What's that — you question my assertion? You're already doubting the memoir I haven't yet written? Go ahead, parse the definition of "workshop." Hold up the Bloomsbury group, the Algonquin Round Table, a history of Native American story tradition, the "tribe scribe," Greek orators and students, the apprenticeship of Chinese storytellers.
Truth is subjective. I offer, in all hyperbole and no qualifications: ours. Try to change my mind.
Sometimes writers, getting started, ask if I think they would do well to join a workshop. They ask if I like workshop. Sometimes they ask if they can join mine. I appreciate the urge, and understand entirely. But it's like asking if I like marriage in general, if they should get married, and then if they might join our long-standing union of nine, walk in, and be intimate.
A good workshop is intimate, even when it seems like it's not.
Once a week, every week, we get together in whatever space we have — basements, living rooms, most recently the back room of an art gallery — and share work in progress.
How trusting is that? Naked little unformed babies, that new writing. We read it to each other in all openness, putting our faith in a future of revisions. Critique is one part of the process, but there's more that develops over years of working together.Writing is never just about writing. There's an ineffable dimension to the urge, and the experience.
In part it's about needing to build a world, to tell a story, and it's about high hopes of being heard, joining an ongoing conversation.
When I first started putting one or two stories together on the page, considering sentences, and writing them down, one night I stopped by Powell's on the way home from whatever office job I had and stuck around for a reading. I forget who the author was. I went to readings all the time. Afterward, I was flipping through books on a sale table and heard someone talking in a raised voice — not yelling, but projecting, across the bookstore. A sentence sounded familiar. It was a weird sentence, fractured and jagged. It was my own work, my words. I looked up, and Chuck Palahniuk smiled back. He was with a friend, looking at books, and he'd quoted something I'd written, calling it out to me. I hadn't remembered my own written sentences the way he did, in that moment.
It was the best gift ever: he heard my voice, echoed it back, and granted my words enough value to say they were memorable. Even better, he laughed. He made writing a good time. Sometimes, I think it's that very moment that keeps me wrestling words now, still, years later, showing up, putting my work out in the world.
Chuck is a brilliant writer. He's focused, analytic, and quick.
A few years after that moment in the bookstore, he came out with Fight Club, broke into the literary scene in a big way, but he didn't leave our little party. He's gone on to publish about a book a year ever since — Invisible Monsters, Choke, Rant, Lullaby... you know the long list of kickass transgressive work.
Other writers in our workshop are equally inspiring, each in their own way. Some have books out, some are so poised for publication that I can't wait to see it happen. You can read more about the particulars in an amazing piece by thriller writer Chelsea Cain, author of the Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell series.
You can find other details in the Oregonian.
Writing is hard, and a writer needs to be in it for the long haul. A good workshop keeps the practice alive. In our workshop, in my experience, we're dedicated to each other, and we're flexible and forgiving. For that I am grateful. So do I believe in workshop? I do. I believe in it deeply, but only because I believe in my crew, my friends, my writers.
It's okay if you don't believe me when I say I have the best writing workshop in all time and space. With best wishes, I hope you might have your own.
More from Monica Drake on PowellsBooks.Blog:
- A Few Scenes from My Book Launch: The Stud Book (2013)
- Elephants (2013)
- Getting Started Writing (2013)
- My Big Plan (2013)
- Powells.com Q&A: Monica Drake (2008)
- Repeating My Own History (2008)
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Monica Drake is the author of Clown Girl, winner of an Eric Hoffer Award and an "IPPY" (Independent Publishers Award), and The Stud Book. She has an MFA from the University of Arizona and is currently a faculty member at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, where she is department chair of the newly launched BFA in Writing, a program that blends visual and written arts.
Books mentioned in this post
Monica Drake is the author of The Stud Book