I am having an AMAZING time at the Writers’ Conference this week. I am in a group with others who are writing novels and we each brought our first chapter to “workshop” with each other. To those who haven’t heard this term, it basically means that you take something personal and intimate that you have spent a great deal of time creating and then pay people to sit in a room and tell you all of the things you’ve done wrong and must change. To be fair, they do this in a supportive way and also point out the positive aspects of your writing. I brought the first chapter of my second novel and as much as a joke, I got incredibly helpful, thoughtful comments from smart, dedicated writers who want me to succeed. You really can’t put a price on that.
In addition to the workshops, there are panels of writers, editors, agents and others who are there to walk you through the writing/publishing process. We also participate in a number of writing assignments like the ones below:
Assignment #1: 6 minutes. We began with one word – as each minute elapsed we received another word that we had to incorporate into our story. (No editing allowed, so consider that fact before you criticize!)
The words were: Two, Tour, Torte, Tortoise, Turquoise, Tranquility
It was two in the afternoon when the call came into the diner. It was the time of day when the lunch crowd had mostly dispersed, but the after-school ice cream brigade had yet to descend. Two o’clock was when all of the coffee drinkers got their afternoon fill-up and the tour buses from the shopping malls stopped in for a fill-up before once more hitting the road back to the suburbs, laden down with Christmas gifts from the city. Nola had just cut the last slice of chocolate torte for her only customer – a wannabe writer from the local community college who spent several hours a week sitting in the back corner booth staring at an empty screen, hair pulled back in a severe bun held in place with an antique tortoise shell hair clip. In the number of weeks and months the writer had spent in the diner, Nola had yet to see her actually type. She merely sat, clicking her turquoise lacquered fingernails against the laminate table. It was an interesting contrast, the old, matronly hairstyle mixed with the bright blue press-on nails. Musing about the picture in front of her, the tranquility of the diner was pierced by the shrill shriek of the old wall phone over her left shoulder. “Hello, may I please speak with Doris?” a male voice questioned.
Assignment #2: 6-7 minutes – Describe an abstract concept without using the word, itself, in the story. (Again, no editing allowed, so be kind! My concept was “Honesty”)
Twelve year old Donnie looked down at the innocent lump of brown leather he held in his hands, fat with promise. He turned to his brother, standing barefoot and swimming in Donnie’s old t-shirt. A piece of Mom’s clothesline served as a makeshift belt to hold up his Goodwill jeans cut off at the knee. Nate’s eyes were wide with hope as he pointed to the ice cream parlor as if his big brother hadn’t already seen it. Donnie shook his head silently but with great regret and yelled out to the man walking briskly down the street, “Hey, mister. I think you dropped your wallet.”