Climbing out of the Envelope

Just because my life wasn’t hectic enough, I recently decided to add one more activity to my already over-booked schedule. But I’m not allowed to complain because I did this to myself.  Besides, the payoff is already enormous.

I signed up for a free writing workshop taught by one of my new heroes, Ami Hendrickson, and I swear I come home every Wednesday night with my brain exploding with new knowledge while my newest book is screaming to get out of me. After an hour and a half in her workshop, I can see so many places in my work where I’ve done something wrong.

At the same time, though, I see so many places where I’ve done something right.  And then I get all giddy and self-congratulatory because I got it right without really knowing exactly how I got it right.

Here’s the thing. I’ve always been a strong believer in continuing education. I will never know all there is to know about writing; I will never reach the point at which I am the best I am ever going to be.  Being a good writer is all about learning and growing, evolving into something bigger and better with each story or book that I write. I am constantly working my way through workbooks and how-to manuals and I take every RWA class I can jam into my schedule. I read articles and blog posts by people like Kristen Lamb and Ryan Lantz, and I absorb every possible bit of information I can find.

But I haven’t taken an actual sit-down creative writing class since my college days. And to be perfectly honest, Dr. Schiffer was more of a facilitator than an instructor. He would sort of throw topics at us and then sit back and nod sagely when we read our assignments aloud the next day. We were a bunch of college kids who went a little crazy with the lack of structure or rules, and I seem to remember that we wrote some really bad stories and poetry with a lot of swearing and sex simply because we had no one telling us that we couldn’t.

The greatest thing I learned from Dr. Schiffer was his insistence that “you can’t climb out of the envelope with your work.” When we read our work out loud in class, he wouldn’t let us spend any time on setting it up. It had to stand on its own, without any introduction or explanation.  Over the years, I have remembered that bit of advice every time I complete a story or novel and put it out there for critique or review.

Now, thirty years later, I’m attending a workshop that is absolutely blowing my mind. And not just because I’m learning about ways to structure my books better. I’m learning how to better mesh my blog with my books, how to turn a “great idea” into something more, and how to write faster, more efficiently. Even more important than all of that, Ami Hendrickson is teaching us about networking with other writers at our same level so we can help each other and grow together.

Once again, I’m delighted to discover that truly professional and successful writers are all about support, all about raising each other up, all about helping each other and learning to accept help when we need it. Our work may have to stand on its own, but we don’t have to. We stand with each other.

Yeah, I have to say it again: I love being a writer. If you love it too, take the time to find a workshop or class or some kind of in-person experience with other writers. You stand to gain so much more than just a little bit of knowledge.

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