I’m sure quite a few people know this about me now, but for the sake of setting things up properly, I’ll say it again. I’ve been studying creative writing for the past three years. I’m just about done with my undergraduate degree, and in the second semester of this year I’ll most likely be doing creative writing honours for another year. But over the Summer holidays (Summer being December-February, for you northern hemisphere folks), I decided to try new things to build on my writing skills so I signed up for an online writing workshop in December, and then I signed up for another one in January-February.
The first workshop was run by Jeremy C. Shipp, author of Cursed, editor of the anthology, Aberrations, amongst other things I, admittedly, had not read going into the workshop. He also wrote the short story, the Sun Never Rises in the Big City, which I have read by now, and it is fantastic. Now, the workshop ran for four weeks, and it was rigidly structured to focus on a lot of small exercises, and a couple of large assignments that involve the efforts and contributions from the whole workshop group. What we wrote and what we learned in those four weeks weren’t revolutionary new secrets no one has ever thought of doing before. It was a really fundamental course that attacked creative writing from a head-on, practical perspective. It zeroed in on all the things we should be focusing on, but are things that easily slip by the wayside and let your standards drop considerably. By doing this, we were able to get some high quality stuff out of the workshop. The techniques and skills Shipp gives us really help us to write fresh, original, and entertaining stories, and there are also some great tips on getting our writing out into the creative writing community, finding a home for our writing, getting our writing careers off the ground. Because of this, the workshop is appropriate for pretty much any writer who doesn’t already have their books and short stories published about the place. It’s a great workshop for aspiring writers to fine tune their skills before they go out into the big scary world of publishers and editors and an endless sea of rejection.
The second workshop was run by Garrett Cook, author of Jimmy Plush, Archelon Ranch, and the Murderland Series. I’ve read Jimmy Plush, and a short story of Garrett’s from the Bizarro Starter Kit Purple, and I’ve got to say, his writing is fantastically outrageous. This workshop ran from about mid-January to about mid-February, and it wasn’t as formulaic as Shipp’s workshop, but that’s because the two workshops cater to two different markets and have two completely different goals. Garrett’s workshop is targeted towards writers looking to become more involved with bizarro fiction. Where Shipp focused on basic techniques, Garrett pretty much just gave us a starting point, a basic prompt for a bizarro story and threw us into the deep end. His prompts were good, although I found myself struggling to come up with things at times. For me, I found the most valuable thing about this workshop was the feedback. One thing I find about being a writer in general is that it’s important to learn when you’re doing something right and when you’re doing something wrong (although it’s rarely that black and white), and it’s a huge motivation when other (more experienced) writers can confirm your own suspicions. I knew my first couple of stories were a little off, and it was great to hear that, yeah, this isn’t working quite like it should, maybe try doing this differently or doing that. Garrett’s good with that stuff. And because it was a small workshop, Garrett spent the time getting to know what each of us wanted to get out of the workshop, and to help us achieve this. Part way through the workshop I decided to act on a piece of information he’d given the workshop group and started working on a novella. And because he knew that myself, and some of the other workshop members had the same goal, our last assignment was to let loose and work on that. I ended up finishing a 17,000 word draft during that workshop. At the end of Garrett’s workshop, I had a bunch of scrappy drafts of really cool ideas that are totally workable.
I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Jeremy and Garrett, and maybe I’ll come back and do another workshop run by you guys sometime (I’m certainly tempted to join Garrett’s next workshop, co-run with the fantastic Mr. Bradley Sands). While my creative writing studies at university have been very worthwhile, these two workshops have taught me things I never would have learned at uni. I got an overwhelming motivational boost from Jeremy C. Shipp, and some practically critical encouragement from Garrett Cook. If you’re an inspiring writer, or if you’re a bizarro (or both), these workshops are worth both your time and your money.