One Day To Go

Thursday evening. I sit now in a quiet bar near the campus of Kansas University. Man, I’m tired. The physical fatigue is one thing, but even more mental fatigue is slowing me down. My brain is full. I’m glad I did it this way; the two workshops are quite different. I haven’t had any real training in writing since high school, and probably I should have sought help from peers and professionals before now. I came to Kansas very comfortable in what I can do, and having no idea what the next step is.

The novel workshop is oriented toward works in progress; under the guidance of Kij (rhymes with midge) Johnson we worked together to shape ideas into well-structured novels. It was an organic process, and the novel I brought to the table was really more complete than was ideal. Massive changes to the story are par for the course. I have some work to do. The best part of the workshop is that through the discussions a great deal of the why of the craft comes out, things that are obvious once you hear them, yet they strike the grey matter accompanied by a choir of angels. So that’s good.

The short story workshop was a more traditional round table discussion, with each writer bringing three stories to the table to be critiqued by all the other authors in turn. After all the attendees hold forth, Jim Gunn, the leader, added remarkably incisive commentary, peppered with anecdotes from his sixty years in the business. During the workshop each author revises one story to be sent through the grinder again. The opinions in this group can diverge wildly, but each participant is expected to know what they are doing when they sit in the circle, and to be able to provide helpful (if sometimes painful) feedback on almost three dozen stories. Grace under criticism is a valuable asset, and I’m more than a little relieved that I managed to achieve that.

Kij had a formula for survival: Hours of Sleep + meals + naps >= 8. I didn’t hit that target very often.

So here I am, one session to go, brain full, tired as hell. I’m hiding right now. Not one but two conferences are coming to town this weekend, and our quiet workshop haven is being invaded by the hordes of people coming to talk about writing. It’s an important opportunity for me, a chance to make connections. But not tonight. There hasn’t been much alone time for me in the last two weeks, what with having a roommate and no other place to hide. I’ve been pretty good at being social so far; the other people are right friendly and I’ve had a great time getting to know them, but tonight I need a little time to myself. There is baseball on the television, the announcers are saying stupid things, the local pale ale is not bad, and the fizzing sound in my brain is receding.

The question, of course, is what I bring home from this shindig. My brain is full, but in the next weeks we’ll see whether I can install enough shelving up there to store most of what I’ve learned.

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