I have learned a lot over the 14 years (gawd) since I taught my first graduate-level fiction workshop. But there’s no need for you to learn things like a sucker: here’s a quick quiz for you to help determine if you should ever offer (first 3 questions) or participate in (final 3 questions) an Iowa Writer’s Workshop–style fiction workshop:
1. There is a rattlesnake with a HUGE chip on its nonexistent shoulder sleeping right in front of you. Do you:
a. Step lightly around it, hoping it stays asleep.
b. Go back in the direction you came, refusing to get near it. Or
c. Take off all your clothes and poke it as hard as you can with your naked foot while yelling as loudly as possible about your inexpensive, peer-review fiction workshop.
“Figures. Big agents, then big publishing, now big toe.”
2. You notice an embittered, cynical stick of dynamite with a lighted short fuse tucked into the front of your pants. Do you:
a. Snuff out the burning fuse between your wetted fingers.
b. Carefully remove the dynamite and quickly toss it into river. Or
c. Do nothing to the fuse, do not remove the dynamite, but instead mention to it that you are going to be moderating a helpful videoconferencing 13-week workshop for fiction writers.
3. A “professional writer for 15 years” mocks your idea of an Iowa-style workshop, saying that “Clarion’s been around since the ’70s, dumbass” or “Borderlands does the same thing, fuckwit.” Do you:
a. Note that Clarion is irrelevant because it’s a $5000 full-residency retreat, not a workshop.
b. Note that Borderlands is irrelevant because it’s a 3-day, $800 “boot camp,” not exactly ideal for the measured writing and careful positive criticism your workshop will provide. Or
c. Shove dynamite in the “professional’s” pants and push him onto a sleeping rattlesnake, then RUN AWAY and do whatever the fuck you want for the writing community.
4. When the 12-student-limited space workshop is offered and almost immediately gets half its 12 seats filled (even though it doesn’t start until June 10), this shows that:
a. The chance to be guided through better writing and critiquing habits and protocols is something people see as valuable.
b. Working with one’s peers under the moderation of an experienced workshop leader may be more helpful to a writer than strutting around, peacock-like, mentioning how long you’ve been a “professional” writer who totally has books out and junk. Or
c. People who pay for a workshop (as opposed to a free loose critiquing group that talks mostly about agents and publishers) are fools, unless it is something like Clarion, something like Borderlands, something like Breadloaf, something like an official MFA graduate fiction workshop class. The fact that all of these cost, with expenses, over $1,000 is a sign that they’re good. In other words, people who don’t pay too much money for a workshop are fools. Minimum non-fool price is $1,000 and sticking your nose in the air like the snob you’ve just paid a month’s rent (at minimum) to be.
5. You’re a newbie writer, someone who’s been writing for years and years, an amateur writer, a professional writer, a writer who is entirely obscure, or one who has a following. Would a workshop like Hoade’s be a good or bad investment (of time and of $10 per week)? Why or why not? (Show your work.)
a. Good, because I want to grow as a writer, a critical reader, and as a human who interacts with other humans through written fiction and talking about written fiction.
b. Good, because I like the idea of paying a nominal fee to do an actual effective workshop than to pay thousands because the name looks good on a résumé. Or
c. Bad, because I’m not good enough to show my work. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with my terrible, crap writing that I have never shown to anyone and so I don’t actually know if it’s terrible or crappy.
Bad, because I have made money with writing or I’ve been writing for a long time or I’ve been in a workshop-ish environment before, so I don’t want to waste my time by having n00bs make inane comments on work I know is perfect and saleable already.
“I believe my letters in Penthouse speak for themselves.”
6. You think a workshop or any other gathering of writers should be devoted mainly to:
a. Talking about agents and why they won’t take you on as a client and thus suck.
b. Talking about big publishers and why they won’t take you on as an author and thus suck.
c. Talking about stories people have written with a goal of helping them improve and getting the same help yourself.
If you answered a or b to most of the above, guess what? Not only do you understand the pitfalls that one faces when offering such a workshop as mine, you also understand the value and benefit of growth as a writer and a person.
If you answered c to the first three questions above, you should immediately cease trying to hold a workshop until you recognize that there is a world of assholes who just want to drag you and everyone else down to their level of sadness, cynicism, and stagnation.
If you answered c to the final three questions above, you are mostly likely an asshole who just wants to drag everyone else down to your level of sadness, cynicism, and stagnation. Or a troll. Or someone deeply disturbed by the thought of other writers “competing” with your Everest-like achievements in the world of fiction writing. Probably all three.