Lessons Learned at a Writing Workshop


Quick Tip Tuesday

I was honored this weekend to be a guest at the MystiCon science-fiction and fantasy convention in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. I had the privilege of being asked to be one of the panelists on Allen Wold’s famous (or infamous) writers workshop.
Allen is a good friend and mentor to me. He’s one of those people who bring more energy and more life into the room when they enter it. Allen and his family have always been very kind with their hospitality and their time. Furthermore, Mr. Wold knows his way around a good bottle of scotch, I can assure you. Author of many novels, anthology collections, and non-fiction works, he is amazingly patient, forthright, and supportive with the fledgling writers he welcomes into his workshop, which he has run at numerous conventions for over 25 years.

The other gentleman on the panel was also a good friend and exceedingly talented writer, Mike Allen. Mike is a local arts and culture columnist, author (his first novel, The Black fire Concerto is excellent and highly recommended) and editor of the critically acclaimed anthology series, Clockwork Phoenix, and the long-running poetry magazine, Mythic Delirium. Mike’s work has been nominated for both a Nebula award and the Shirley Jackson Award.

Needless to say, I felt like a bit of a schlub between these two guys, but I endeavored to do my best to keep up with the big dogs.
If memory serves, we had about sixteen individuals show up for the three-hour workshop, split into two days of the convention. I have sat in on the panel for Allen’s workshop before and I highly recommend that if you are at a convention where he is running it, you sign up. I learn a lot every time I do. This past weekend was no exception. To those of you who write for a living, much of this may seem like old hat, but in my opinion, revisiting the fundamentals is never a waste of time.

writer workshop 2016

A few quick observations:

Lead strong, hook ’em, and keep ’em hooked: This advice given to several of the workshop participants made an amazing difference between draft one and draft two. The sooner you get the reader’s attention and begin to unwind the reason for your tale, the stronger the likelihood, your reader will keep reading to learn more. Novels can afford a little more leisurely pace…but only a little, and for short fiction, a strong, powerful hook is needed right out of the gate. You may only have a few sentences of an editor’s attention before they decide to keep reading or toss the Manuscript—make them count.

A place for every word and every word in its place: A few times, the workshop participants would throw out a word that would hit the ear wrong. I found it very interesting that usually all three of us panelists would latch onto these clunkers when they popped up. In the feedback from the first draft, we would point out these ill-used or placed words. It was amazing how changing a single word, or eliminating extraneous words tightened many of the writer’s work and made many of the second draft’s pop.

It’s not you, it’s me: There were times when we all caught the same things in the drafts and agreed, and several times where we didn’t agree. So much of writing and editing is subjective and the success or failure of a submission may rest on which editor reads it. While there are many things that automatically disqualify a submission, even a technically perfect short story or novel manuscript may just not be a particular editor’s cup of tea. It’s something someone who has worked with many different editors know instinctively and that knowledge is part of how a good agent makes their money. But for someone with little experience in the profession and few contacts, it can be befuddling, and discouraging. Allen’s discussion of this issue actually seemed to put some of the workshop participants at ease.

I had a great time in Allen’s workshop, I always do. And I have to say that the second drafts I read were all on their way to becoming really exciting short stories. I think that it’s easy to forget when you hang out with a bunch of folks who write for a living, how many people dream of doing just that. Spending time with people who are passionate about learning the craft and bringing their own drive and imagination to their work, it always makes me thankful for the opportunity I’ve been given and renews my passion to write.

Rod reading

brotherhoodShameless plug time: My new novel, The Brotherhood of the Wheel, publishes today from the great folks at Tor Books. I’ll be at numerous signing and reading events this month and next to support the book. Please check out my website, rsbelcher.net for details. I hope to get to see some of you folks at events. Please drop by and say hello.

A press conference at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference in Roanoke, Va announces its new affiliation with Curio, a Hilton Worldwide brand that features more "boutique" hotels. Hilton President and C.E.O. Christopher J. Nassetta, Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands, PhD, Dianna Vaughan, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Curio, Roanoke Mayor David Bowers and General Manager of The Hotel Roanoke Gary Walton speak at the event. The Hotel Roanoke is co-owned by Virginia Tech and The City of Roanoke. (David Hungate for The Hotel Roanoke)


R. S. (Rod) Belcher is an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor and reporter.
Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice, and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s done Masters work in Forensic Science at The George Washington University and worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly.
The Grand Prize winner of the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Anthology contest, Rod’s short story “Orphans” was published in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 9 published by Simon and Schuster in 2006. It was his first professional fiction sale.
Rod’s first novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was published by Tor Books in 2013. The sequel, The Shotgun Arcana, was published in 2014 and the third book in the Golgotha series—The Queen of Swords is currently in production. His novel, Nightwise, was released in August 2015, and his latest book, The Brotherhood of the Wheel will be published by Tor in March of 2016. Sequels to both books are forthcoming.
He lives in Roanoke Virginia with his children, Jonathan, and Emily.

Contact Rod at:

Website: rsbelcher.net

Facebook: Author RS Belcher

Twitter: @AuthorRsBelcher


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