Tips for a Leading a Writers Workshop: Part 2 – Preparation

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If you have a passion for effective writing concepts, consider turning them into workshops you can share with others.

Here are tips to help you prepare a successful workshop.

6 Tips for Preparing a Writers Workshop

1. Start presenting at small venues and move up to conferences.

I started giving workshops at my local writers group. After each presentation, I honed the workshop and slides from what I learned. I moved on to workshops at libraries and then to one-day writers conferences. For a large writers’ organization, I’m leading a month-long online workshop.

To develop a workshop’s content, try writing blog posts on the topics you want to cover.

2. Restrict the number of topics covered to what easily fits the presentation’s time limit.

Err on the side of finishing early. Build in time for questions, exercises, and unplanned tidbits.

I have a workshop that offers fun techniques to improve scenes. The first time I gave the presentation I ran out of time, partly because I thought I had ten minutes more than I actually had. In preparing for a second workshop on this material, I realized five techniques were too many. One was more complicated and less fun than the others. I cut that technique. The improvement supported the saying, “kill your darlings.”

3. Include examples and stories.

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Many participants need applications to understand principles. They enjoy hearing stories that support ideas. Stories are a welcome break from stretches of listenig to information.

During lunch for one engagement, I told the woman beside me I’d appreciate feedback on the maiden launch of my presentation. She said, “Don’t cut any of your stories.”

4. Prepare slides that don’t overwhelm participants.

Limit word count on a slide to 40 words. Break up a 120-word slide into three. To send participants a cohesive document later, turn the slides into a document that puts dot points on one topic together.

For detailed teachings, include examples.

Provide simple tables, graphs, or screenshots to show a process’s steps.

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To break up the monotony of words, choose photos that complement your points. Make sure your photos belong to you or come from sites that give permission to use them. I use free images on Pixabay.

Slides should have plenty of “white” space. Make backgrounds a light neutral color. It’s easier on participants’ eyes than stark white.

5. Offer documents participants can review at home.

Convert slides to a PDF or Word document to email later to those participants who request them. During the class, supply a one- to two-page handout to jot notes on.

I recently attended a writers conference. Packed into seventy-five minutes, each workshop offered rivers of information, principles, tips, and examples. I tensed trying to listen, process, and take decent notes. When the presenters promised to send the slides or handouts to us, I relaxed, listened intently, and jotted a few supporting notes.

6. Besides practicing, time your presentation.

I time talks at least twice to learn how much time they use. After I start my stopwatch, I speak calmly and slowly. If there’s not sufficient time for speaking, questions, exercises, and extra tidbits, I tighten my presentation. Knowing I have plenty of time for my talk is huge in how calm I am during the workshop.

Part 2 – tips for leading a writers workshop – preparation. Click to tweet.

What questions or workshop preparation stories do you have?

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

Tips for Leading a Writers Workshop: Part 1 – Presenting

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Leading a writers workshop is a great way to meet people and pay forward the writing help we’ve received.

These tips will help you feel comfortable presenting to a group.

5 Tips in Leading a Writers Workshop – Presenting

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1. Arrive early to set up so you can fix problems with projectors and computers, chair and table configurations, and your book-table setup. No matter how well I prepare, half the workshops I’ve led had a setup glitch. The calmer I was the faster it was rectified.

 

For example, at a workshop I led at a library, the tables needed rearranging, I required a lectern to hold my binder, and the projector worked but my slides weren’t showing. My calmness allowed me to take care of my needs and see the lens door wasn’t completely opened.

At home before the workshop, close all unnecessary apps on your laptop, except your slide presentation. Set it on the first slide. I use my own projector. I carry batteries for the remote and an extension cord.

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2. As participants arrive, wander to their seat, introduce yourself, and talk to them.

Fellow introverts, it’s easy. Simply ask them what they’re writing, then put aside everything and listen to them. You’ll accomplish two things. As you listen carefully, you’ll think of something that adds to the conversation, and you’ll find out what kind of audience you have.

For example, at the library workshop, I discovered one person wrote nonfiction and songs, another wrote short stories, and two wrote memoirs. My workshop was mainly for novel writers. But during the workshop, I mentioned how the techniques could be used in short stories, memoirs, and non-fiction. This helped make my workshop a success.

3. Don’t allow outside events to rattle you. Do what you can to protect your class, such as shut a door, close a blind, or ask your host to take care of a problem. Other than that, ignore the goings-on. At the library workshop, during the entire session, two photographers snapped shots of the class and me for a library related article. My host warned me they might be there, but I’d forgotten.

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The photographers tried to be unobtrusive. I smiled at them and then ignored they were there. My job was to present my material to the class. Two benefits: I will be in an article. Free promotion. When the photographers took extra photos of me later, one said she learned much from the class.

 

4. Participants will share perfect responses to exercises. Compliment them. Sometimes others’ responses don’t apply, aren’t quite what you’re looking for, or need more to become workable. Expect this. They’re learning, and you’ve given them only minutes to prepare a piece. Never criticize. Look for anything that remotely applies, mention it, and build on that morsel.

If you’re listening, it’s not as hard as it sounds. This method allows them to hear what you say and become excited about how they can better their writing.

5. At the end, receive questions. Be available afterward for those who want to ask something privately. Thank your host, and send a thank-you note.

Part 1 – tips for leading a writers workshop – presenting. Click to tweet.

What questions or workshop stories do you have?

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

A Coincidence in a Story Can Be a Good Tactic

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I’ve blogged on coincidences, and Steven James’s article, “What a Coincidence” (Writer’s Digest November/December 2017) hits on similar ideas. But James discusses a fresh angle.

James says that at the beginning of a story, we can capitalize on using a coincidence, because at the onset of a story readers are open to coincidences. He adds that the coincidence can be the catalyst—the inciting incident—that sends the character on his journey.

That’s exactly what happens in the opening paragraph of my work-in-progress. But I’ll still heed James’s warning that the farther the coincidence gets from the beginning it becomes more unbelievable. It’ll take work to make a reader buy a coincidence mid-story. And a coincidence at the end rarely works.

So let’s test this with an example.

1. Coincidence in the beginning

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Down and out, Dillion sits on a park bench with the hotdog he bought from a vendor. He drops the mustard packet. When he leans over to retrieve it, he spots two tightly rolled cylinders under the bench that look like their formed from crisp greenbacks. He picks them up and unrolls one of the powdery cylinders. The apparent coke-sniffing device is formed from three one-hundred dollar bills. The other cylinder is the same.

This financial boon allows Dillon to reclaim his guitar from the pawn shop and pay the entry fee for a music competition that sends him on his musical career. The story is off and running.

2. Coincidence in the middle

If the above happens in the story’s middle, the reader might think Dillion finding the money too easy to get back his guitar and enter the contest. Readers have gotten to know Dillon and want to see how he solves his money problems.

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It could be more believable if Dillion considers selling drugs and is meeting his first-time contact at the park bench. The contact is checking out Dillion when a cop cruiser creeps by. The contact digs into his pockets and throws the two money cylinders under the bench and flees. Dillion saunters away from the bench. When the cops stop and question him, he tells them the man had approached him about buying drugs while he was minding his own business. They search Dillion, and finding nothing, leave. He goes back for the cylinders and heads for the pawn shop.

3. Coincidence at the end.

Readers like to see some kind of growth in a main character, or at least a realization. In this case, the story ends with Dillion finding the money cylinders under the bench, and now he has a chance to enter the music world.

Readers will be unsatisfied, even if the second scenario of outsmarting cops is employed. During the whole book, readers have watched Dillion’s downfall, and those two coincidental solutions show the reader that Dillion is lucky and little more. Readers don’t see him overcome anything. The ending based on a lucky coincidence doesn’t give readers any reason to believe Dillion will make it in the music world.

How coincidences can make or ruin a story. Click to tweet.

How do you feel about coincidences cropping up in a novel?

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong