I just returned from a four-day workshop called the Novel Writing Intensive taught by best-selling authors Robert Dugoni and Steven James. I’m not one to make egregious, hyperbolic statements, but the workshop was a transformative experience, one that I believe will take my writing to the next level and help me get over the hump of publication.
Yes, it was that good. If you’re an aspiring author, I’d highly recommend it. Getting the insight from Bob and Steve on what it takes to tell a good story is like figuring out where the last few pieces of a 10,000-piece puzzle fit and finally getting to see the picture on which you’ve worked so hard. They helped me see a few things that, although now obvious, weren’t so obvious just a few days ago.
For example: character point-of-view (POV). I didn’t realize that I had inconsistencies in the POV in my novel until Steve pointed it out when he reviewed my draft. Unless you’re writing with an omniscient narrator, which, by the way, is rarely done nowadays, your POV is of one of the primary characters. It shouldn’t shift within a given scene, and the POV should only be used for key characters. When I look at the notes on my draft, Steve repeatedly points out my shifts in POV. At first, I didn’t really understand his comments, but once he explained it in the critique session and later in a class, it made perfect sense, and I began to understand the importance of it. Now, I can go back and make my draft so much better because of his input.
Another example is author intrusion. When you’re writing in third-person, there’s a tendency to explain things or give a lot of character history, which amounts to author intrusion. How could Bobby knows how Mara feels when I’m writing from Bobby’s POV? He can’t, so if I write about Mara’s feelings when I’m in Bobby’s shoes, it’s author intrusion. This is very easy to do and overlook when writing a novel. Now, I know this, and I can be prepared to edit it out.
There were many, many lessons over the four days, too many to put in one blog post. Going into the four-day weekend, I had hit a rough patch in my writing. I was between projects. I had gotten less-than-positive feedback on some of my drafts. In short, I was frustrated and losing momentum, which is very important when you have only an hour a day to write. After attending this workshop, I feel re-energized. I feel like I know what I need to do. I have a lot of work to do, but I can see the path forward clearly. I needed this weekend. I needed this time with Bob and Steve and my classmates to look at things from a different perspective.
Writing is lonely, isolating work. I sit in my chair and pound away on the keyboard for months with no feedback or stimulus and then I open up the kimono for all to see. The whiplash effect of that process can be demotivating sometimes. I can see why people like J. D. Salinger and others have willed themselves to disappear. Sometimes, the worlds you create are much better than the reality in which you live. Sometimes, the words you type soothe you into a complacency that makes you believe everything on the page. Sometimes, you need something that throttles you awake and shows you a different perspective. The Novel Writing Intensive was just that. I needed it. You may need it, too. Check it out at the link above. You won’t be disappointed.