Immersion Master Class…Or What 5 Days at the Top of a Mountain in Colorado Did for My Manuscript

From October 9 through 13, I attended an Immersion Master Class hosted by Margie Lawson. Immersion is an intensive workshop during which you receive general writing coaching and specific help with your manuscript.

So what did I get out of my trip to the Rocky Mountains for this writing workshop? Here are five takeaways:

1. Receiving terrific writing instruction. Writing coach Margie Lawson offers some wonderful craft classes online and through her lecture packets. However, some teaching is specific to Immersion.

Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)
Margie Lawson and Me (oh, and Calypso)

This was my second Immersion class, and this round reinforced what I’d learned before and added new craft knowledge. Margie not only explains principles of good prose, but provides examples so you can see how other excellent authors wield these useful tools.

2. Spending time with fabulous writers. Our writing group came from here, there, and yonder. With writers from Colorado, Texas, California, D.C., and Montreal, it was an eclectic group. Yet we bonded like a trial-by-fire sisterhood. Those who’ve attended workshops and conferences know the benefit of hanging out with other writers who share their experiences and wisdom, not to mention their laughter and chocolate.

My Lovely Fellow Immersioners
My Lovely Fellow Immersioners

Oh, and I roomed with the marvelous Jenny Hansen. That was an extra punch of fabulousness.

Jenny Hansen and Me
Jenny Hansen and Me

3. Seeing my progress. The commentary from Margie and fellow Immersioners made it clear I’ve improved my writing skills. Having Immersion experiences one and a half years apart made it easier to see how far I’ve come. It’s a bit like the kid who grows bit-by-bit, but you only recognize just how tall they’ve gotten when you scratch that pencil-mark onto the growth chart and compare it to last year’s mark below.

Sometimes it’s worth stopping and celebrating how much further down the road you are. Especially since it can be easy to get frustrated that you’re not yet writing like your novelist hero or hitting the bestseller lists or even waving your three-book contract around to your family (“See? It’s not just a hobby!”). I had the pleasure of feeling I really have “come a long way, baby!”

4. Learning my weaknesses. Before we get too worked up about my progress, this workshop also highlighted where I still need work. I’ve come a long way, but I haven’t arrived.

An edited ("Margie-ized") page from Immersion
An edited (“Margie-ized”) page from Immersion

Of course, no author arrives entirely, since there’s always something one can improve. But I know where my focus needs to turn, which writing skills require more of my attention and effort. As I edit, I’ll be looking for those problem areas and applying new skills to fixing them. If I struggle with an issue, I also know to request specific feedback from a critique partner (e.g., “Did anything in this chapter sound stilted to you?”).

5. Falling in love (again) with my story. There’s nothing quite like reading a chapter you wrote and getting all tingly-excited about your story. As I worked on scenes in the Immersion class and polished them up, I read passages I loved, reintroduced myself to characters who engage me, and stoked my desire to share this story with a young adult audience. I fell in love…again.

Ultimately, every word, every scene, every character needs to be something the author really, truly likes — such that she’s bouncing in her boots to share it with readers. And with a few more tweaks to this book, I’ll be raring to go.

While I’m partial to Margie’s excellent writing coaching, I know there are other wonderful workshops available, both in person and online. Writers can look for workshops, retreats, “boot camps,” and intensives that meet their needs. I believe such endeavors are a good investment for a writing career.

ROW80

Speaking of good endeavors, I’m back on track with A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Given my trip to the Colorado and the hard drive crash I experienced on my last night there, I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, I spent much of last week getting a new hard drive, reloading programs, and working with my tech guy to get back my files. Fortunately, all my data seems to be there. But here’s the scoop for last week:

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I met a wonderful writer at Immersion who also likes a bit of snark on the page, and she will be taking a look at one of my shorts to give feedback before I publish. I know this isn’t exactly progress on my part, but I feel good about her being able to help me edit well.

2. Read 12 books. I read The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig and Nothing Sweeter by Laura Drake. Two down, ten to go.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. During the workshop, I made some great changes to my young adult novel and got a much better sense of where my weaknesses still are. I’m ready to tackle the edits head-on this week and look forward to having a pretty, polished manuscript very soon.

So what workshops, retreats, or online courses do you recommend? And how was your week?

Synchronized Swimming and Novel-Writing

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I throw out a thread of something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life. This past week, I attended an Immersion Master Class with writing coach Margie Lawson and seven other writers.

While in our immersion experience, I analogized writing to synchronized swimming–which got quite a bit of agreement from my fellow authors.

Synchronized Swimming Team
By Pierre-Yves Beaudouin (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Above the water are women with perfectly made-up faces, happy smiles, and poised bodies, while below the surface are constant movement, coordination, and control.

Reading a brilliant novel should be effortless. Readers know when it’s not–when something pops out as inconsistent, unbelievable, boring, or hackneyed. We know when the novel isn’t doing its job. But writing the novel that appears effortless takes real effort.

“It’s hard work to make a four-minute program look effortless and elegant.” – Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt

What does that effort entail? Here are some takeaways from my immersion experience.

Every word matters. Every word/phrase must push the story forward or inform the reader about the setting, character, or point of view. It’s easy to get lazy and include passages that sound lovely or describe the character, but don’t really matter in the overall scheme of the story.

In a well-written story, anything and everything can do double-duty. The weather in a setting can convey the mood of the scene or the characters. The way a person is described can illuminate the reader not only about the character described but the perception of the character doing the describing–the POV narrator. What do they notice? The dialogue and cues show what characters reveal to others as well as their subtext, creating tension for the reader.

Here’s a before-after example of lazy writing vs. revealing writing from my WIP, a young adult contemporary novel titled Sharing Hunter:

BEFORE: “No time to lose,” Chloe said. “Did you see those other girls tonight? The vultures are circling.”

AFTER: “Hey, no time to lose.” Chloe blew a smoke ring that hovered in the air before it broke apart and disappeared. “Carpe diem, and all that.”

In the first example, the message is there. Chloe is impatient and wanting to move forward. But the latter version tells you a lot more about her character. She’s a high school girl who’s not only smoking a tobacco pipe, but she’s taken the time to master blowing a smoke ring. She quotes the Latin phrase Carpe Diem, but brushes it away with the “all that.” You get a far better sense of who she is.

It takes longer to write version #2 (And who knows? There may be a version #3), but now the dialogue passage pulls its weight.

Rhetorical devices are an indispensable tool. Most of us know rhetorical devices like simile, alliteration, and allusion. But have you ever heard of epistrophe? Anadiplosis? Zeugma? These rhetorical devices are taught by Margie Lawson through her lecture packets, online courses, and in Immersion Master Class. When used well, they bring the writing to a deeper level.

Without telling you what zeugma is, here’s a before-after comparison from another scene in Sharing Hunter:

BEFORE: Couples weave through each other, holding hands and punch cups.

AFTER:  Couples wove through the crowd in tuxedos and dresses, grasping hands and punch cups and memories.

The first is descriptive; you see what’s happening. But the latter goes deeper, gives the reader a better sense of the mood of the prom with high-schoolers all swanked-up and taking mental snapshots that will last a lifetime. Didn’t you grasp a few memories from your prom? I did.

Time and persistence are key. There is a perception among non-writers–and sadly among some writers–that books can be turned out within a few short weeks or months. I heartily disagree. I can get a first draft out rather quickly, but a novel that sings takes far longer. Winston Churchill once said, “Continuous effort–not strength or intelligence–is the key to unlocking our potential.”

It takes time and persistence–continuous effort–to go through draft after draft making sure that you have created the best novel you can. And with life’s distractions and other story ideas tugging at us, it’s hard to keep that proverbial nose-to-the-grindstone attitude and push through.

Yet a well-written novel is a testament to language and beauty and the very best that humanity has to offer. Whether that novel is a literary masterpiece or a frolic-in-the-pages beach read, readers will savor that extra effort under the surface, even if they never see what’s going on in the deep end.

Community is a beautiful thing. One of the highlights was spending the week with some lovely ladies whose novels I can’t wait to read! I shared the immersion experience with Elizabeth Essex, Sylvia McDaniel, Chris Keniston, Christina Henderson, Jaye Wells, Lori Freeland, and Kathleen Baldwin. Not only were they a marvelous group of women and writers, but they helped me with several spots in my own novel.

Being able to walk in and say, “Does this passage work?” and get their feedback was awesome. In particular, they helped me turn one meh phrase into something awesome enough that three teenage girls (my target audience) later responded with, “YEAH!” It helped to have input–not simply from others, but from writers dedicated to craft.

I’ve been so blessed with the community I’ve met through Margie Lawson’s Immersion Class, through the #MyWANA community, and through the ROW80 writing challenge.

And thus, I transition to posting my final progress report on this round of ROW80.

ROW80 Update

  • Read 8 fiction books. Done. I read 11 this round.
  • Read one craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. I finished half of this book and will read the rest in the next round.
  • Visit and comment on ROW80 blogs as a Round 2 sponsor. I missed two weeks, but otherwise I did well. If you’re on the fence about being an ROW80 sponsor, give it a shot!
  • Finish writing GOOD & GUILTY, YA mystery. Done.
  • Complete round of edits of GOOD & GUILTY SHARING HUNTER. I got about 3/4 done, but given what I’ve learned this week, I’ll be rewriting/editing again. But now I’m eager to get going and feel a renewed excitement about this story!
  • Write one short story. Done.
  • Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. Just didn’t do this one. My bad.
  • Prepare for and attend DFW Conference in May. Done.
  • Prepare for and attend Immersion Master Class with Margie Lawson in June. Done.

What have you learned about writing/editing recently? How was your ROW80  round? What compels you as a reader to keep reading?