I’ve been in workshops for most of my writing life – and have always considered them an important, if not essential part of the process. But a few months back, I quit – and I've been sending out a lot more stories ever since.
I was a member of the workshop off and on for about eight years. In the late 90's, I found it very helpful, but when I went back this last time, I found that it was discouraging me from writing more than encouraging me to do it. I wrote over a dozen stories over the past four years, and after the critiques, I didn't have the confidence to send any of them out. Since leaving, I've rewritten most of them, have eight in circulation and am writing a new story every week or two. There were a number of unexpected benefits to having a bank of unmarketed stories. It affords me the chance to hit the market with much more impact than I would have done otherwise (two sales in six months and I'm pretty pumped on most of the others).
This was not my game plan! I was going to be finishing novels and getting them on the market - but the ones that went to the workshop may be undermined for a good long time.
Which is fine, because I have two other stand-alone novels poised to cross the finish line.
The sudden dearth of readers has forced me to change a number of habits. I make sure that the people who do read it are folks I trust. They are good readers and I believe them to have my best interests at heart. This was true about my friends at the workshop as well, but the situation is much more under my control now...partly because I’m very specific about the feedback I ask for.
And because I do have so few readers and the ones I have are busy people, I am often forced to make my own judgement calls about my stories. This was a major step forward for me! It's forced me to learn to read my own work more critically and to take more personal responsibility for what I write - both good things. While it's nice to have good first readers - we are ideally our own best first readers. I've had to learn how to tell when a story is ready. Sometimes setting it aside for a week can give me enough objective distance and sometimes it can't. I will often do a major rewrite when a story returns from the first market I send it to.
My self published collection was more an affirmation to myself that I am a good fiction writer than an attempt to crack the market. Although it succeeded in making me more confident about my work, it also gave me a look at the 2014 marketplace and made me realize that I need to reestablish myself as a writer worth paying attention to – which is the reason that I went back to writing stories before getting the novels out there. I was disappointed that my new stories didn’t draw attention last year, but that is just making me work harder this year. I’m hoping that at least one of them will get some serious award or “best of the year” consideration. Even a couple of nominations or honourable mentions would be a great start. Since I was enjoying that level of success before I took my hiatus and I know that I’m a better writer now than I was then – it should be possible. Then again, the market has changed a lot in 15 years. And with all the emphasis on diverse voices (which is a very good thing BTW), old white guys like me have to work that much harder.
The countdown has begun. The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir comes out in March. Soon I will know whether changing the title of my story to “Nunavut Thunderfuck” was actually a good idea!