18 Dec The Write Stuff – New Year, New Writing Resolutions
At Golden Egg Academy we give talented children’s writers advice, support and learning opportunities to broaden their skills. As well as bespoke one-to-one meetings with editors and detailed feedback, our programme of carefully constructed workshops are designed to cover all aspects of the writing process, from storytelling to research to character development. Our workshops are designed to help writers refine their skills, deepen their understanding of narrative structure and the why and how of telling great stories.
Writing is both a left and right brain process, analytical as well as imaginative. Workshop content is designed to feed the whole brain, versing you in the strategic elements of storytelling as well as the sheer joy of making it up as you go along. In fact, ouroboros-like (you know that snake that eats itself in Egyptian hieroglyphs) writing great stories is a process of aligning both the analysis and creative elements effectively so they work together. If you don’t do this you can find yourself going in circles without a plot plan or planning yourself ragged with your creativity sputtering choppily, like an engine running on low-grade fuel.
So as New Year comes around and we make those promises about what we will do this year that we didn’t last, we wanted to focus on the importance of our workshop curriculum, designed to help you grow and mature as a writer.
Being an unpublished writer is hard work, but that work doesn’t end when or if you’re published, in fact the pressure can mount due to tight publishing schedules, and we have all experienced what can happen to our creative muse under pressure. GE workshops are made to help you turn a creative passion into something more reliable than the notoriously capricious writer’s muse.
Why Workshops? By Golden Egg editor, Beverley Birch
A common assumption for new writers is that the best avenue for helping your writing is a one-to-one dialogue with an editor about the specifics of your work.
In my belief, not so. Such dialogues are immensely valuable, at certain points in the gestation of a manuscript. But what they help you to see is what is/is not working in what you are doing now, the tactics and strategies for tackling those specifics.
They cannot help you delve into that vast reservoir of your own subconscious, your creativity, your ideas and mental images. They don’t open your eyes to all that the manipulation of language and its rules can achieve – or to help you discover the special resonances in narration and storyline that you may be looking for. Nor are they likely to help you enlarge your vision about hitherto unrecognised possibilities in how you want to write and what you want to write about.
Yet this ability to think and explore outside perceived boundaries – outside what has already been done – is fundamental to your growth as a writer and we all need to find ways to explore it.
That’s what the workshop experience offers. It’s an exploration, through a broad conversation with other writers; it’s a process of sharing and exchanging, hearing about each other’s experiences, processes, problems and solutions. Learning is as much, if not more, between the workshop participants as between workshop leader and individual writers. The leader subtly steers so that everything is peered into and shaken out. The leader draws the discussion together, summarises and helps structure. But the inspiration is often mined from the writers themselves, prompted to think freely, broadly and deeply, and without preconceived boundaries. The knowledge essentially comes from all of you – the sum of the parts far greater than the individual components. You emerge with a bigger armoury of story-telling weapons at your disposal, an enlarged sense of the infinite range of ways to tell a story and the richness of ideas.
For the shy – or reluctant to share their thoughts – or for those simply unused or suspicious of group discussion and used to self-reliance or one-to-one teaching, these anxieties quickly dissipate beneath the excitement of exchange and conversation with others doing the same thing as you and exploring the same questions. In fact, there is a special and unique joy in conversing with those as passionate and enthralled by the writing process as you are.
Workshops go hand in hand with the one-to-one process of personal criticism and advice from an editor. They aren’t something you move beyond, or have no need of just because you have finished a script, and are just looking for detailed editorial advice.
In my view, without participation in a range of workshops, you risk being like an archaeologist who never gets beyond brushing the first few centimetres of soil away, and never excavates the wealth beneath – a wealth in every writer, just waiting to be discovered.
Workshops From the Inside Out – by Golden Egger Kay Valley, mentored by Mother Goose herself, Imogen Cooper
Bringing Your Character to Life Workshop (An Insider’s View)
It’s one thing knowing what your character looks like, what they wear and where they go on a Saturday night, but do you really know them? I mean, do you know how it feels for them if they receive bad news or can’t find what they’re searching for? What they would do if a best friend shared something secret?
You need to get inside your character’s mind. Get away from the computer and start to think and behave like them, and that’s what this workshop was all about. (Imogen did a degree in theatre and Ben Illis, who also runs the workshop, was an actor, so don’t be surprised if you hear the term ‘Method Writing’ a lot!)
I thought I’d planned everything I needed to know about my novel until I went on this workshop. I was pushed to recall what it felt like to be seven or fourteen-years-old, all done in a fun and safe way. It helped me see the difference between recounting events as an adult and truly seeing through a child’s eyes. I shared childhood memories and was encouraged to engage with the emotions of the time, this in turn enabling me to connect my character’s actions with genuine feeling. We also looked at the benefits of keeping a character photo album, listening to their music, eating the same food and dressing the same way.
Exploring both protagonist and antagonist like this made a significant difference to my writing, showing a deeper insight into their personalities… and hopefully creating a much more natural and readable story.
Writing Great Stories
This workshop made me focus on the raw material of story… people. In all my book-mapping frenzy, creating the setting etc. I’d become detached from the fact that my YA readership will be focused on the people!
It was enlightening to clarify that my character not only has ‘wants’ but also ‘needs’ and doesn’t know it. I’d written her ‘emotional needs’ into the manuscript subconsciously, but realised I had to be in charge of them − be conscious of her reactions and reflections relevant to her needs. I’m hoping that now my character can be more active than passive as a result. I’m now clear that the ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ of my characters are linked to the heart of my story.
The workshop also showed me that I should ‘build events to reveal character’ not the other way around. This subtle shift of thinking has made huge a difference to my plotting.
Ode to the Book Map – By Golden Egger and Self-Confessed Book Map Evangelist, Andrew Wright
My introduction to Golden Egg came through the horror and joy of the BookMapping course. The BookMap© is both a form of torture and a wonderful, wonderful thing. It is also a compulsory part of the joining process, for a story without a BookMap© is like a man without his trousers, unprepared for the rigours of the day and quite likely to get into trouble. The GE BookMap© course saved my story’s life – it was a deep and powerful medicine delivered to it whilst on the life support machine!
Here’s what happened for me:
In September 2013 I was lucky enough to be accepted by GEA and to have an editorial surgery with Imogen Cooper. Over two hours I hardly shut up – ‘a gabbler me’ – as Imogen asked deep questions about the idea that had plagued me for the last five years.
It was amazing. I mean, actually talking about my story, it felt like I was clearing gunk long accumulated and what was utterly incredible was, as it fell out of my mouth, it pretty much made total sense, even the bits I didn’t think I’d quite worked out yet. Next, Imogen asked me this killer question; “So, stripping it all back, pushing past the fest and the tar, the pyrotechnics, what’s it actually about? What’s the key theme of your story? What is the message it is sending to the world?”
A knife of a query stabbing down deep into the beating heart of my story and lodging fast. And yes, I had the answer, not fully formed yet, but it buzzed and fizzed in my head all the way home and into the next week and I rapidly booked myself on the BookMapping course, by lucky happenstance, the very next weekend.
I spent that week thrumming with that killer question, and as the time passed I started to pull those themes out, throwing them down on the page as Imogen had asked me to do. She’d also said another crucial thing, a shocking and utterly counter-intuitive thing as far as I was concerned.
She said: STOP WRITING IT, ANDREW. JUST STEP BACK AND THINK ABOUT IT FOR A BIT. THINKING IS STILL CREATING. I mean, STOP writing, how can I be a writer if I stop writing, it was what I’d built myself up to do every day for the last five years, you know, writing every day, getting a word count and then rewriting that word count to death. Hoorah for the BookMap©
The next stage of my work with Golden Egg was to write the BookMap©, building on these themes and ideas, weaving together the plot from beginning to end. Creating my BookMap© was a revelatory experience, but one owing more to cool-headed spreadsheety-ness than wild creative mind-buzzing. The BookMap© is about being a grown up writer, planning your story so it meets the needs of your reader, not just fulfilling your own desire to chase words out onto the page.
The BookMap© course utterly changed the way I thought about the story writing process and it has become a big, fat tool in my writing tool box. In fact, I would never leave for a journey into the thicket of the creative process now without a BookMap© in my pack, because it makes the many wending paths through the imaginative woods, in the end, navigable.
In Conclusion – Attitude is Everything, Growth Mindsets and Your Writing Journey.
Golden Egg is a bespoke, supportive and very caring service run by industry professionals with years of experience and creative drive. As well as workshops (the subject of this post) there are the editorial surgeries, mentoring for those whose work is ready, and the wonderful and very supportive GE community of writers, including the awesome tri-annual Retreats held near GE HQ in Frome, Somerset. But it is also about you. To get the very best out of the Golden Egg service you need to approach it with the professionalism of a wanna-be work-a-day writer and the right mental attitude. This attitude is best summed up in the work of American psychologist Carol Dweck. Dr Dweck asks us to conceive of human attitudes to learning in two simple ways. Either people have a;
- Growth mindset – open to new ideas, seeing constructive criticism as useful, not negative and believing in the infinite capacity of human to learn and grow and improve, intelligence and skills not a fixed commodity, but something that can grow in perpetuity.
(ii) Fixed mindset – closed to new ideas, seeing advice as negative criticism, suffering from the genius delusion that talent is basically fixed and cannot be improved through ongoing practice and learning.
Through this lens It is easy to see already how a writer’s own mindset will determine exactly what they get out of the amazing Golden Egg support service. Those writers who approach with humility and open-mindedness grow and develop rapidly, surrounded by supportive expert advice, those who are just for their brilliance to be discovered may falter.
So, in considering whether to engage with Golden Egg ask yourself this question as you contemplate the wonder and joy that is a New Year and
your New Year’s writing resolutions. To paraphrase JFK from his inaugural address in 1961; “Ask not what Golden Egg can do for you, but also, what you can bring to Golden Egg.” The most important thing is a growth mind-set, which will mean, in the rich and nurturing soil provided at GE, you will thrive and grow in ways that will endlessly surprise and delight you.
We look forward to seeing you if you decide to join us, if you’re accepted, your writing is already showing buckets of promise and if you are ready for that journey, together we can take it to new heights in the art of story. And in the end, it is all about journeys: your journey as a writer, going to workshops, attending on-to-ones; your protagonist’s journey, fighting the bad guys, seeking the goal they need to achieve; and your talent’s journey, as you engage with new skills and ways of thinking that will provide you with the ability to be more objective about your story and help you make it the very best it can be.
How ever you’re celebrating this Midwinter festival may it be a relaxing, recuperative and good for your writing soul.