Author spotlight with me on OWW, the usefulness of writing workshops, and another ebook up

In the last post, I forgot to mention (because I forgot about it in the first place *g*), that the October newsletter of the Online Writing Workshop did their spotlight with yours truly. You can read it here.

I was a member of OWW for many years, and I’m sure I learned at least as much in that workshop as I did at Clarion West. My most successful short stories (in terms of award nominations), Looking Through Lace and Mars: A Traveler’s Guide, both went though OWW. Although I have to admit, the Mars story got some very strange critiques, but I was expecting that, since it’s a very strange story. My favorite was the comment that the story flatly didn’t work, because there were no characters. :) Bingo!

But one of the wonderful things about participating in a workshop is learning how to take critique, learning to distinguish when it’s meaningful for your own vision of the story, and when you can just shrug and say — okay, obviously not my target reader. (If you think everyone who critiques your story is not your target audience, you might want to think again …) Or on yet another level, when you see that the critiques indicate you have a specific problem, but you realize you need to tackle it in a completely different way than your critters suggest. Learning to analyze the effectiveness of plot, characterization, setting, and description when writing critiques of others’ works is also very educational. All these things are important tools for a writer’s toolbox, and I think participating in a peer workshop is one of the best ways to learn them. I know there are a lot of authorities out there who claim participating in workshops is a waste of time and can even be harmful, since it will lead writers away from their own original voice. But what if a writer’s original voice tends to include a lot of head-hopping in terms of pov, or doesn’t sufficiently ground the reader in the setting? I know that’s the way I wrote before I went to Clarion West or started participating in OWW, and I don’t know how I would have developed a voice anyone would have cared to read for more than a few pages without those workshops.

These days, the only workshop I participate in regularly is Villa Diodati, the face-to-face workshop I founded for writers in Europe, which only meets twice a year. So obviously I seem to be of the opinion that with time and experience, workshops become less important for a writer. Nonetheless, I think it’s silly for published writers to warn those less experienced than themselves of the dangers of workshops, without admitting that a writer can learn a lot from the feedback of other writers. Yes, if I had taken the critique seriously that Mars: A Traveler’s Guide needed some characters, I would have turned it into a completely average story about a stranded space tourist. But I wouldn’t have been skilled enough to write a Nebula-award nominated short story without everything I learned from workshops — and by that time, I also knew which advice to take and which advice to toss.

I wasn’t really intending to get into a long essay about the usefulness of workshops. Call it my homage to OWW. :)

Anyway, I didn’t get a lot of writing done this week, but I do have the first completed goal to cross off my to-do list for the last quarter of the year: I got my short story, “Misty and the Magic Pumpkin Knife” uploaded to Amazon:


Once again, I wimped out on the description. This time, I just quoted the first paragraph of the story:

Misty Mankin hated Halloween. She hated ghosts and princesses and black and orange. Especially orange. She hated frozen pumpkin pie, the most common kind in Rolynka, Alaska. She hated witches and masks and what qualified as seasonal office parties near the Arctic Circle. She hated all the interruptions of her evening accompanied by screaming and giggling and variations from innocent to profane on the three words “trick or treat.”
She particularly hated the pumpkin knife — and the fact that it contained the ghost of her mother…

“Misty and the Magic Pumpkin Knife” is a short story of approximately 5,000 words (20 pages), a new installment in the series “Tales From Far Beyond North.”

Comments and suggestions welcome, as usual. Hope everyone had a great week!

About Ruth Nestvold

Ruth Nestvold's short fiction has appeared in numerous markets, including Asimov's, F&SF, Baen's Universe, Strange Horizons, Scifiction, and Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction. Her fiction has been nominated for the Nebula, Tiptree, and Sturgeon Awards. In 2007, the Italian translation of her novella "Looking Through Lace" won the "Premio Italia" award for best international work. Her novel Flamme und Harfe appeared in translation with the German imprint of Random House, Penhaligon, in 2009 and has since been translated into Dutch and Italian. She maintains a web site at www.ruthnestvold.com.
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5 Responses to Author spotlight with me on OWW, the usefulness of writing workshops, and another ebook up

  1. Widdershins says:

    Wimped out or not, that’s a great intro … who wouldn’t want to read on?

  2. Andrea_A says:

    Nice Halloween story. While reading it two days ago, I received the daily control phone call from my mother …
    Great that the ebook is DRM-free. Does this apply to your other Kindle books, too? (Answering myself): at least to “Shadow of the Stone”, which seems to be free at Amazon.de today.

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