The Writers' Room
For years, I have wished that writing workshops were more like TV writers’ rooms — more collaborative, more investment on the part of each participant in each story. What I crave is not a bystander who will tell me what’s working or not working in my story but someone who will get in the weeds with me and brainstorm ways to make it better or what could happen next. I’ve casually suggested incorporating more of a writers’ room model — where a bunch of writers work together to break a story — to workshops in the past and I never got any takers. Part of the trouble is that everyone wants to work on their own story.
Then my current writing group found itself at what I saw as a crossroads. We weren’t meeting regularly, and we were no longer workshopping, partially because people have serious life stuff happening but mostly because we’re all working on long projects that are at weird stages. It’s tough to workshop a novel before you have a full draft — show people pages too soon and it could easily extinguish your excitement and derail your project. (Ask me how I know.)
So I pitched the group my idea via Slack:
WHAT IF instead of workshopping pages we did a "writers’ room": once a month, we get together and each person gets, say, 20 minutes to workshop ideas related to their project — e.g. character psychology/motivation, plot challenges, etc. Nothing to prep, submit, read, or give notes on, but everyone would commit to showing up and being mentally present for and invested in each other's projects for the duration of a couple of beers.
I would imagine that for those of us working on longer projects, eventually this would lead to reading each other's manuscripts, but I don't think anyone is anywhere near ready for that right now. But it would keep us accountable to staying in those projects, and then by the time we're ready for readers, the rest of the group will be dying to read (hopefully).
Everyone was on board (and maybe even excited?) and we had our first meeting using this new model in June. It was our intro session; each writer used their 20 minutes to give an overview of their characters and plot. Then, when we met in July, everyone had a chance to talk through either a more granular aspect of their story or their writing challenge of the moment.
The projects are wildly different from one another, which I love — it’s so refreshing and fun to step out of your own plot and into someone else’s, especially when it presents new craft challenges. And unlike reading pages for a workshop (I also love workshopping, don’t get me wrong), there’s no sentence-level stuff to get bogged down in, which I have a habit of doing. You can just think about the story structure and the character motivations. And one of us is working on a graphic memoir (Hi Alice!), so that’s extra fun.
Sometimes it’s just nice to have a group of people you can talk something out with, instead of handing over your work for each person to assess individually. I have a feeling that we’ll be back to workshopping at some point in the fall, but I’m hoping we keep a bit of the writers’ room vibe. Will report back!
Ok this is absolutely brilliant!!
I pitched this to my own writing group and it stoked a new enthusiasm. Writing can be so lonely and uncollaborative, and this seems like a great way to surmount that obstacle. I'd love to hear updates on how this is going for your group, examples of any breakthroughs someone had, and ways you've tweaked it along the way.