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  • Beth Saunders

Why Workshops?

Updated: Jun 9

"The more you read, the more you will write. The better the stuff you read, the better the stuff you will write." -ANNIE DILLARD


I'm a horrible saleswoman. Just ask my husband. Years ago, we were living in the garden apartment of a brownstone in Brooklyn where people hosted stoop sales every weekend. Eager to get in on the action, I displayed the flotsam from our apartment and sat on my stoop, ready to make a deal. Except I was horrible at it. Someone would offer me $5 for an old vase, and I'd tell them they could have it for $2, or $1. Or, you know what, just take it. It's free.


What does this all have to do with the Dillard quote about? Don't worry, I'll get there, but first another quote. Aside from a year in publishing, I've worked in education and nonprofit my whole life. I've never been concerned with making a profit. And now, here I am selling something I believe in. I ask myself, how do I quantify what a workshop can do for a writer, and I'm reminded of what Stephen King talks about in his memoir, On Writing. "Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground ... Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. Writers should be like archaeologists, excavating for as much of the story as they can find." This is how I often see myself as a workshop leader, like a guide driving the archeologist around, pointing out some good places to dig, providing the right tools. But it's the archeologist who must follow her intuition to decide exactly where she'll dig, where she'll begin.

Back to the Dillard quote. What else can I offer? Maybe a guidebook or an example. I've found oftentimes the most illuminating moments in workshop are when I or another writer recommend a story or novel that a writer should read. Your mom or best friend or know-it-all- neighbor cannot do this for you, no matter how hard they'll try. You are not interested in what everyone else is reading, in the latest book club book. You are interested now in what you can read that will help you write better. That will make you look at your own story through a different lens.


And of course, you would never have gotten to that point of taking your writing seriously if you hadn't joined this group and had these conversations. Writers need to be with other writers. It's too lonely to do it alone. We can help each other and give each other deadlines and feedback and fresh ideas. We can motivate each other to keep writing because you have to show up for each other each week. That's why...


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