Workshops 4 Writers

I’ve long had a hankering to offer workshops for writers but never had a space to do it in. Finally, somewhat serendipitously, the perfect space appeared, and even more serendipitously, it’s on the first floor of the little building in whose second-floor studio apartment I live. In the last few months, I’ve been setting up the space and visualizing what I want to do in it.

This is what it looks like so far. Nice, huh?

Not pictured is the chair I just bought at Chicken Alley (the local thrift shop), and also the sofa bed I just ordered; it’s supposed to arrive in mid-May. It’ll go under the window where the table and two chairs are now.

My plans are still evolving, but here’s what I’m thinking so far.

Eventually I want to have two ongoing groups, meeting weekly or biweekly. One will be a critique group, for writers who are looking for feedback on their works in progress. Fiction or nonfiction. This might involve chapters of a book-length work or stand-alone stories, essays, reviews, whatever. The other group will focus on hands-on writing: freewriting during meetings and short assignments to do at home.

Five or six is the optimal size for each group, but it might take a while to get that many guinea pigs, uh, volunteers, hence the “eventually.”

In the meantime, I’ll be offering short — one afternoon or evening — workshops on specific topics, for instance —

  • MS Word for Writers (with a focus on the Track Changes feature)
  • Effective letters to the editor
  • Writing press releases
  • Giving readings
  • What writers should know about editors (and editing)

If there’s interest, I’ll offer a workshop on reviewing (of which I’ve done a lot over the decades). That will have to be two or three sessions long, to give participants the opportunity to both write a review and get feedback on it.

Any suggestions for what else I should consider? So far I’m thinking in terms both of my own strengths and of what isn’t currently being offered elsewhere on the Vineyard. I’m toying with the idea of eventually doing some hybrid workshops (incorporating both Zoom and in-person participation), and maybe even all-Zoom workshops if there’s interest, but for now this is more than enough. We’ll see how it goes.

Z Is for Zoom

The Greek alphabet goes from alpha to omega. My 2021 A to Z Challenge alphabet goes from Audience to Zoom, and yes, I can see some connections between the two. Thanks to Zoom, I’ve been in the audience for webinars and panel discussions that pre-pandemic would have been held in New York, Washington, or some other place I can’t get to.

Zoom sing with Susan Robbins (2nd row center) of Libana, November 2020. I’m top row, 2nd from left.

I’ve participated in Zoom sings (Zings?) whose leaders were in California, the Boston area, or right here on Martha’s Vineyard. Zoom sings are a little weird because you can only hear the leader — it would be total cacophony if everyone unmuted — but they’re also cool because I try out harmonies and variations that I wouldn’t dare if everyone else could hear me.

Last fall I took a six-week online seminar on the novels of Toni Morrison. I’d been hankering to read or reread all her novels in order, and this got me started with Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, and Beloved. I’m currently doing a nine-week seminar on three William Faulkner novels: The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom! The Morrison seminar was run through a local library, the Faulkner through the professor’s home base at Swarthmore College.

When 2020 began, I’d never heard of Zoom. Who had? Now a hot topic in my circles is what we think of Zoom meetings, whether our face-to-face communication skills have atrophied, and how much some of us hate looking at ourselves onscreen.

In yet another case of old dog learning new tricks, I got a Zoom Pro account early on and have become reasonably adept at scheduling and hosting meetings and at explaining Zoom features to less-experienced users.

Writing-wise I’ve got two Zoom stories. One is about my writers’ group. In ordinary times it meets every Sunday night in the cozy parlor of one member. She provides wine, juice, water, and popcorn; the rest of us contribute baked goodies and other treats from time to time. In season there’s a fire crackling in the fireplace. When shelter-in-place orders hit in mid-March we stopped meeting. I suggested Zoom, but the other members are less tech-savvy than I am, and at 69 I’m one of the group’s younger members. It didn’t happen. Without the weekly deadline, I stopped working on my novel-then-in-progress. This may turn out to be a blessing in disguise because the current structure wasn’t working and the weekly deadline, though helpful in some ways, was making it hard to stand back and consider the thing as a whole.

Not to mention — Morrison and Faulkner have shaken up my assumptions about structure and given me some ideas, and meanwhile I’ve launched a project I’d been talking about for years: a blog/memoir based on my T-shirt collection. I’ve got at least two hundred T-shirts, and they come from all the phases of my life back to 1976. It’s now a thing, so if you’re interested, check out The T-Shirt Chronicles.

Once fall arrived in earnest and meeting outside became less pleasant, the group decided to give Zoom a try. Thanks to tech support by friends and relatives, it’s worked out fine. We’re eager to get back to wine, popcorn, and a fire in the fireplace but for now Zoom works pretty well.

My other Zoom story is short. Last May in one of my other blogs, I started a post called “Living in Zoomsville,” about the abrupt shift from in-person meetings to Zoom. I never finished it and probably never will because by midsummer living in Zoomsville had become so, well, normal that I no longer felt the urge to write about it. The moral of that story is Write it while it’s hot. Don’t put it off till you have more time. Just do it. Start now.