Friday, November 15, 2013

The Final Polish* - A Writing Workshop - A Writers Weekend

* "Polish" as in "make shine", not the nationality.

The thing to be polished was, of course, a manuscript. Of which I have finished two this year. So what better time to go to a writing workshop on revision? And what better location for it than London, the city of Dickens and Shakespeare? And what better occasion than over a long weekend, to make it a three-day mini-vacay?

Basically, signing up for The-Final-Polish Workshop over the Halloween weekend was a win in all directions. The workshop was initiated by SCBWI and lead by published author Sara Grant and her agent Jenny Savill. Thank you both for this amazing experience. I learned so much and can't wait to apply my new knowledge to my manuscripts.

Of course, said manuscripts are only first drafts. They need not simply a polish but an entire cleaning blitz, including soap lathering, scrubbing, rinsing and wiping-down. Then - maybe - they will be ready for that final polish. But since the workshop covered the whole revision process, from macro- to micro-editing, I feel fit to tackle that next hurdle.

Another great experience was having an agent critique my pitch, query, one-page synopsis and first paragraph. How often do you get the opportunity for feedback on these things when it's not already an all-or-nothing situation? This workshop definitely popped my cherry in that departement, and it was gratifying to see that all the work I'd put into the query and synopsis paid off - Jenny really liked those.

My resulting euphoria lasted until we got to the first paragraph I'd sent her beforehand as part of the homework. I knew her feedback on it wouldn't be as positive as on the other stuff, because I'd been having trouble with the beginning of my novel. Somehow, I could never get it to feel right and truly express what I wanted it to. So I was looking forward to Jenny's professional input.

Yet I was not expecting total and complete evisceration, which is what Jenny's carefully and constructively worded criticism amounted to. Ouch! But thank you, Jenny, for softening the blow so expertly. And thanks even more for your suggestions on improving that first paragraph - namely by cutting it (and the following five) entirely.

I told Jenny about the problems I'd been having with the beginning and she came up with the most obvious answer: I'd chosen the wrong place to start the story. There was really no reason for those first six paragraphs to be there at all. Even now I'm not sure how I could miss something so obvious; I blame it on the whole not-seeing-the-forest-for-all-the-trees phenomenon. Either way, as soon as Jenny suggested cutting the first six paragraphs, a new beginning cristallized in my mind. The idea of it gave me the warm-and-fuzzies, so it was an easy decision to kill those darlings.

Not only the workshop made this a wholly writing-themed weekend. We had fish & chips at The Grapes, a pub owned by Ian McKellen and apparently one of Charles Dickens' favorite haunts. We did a little photo shoot at a bust/statue of Agatha Christie. We saw the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which made me want to reread Roald Dahl's old classic for the Xth time. We found a cool store that sold signed first editions of books in all genres to prices that made me want to cry (the most expensive we found was a first edition Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at 700 pounds), and a store that offered even bestsellers and recently published books for no more than five pounds. On the way back, my suitcase weighed four kilos more than on the way to London, all of it added by books.

It truly was a writer's perfect weekend.

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