I spent the last four days in a fiction writing workshop. If I take a narrow perspective, I “failed” with my writing. (It was a fantasy caper workshop with two genres: second-world fantasy and caper.)
My failure? I did not include nearly enough setting in my writing. That’s where the writer explains where we are—and the five senses: see, hear, smell, touch, and taste.
Readers might not realize when a writer misses setting. But readers don’t often read books without setting. That’s because the reading experience is unsatisfying. If a reader starts a book without setting, the reader often puts the book down within the first chapter, never to pick that book up again. Or the reader says, “I got confused,” and then puts the book down. Setting and great characters help a reader connect with the material.
Given my “failure,” this workshop whooped my butt.
However, I’m going to reframe my failure and say that this workshop clarified what I still need to practice. That’s a growth mindset reaction. That mindset helps me take responsibility for my next steps.
Experiences Can Clarify Where You’ve Been
Not every learning experience can clarify your next steps. That depends on how well you practice, and how the instructor debriefs. But even if the instructor doesn’t support understanding what you learned, you can run an ORID debrief yourself.
An ORID debrief has four questions:
- The objective question. This question is all about data: What did you notice? Or, what did you see or hear? Or, what stood out for you?
- The reflective question. What was challenging for you? Or inspired, surprised you, or made you happy?
- The insights question. What did you learn from this experience? What insights did you gain from this experience?
- The decisional question. What will you do next? Or, what might you do differently the next time?
My debrief from this workshop is:
- All of my writer-colleagues had the same problems as I did. Many of them have much more fiction experience than I do. I was not happy we all “failed,” but I felt as if we were in the same boat. I was happy to not be alone. I also noticed I hate those wacko words and names some writers use in fantasy.
- Trying to marry these two genres challenged me. I am pretty good with capers. (Not stellar, not yet, but I have the form most of the time.) I don’t read much second-world fantasy, which means I’m not that familiar with it. So marrying both genres made everything much more challenging. On the other hand, I’m happy that some of my characters were obvious to the other readers (the instructor and my writing colleagues).
- I learned that I still need to verify I have all five senses in a piece of fiction. (Hehehehe.)
- Here’s what I plan to do:
- Read more second-world fantasy. I find that reading any given genre helps me write it. (I read a lot of urban fantasy, but that was not what our instructor wanted us to write for this workshop.)
- Practice with a novella.
- Put the sticky up on my desk with the five senses.
Use the Decisions to Clarify Where to Go
I’m doing this work because I want to clarify where I want to take my writing next. I might never write another second-world fantasy, but I want to know how. So I’ll keep practicing.
Not all learning experiences are this powerful for the learner. But I love these workshops (WMG Craft Workshops) because I learn so much from them.
I’ve sold a dozen or so short stories and published six collections of my short stories. This year, I plan to write more novellas and maybe a novel. I’m sure I will learn more from those experiences, too.
That’s the question this week: How do you react when a learning experience clarifies how far you still have to go?