Instructing a Creative Writing Workshop by Judy Penz Sheluk
I was recently approached to instruct a one-day Creative Writing Workshop at my town’s Arts Council. Now, for three years, I was a Creative Writing tutor for an online writing school, so I did have some experience, but the school provided the content. My role was simply to critique the assignments submitted as students worked towards a 20-unit certificate. This workshop was different. There were no guidelines, no previous workshops of similar nature (though there had been a few on painting, pottery, and sculpture), and to add to the pressure, the participants were all writers who had been together for two-plus years, meeting bi-weekly to share their work.
My primary concern was to provide value for their hard-earned registration money. My secondary concern, albeit a very real one, was to make sure I didn’t ruin my reputation! In my town of 18,000, being a published mystery author lands you in the “big fish, small pond” category. It’s an amazing privilege, but it does come with some high expectations.
Since each one of my students were working on a variety of projects, I decided to place the focus on writing a short story with a single underlying theme. Enter THEMA, http://themaliterarysociety.com, my absolutely favorite literary publication. Based out of New Orleans, THEMA publishes three issues of short stories and poetry each year: March, July and November. Each issue has a theme, a deadline to submit, a promise to hear back (yes or no) AND payment of $10 to $25 depending on length.
Before the day of our course, each registrant was given the guidelines for the July 2018 issue (deadline March 1). Theme: New Neighbors.
The day of the course, participants handed a print copy of their story to the rest of us. After reading out loud, we would critique in an honest, but constructive manner, with me going last so as not to influence others. At first, the group was timid in their critiques, something that surprised me since they’d been together for so long. It seemed they’d become friends, and didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Here’s the thing. A good friend, and a great beta reader, is above all else honest. It’s not about bashing the writing, but helping to hone it. “What if Jane cried, instead of saying, ‘You hurt my feelings.’”
At the end of the day, the group became more comfortable speaking out, and I hope they continue to do that in their future meetings. As for THEMA, all but two writers decided to submit, once they’d fine-tuned their story based on our feedback. Will they be successful? Maybe, maybe not…but even if they receive a rejection letter, at least they tried. That, in my opinion, is the most important thing. Because every writer, even the bit names out there, have faced rejection. You just have to take it as encouragement to keep on trying. Write on!
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Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC)
Judy’s short crime fiction appears is several collections, including Unhappy Endings, three flash fiction stories previously published in THEMA. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario.
Find Judy on her website/blog at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews and showcases the works of other authors and blogs about the writing life. You can also find all of her books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Judy-Penz-Sheluk/e/B00O74NX04