I don't understand how choosing to be educated, and to educate, in any fashion can be condemned. (Well unless you're teaching people to make nail bombs. But romance adds much more pleasure to the world than nail bombs.)

Susan Rix said...

Wow! Can you believe some people?! How insecure are these other authors? And how selfish! Competition is a healthy part of life. It's what motivates us to strive to be the best we can be, in whatever we choose to do.

Okay, some of us aspiring writers may not make it to publication. But why should we have our dreams taken away from us, if we are willing to improve our chances by learning from successful authors who are willing to share their experiences?

One of my biggest goals is to achieve the status of published author, so that I too can become qualified to help motivate and inspire others to achieve their dream/life's ambition. IMHO anything is possible with the right drive and determination.

Kate, I would like to thank you for taking the time to help aspiring writers. One thing I have never heard from a successful author is how 'easy' the road to publication is. In fact, the opposite is true. I imagine that many wannabes give up when they realise it's far from easy.

Sorry for my long post/rant.

PS. I have read many excellent 'How To Write' books - including Jean Saunders and Mary Wibberley. What (for me) makes your 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance the best so far, is that you are writing specifically for aspiring writers who are targeting HMB. You explain what is meant by the 'emotional punch' and 'conflict' that HMB demand. Without your specific, direct advice I wouldn't be able to address the areas HMB have already told me my writing lacks. I know that with your advice I have no reason not to make it to publication (unless I've lost the ability that HMB identified 10 yrs ago, which is a distinct possibility, lol).

Without your book spelling out to me what these things actually are, I would be no further forward.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you all the way on this one. And I've already stated publicly that your book is one of the few really good 'how to' books on the market because it's practical rather than an ego-trip.

I agree that some people think that writing a book is a way to get rich quick. However, if they do their research properly (or listen to what you're telling them) they'll soon discover it's not the case.

And hopefully what they'll also get from your workshops (as I have at the RNA ones you've given), whatever their reasons for writing or stage of career they're at, is a renewed pleasure in writing as well as learning something new (or a new way of looking at something they thought they knew).

As you say, some people just want to learn a bit more about something they enjoy (like your husband - and me, for that matter - with the guitar) and keep it as a hobby, and others will go on to make it their career. There's room for all of them. As for those writers who disapprove: what gives them the right to tell people what they can and can't do? I'm going to be pretentious and quote Yeats here, because it's appropriate: 'Tread softly, because you tread upon my dreams.' Something, maybe, they should think about isntead of being curmudgeonly.

Rant over from me :o)

Anna Louise Lucia said...

No, can't be bad at all, Kate! Your workshops are always a huge boost - and I'm sure you learn from them, too!

We should never stop learning. That being so, good people should never stop teaching.

Thank you for teaching, Kate.

Kate Walker said...

So glad to see so many comments in agreement

Yes, Anne, I so agree - workshops are definitely a two way street.
And oh yes - Hugh-in-a-towel - specially Hugh-in-a-towel projected on a BIG screen - that really perks up any workshop!

Diane - you're welcome to rant any time!
I'm glad the migraine has gone

Hi Dominic - there are plenty of auhtors happy to give workshops - we'll try to show the ropes but of course we don't have all the answers. But we can say how we do things and hope it helps.

Hi Michelle - I think I can tell when someone has one of those lightbulb moments in my workshops - I can practicallly see their face light up and hear the 'penny drop'! It;s a great feeling to think you've helped someone 'get it' on a point that has been fuzzy before.

Hi Kelly - thank you for your part in organising the workshop. I'm so pleased everyone enjoyed - and hopefully benefitted from it. It would be great to see you all again in the future.

Julie - exactly - Learning is learning - we all take as much as we can from each subject to the level of our abilities - no one guarantees that a few Chemistry lessons will give you a Nobel Prize or some such thing

MS Creativity - I'm glad to know I;ve helped. I do hope you can get back to the point you were at before - and move forward - good luck - let me know if you get any good news.

Kate H - I knew we'd agree - and thank you for the compliment on the 12 Point Guide. I tried to make it practical - remembering the questions I'd been asked in so many workshops, I tried to answer them. And the Yeats quote ain't pretentious - as a matter of fact it was in my mind too. Great minds

Anna - thank you - it's always a boost to see your smiling face at one of my workshops. Even though I've done plenty, I still get the twist of nerves in my stomach so seeing a friendly face does help. I wish you every luck with your own writing too

Anonymous said...

I'm with Diane regarding authors who talk about "training up the opposition". They obviously can't think much of their own talent if they believe they'll so easily be knocked off the top spots.

I really and truly don't understand why anybody should worry about giving false hope to those who don't have a chance. I've never attended a workshop, as such, but being part of Penny's group has made a huge difference to the way I view my writing and has also given me far more faith in my own ability. I can't see how that can be a bad thing. If I never make it to publication, well then it wasn't meant to be. But I'll have had a good time along the way and surely that's just as important. Like you, I've also attended various courses even though I had no intention of using the knowledge in my professional life. Blimey. It's almost as if we're not allowed to do anything just for fun anymore!


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