There were so many wonderful things going on at WIFYR. Ann Cannon’s workshop certainly ranked high for those of us in attendance.
The morning workshops are the heart of WIFYR. Carol Williams pulls in ten superb faculty members who run morning sessions. Each manages their groups differently, but the major focus is critique of participants’ work. Not only does this help improve your own story, learning to critique makes you a better writer.
Our group was particularly amazing. Time together, four hours a day, five mornings a week, creates a special bond. Ann guided our crew by encouraging honest yet positive critique. Each of us shared twenty pages and was afforded an hour or more of attention solely to our own stories. We first had to mention authors or books that inspired us, or whose style we want to imitate. Ann let workshop members share their thoughts first, and then finished with comments of her own. The opinions and open discussion of several writers gives the author a variety of options for improving their story.
I liked the routine Ann established for us. We began the day with a free write. She would put a noun, such as bicycle or dog and we wrote about it. Next came a recap of the day prior. We shared thoughts that struck us from the afternoon sessions of Martine Leavitt, J Scott Savage, or the agents and others.
Before we moved onto critiques, Ann shared some of her craft secrets. The WIFYR word was to torture your characters and Ann agreed. She suggested brainstorming obstacles for them to overcome and told us to make the situation helpless for them. Keep the characters grounded in the space/time continuum so that the reader knows when and where the action occurs. I like what she does once she’s finished the first draft. Ann prints the whole thing out, puts it in a 3-ring binder, and celebrates that she has a book. You may choose to put it away for a few weeks so that you return to it with fresh eyes. When she’s ready to revise, she rereads the whole thing, several times, armed with sticky notes. She reads it looking to insure her characters are grounded, that it makes sense. She notes on a different colored sticky when she reads for plot, and then again for character, and language clarity. Then she takes the stickies and writes herself an editorial letter, the same kind an agent would send pointing out the flaws in the manuscript. She prints it and puts it in the front of the 3-ring binder and checks the things off as she addresses them.
Perhaps the most trivial, yet notable thing she suggested was a daily affirmation of ourselves as writers. This evoked memories of Stuart Smalley’s “I’m good enough; I’m smart enough; and doggone it, people like me” from Saturday Night Live. But the idea is good. The mantra for the week she gave us: “We’re writing a book that someone will want to read.”
Thanks, Ann. We learned a lot.