Friday, October 8, 2010

My Own Personal Workshop

By Susan

This time one week ago I was stranded in New York City.

I bounced between two airports with a dead iPhone after a canceled connection, untethered from the rest of the world, fascinated that New York crazy was nothing like Accra crazy, amazed that this same hot sun that baked me in Africa could kiss me in Manhattan on a perfect and cool autumn sunset.

In my transition from one continent to the other, my mind looked forward to the completion of my novel. I starting planning my next phase of the book, a phase I am calling The Splice. I visualized printing the completed 75,000 words, laying them out on the floor in stacks, and moving everything around, chapter by chapter, mixing scenes from 1950 with 1968, juxtaposing 2003 with 1965. I decided, in the middle of my travels home, that what I needed was a Personal Workshop.

A Personal Workshop is unlike any writer's conference I've ever attended. It is tailored-made for me: it's two quiet days and nights in my own house with my own favorite meals. It's a curriculum that I alone create and present. I choose the topics. I get the work done and write when I need to write. Without interruptions. I can splice it up, I can write new chapters, I can get a grip and find some closure on my sprawling, never ending story.

Alone time does this to me, this day dreaming about the end of the novel. This desire to push myself to finish it, to wrap it up, to make it final. A Personal Workshop is just what I need. I've just finished two weeks travelling alone in Ghana. My work consumed me there, the early mornings and long commutes to meeting after meeting and the cool spells after the rains where I would sing hymns with a chorus of African voices at evening devotions. Yet in my alone time, I drifted back to The Angel's Share. In the taxi between Kennedy and La Guardia, it hit me. I need a Personal Novel Writing Workshop.

My plan is simple: for my upcoming birthday, all I ask is for two nights alone (sorry family, it's for my own good.) From there, I have the weekend scheduled with times devoted to certain elements of the story where I need the most help. This workshop, unlike others I've attended, is completely tailored to me and my needs. Here are the classes I will take in my two days:
1) The Splice--codeword for "Editing" chapter order with no re-writing involved
2) Point of View (hoping for a guest lecture from Julie over afternoon tea)
3) Finding Voice
4) Writing the Difficult Chapters (yes, actually writing them, not just thinking about them)
5) The Re-Outline (perhaps with a visit from a structure enthusiast?)
6) Finding the Plot Holes and Fixing Them
7) Completing the Timeline for the Manuscript

From there, I will segue to the November whatwomenwrite retreat, where I will crank out a few thousand words in three quick days. By December, I'll have a great idea of where I am, where I am going, and when I will actually be able to say "I'm ready."

And when I say "I'm ready," it means I am ready for the next phase. Ready to call it finished, ready to find an agent with a real editor, a publisher, and move forward. Ready to catch up to my friends who have submitted manuscripts, who have published their work, who have moved on from their first novel and are now writing their second, and third, and tenth novel.

As for New York? I made a connecting flight. I finally made it home after 22 hours both awake and in the air. A bit like my novel--I'm now ready to bring it in for a landing, safe at it's final destination. Because if I'm not the one to kick myself in the pants to say "I'm ready to land," then who will? It's time. And so here's toasting to epiphany moments, and to taking the long way home. Here's to my own Personal Workshop. I'll let you know how it goes!


  1. What a cool idea! I'm not sure I'd know what to schedule at my own workshop, though. You seem very good at analyzing what your writing needs.

  2. I love this post, Susan! And I am at this very moment contemplating my POV follow-up blog post! Just need to open Word and get going.


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