Life After the Writing Workshop by Gwen Hart

Today’s blog post comes from Gwen Hart, whose poems “Flight of the Six Wild Turkeys” and “Life in the Circus” are featured in our newly published Issue 15: Desire. 

Uh-oh, you’ve graduated, and you no longer have a writing workshop to go to. Don’t despair. Here are four tips to keep you going:

Tip #1: Find your best editor and marry him or her. A few years ago, my husband and I set a deadline to finish our novel drafts before our summer vacation. At the beach, we read each other’s manuscripts and discussed them. It was one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended!

Tip #2—In case Tip #1 takes some time to achieve, form your own workshop out of trusted friends, either in person or online. Think carefully about whom should be invited and what type of rules and schedule you want to set up. The great part about setting up your own workshop is that you can create the kind of atmosphere that is most productive for everyone involved.

Tip #3: Find your own writing prompts and deadlines. Without a teacher or classmates spurring you on, you need to keep an eye out for writing prompts—conventional or otherwise. One of the things I love about The Quotable is that it provides themes to work with. Recently, I saw a call for submissions for an anthology of stories about couches. That’s weird, I thought. What story could I write that would center around a couch? I wrote the story, and although it was not accepted for the anthology, I am still happily sending out a quirky story I never would have written without the “prompt.” Also look for prompts in every day life. For example, my poem “Early Introduction to Freud” sprang from a friend telling me his daughter would not learn to drive because of the awful films they showed in Driver’s Ed. “Oh,” I said, “just don’t watch them! That’s what I did.” And then I thought, Well, I missed the chance to give her my advice, but I could still write a poem for her about own Driver’s Ed. experiences.

Tip #4: Finally, become your own best editor. One of the downsides of workshops is that they can make you doubt yourself and feel that nothing is ever quite finished. Learn to trust your own judgment. Take every opportunity (such as when a poem or story is rejected) to review and revise as needed, but once you decide a piece is finished, have faith that it will be published when it finds the right editor. That was the case for “Flight of the Six Wild Turkeys.” In fact, none of the poems I have had accepted for The Quotable were workshopped in the traditional sense. I ran them by my husband and read them out loud to trusted friends (a great way to tune in to your internal editor), and sent them out again and again and again.

Writing outside the workshop can be the best kind of writing life—give yourself permission to enjoy it!