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Writing Workshop Tips and Takeaways

June 13, 2011

So there I was on a beautiful spring Sunday morning. Armed with my coffee, writer’s notebook and pen; ready to be inspired and write. I was on my way to a writing workshop taught by author Judy Reeves at San Diego Writer, Ink.

While I have been writing for most of my life, this was the first actual class I’ve taken on the subject (aside from college journalism courses). The workshop focused on the basic of concepts — ways to get words down on the page, pure and simple. I’m not quite sure what I expected the class to be like, but I was pleased to come away with several pages of fresh writing; new ideas on how to inspire my writing; and a few tips and concepts that really opened my eyes as a writer.

I’d like to share with you three ideas I took from this day of writing and how they resonated with me and my life. While these concepts are not new, they certainly opened up my mind (and pen).

1. Carry with you at all times a writer’s notebook. Judy encourages all writers to carry with them a small notebook or pad that you keep with you 24/7 to write down ideas or inspiration. So if you come up with a great idea while driving, you write it down (hopefully pulling over to do so), thereby avoiding the inevitable, What was that great idea?, when you get home.

My writer’s notebook is a small, simple black leather reporter’s notebook that Bryan gave me for my birthday last year. He took the gift a step further by embossing my initials on the cover. This gift came at a time when I was fully embracing writing and Bryan wanted to give me something that was meaningful and encouraged my dreams. So when Judy suggested carrying a notebook at all times, I already knew the exact book I’d start carrying with me.

2. Writing memory is essentially writing fiction. I never considered myself a fiction writer. I didn’t think I had the creativity and imagination to come up with characters, plots and ideas to support a novel. I thought of myself as a writer of memoir, facts or my opinions.

But Judy said something that gave me an “a ha” moment. She said that everyone has different memories of common experiences. This is why in families, I may remember an experience completely differently from my sisters. Those memories are individual ideas, are subjective, and are true only to ourselves. Hence writing our memories is essentially fiction writing. I’d never thought this way before and for the first time, actually envisioned writing a work of fiction based on my memories (changing names and identifying details, of course).

3. If you want to write but don’t have time, you must sacrifice something to write. For many people, this can mean giving up television or surfing the internet at night. While I don’t feel as if I’m at a loss for time to write, this idea summed up the process I went through to get to where I am now. That is ever since I changed my “day job” to one where I write for a living (albeit factual writing), I feel as if my mind and brain have opened up. I’m now in my element, playing to my strengths. I feel as if I’m so much more creative and have so many ideas for writing, projects, and the like. So sacrificing my former mindset has given me the freedom to write and create.

I’m not suggesting you quit your day job tomorrow in order to write. But if you feel as if you’re not writing or you’re holding back your potential, look at other aspects of your life and see if those things need sacrificing (or changing) so your mind and time can open up to writing.

So there you have it — three writing workshop tips that have changed my writing outlook. I also learned some great writing prompts that sparked interesting pieces I’ve penned. I’ll share a few of these pieces in future blog posts.

Tell me about writing workshops you’ve attended. What are the best lessons and writing tips you’ve received? 

Judy Reeve's inspiring book that will get anyone writing.

42 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2011 2:48 am

    These are great tips! For me, the last one is the hardest — although I physically make the time to write, even then, I have trouble focusing and being in the right mindset to write. It’s a hard transition for me from everything else I’m doing to writing fiction… maybe I’ll check out Judy’s book to see if it helps me! (p.s. What a lovely gift Bryan gave you!)

    • June 15, 2011 7:47 pm

      Thanks, Julia. I love my gift too. I think you’ll really like Judy’s book. She has great tips and prompts that may help you.

  2. June 14, 2011 4:46 am

    I’ve been to a few writing seminars with excellent speakers. It’s nice to be able to glean SO much information from them. But my favorite thing is being around so many other writers. It’s encouraging to talk to them and compare situations and experiences. I always leave the seminar with more confidence.

    • June 15, 2011 7:48 pm

      So true! When I attended the day-long writing retreat a few weeks ago, that was one thing I left with as well. It was great sharing experiences with other writers. Hearing what works and doesn’t work for them. That’s also why I love reading all of these writer blogs too.

  3. June 14, 2011 5:10 am

    Number 3 has been the challenge for me. I’m more flexible now that summer is here. It’s really frustrating to not be able to do the things you love and what’s so essential to you as a person.

    • June 15, 2011 7:49 pm

      It is tough. Yet you’d think it would be easier since – as you say – it’s essential to us as people. Hopefully summer will bring you some writing time. Thanks for visiting.

  4. Lena permalink
    June 14, 2011 5:20 am

    Leah, How wonderful for you! It has been years since I took any classes on writing and these tips were really helpful and a good reminder. My writing for now is limited to my blog, but I do enjoy the creative outlet and hope to one day — maybe when I don’t have a baby in diapers! — be able to write more, in fact one of my dreams/goals is to have a lakeside retreat where I can type away on my laptop, sip coffee and be inspired by my surroundings.

    I love the idea of carrying a notebook around. Just need to make room in my purse for it! 😉

    If you ever need a writing buddy let me know. Would be happy and honored to be of assistance, whatever that would entail. 😉


    • June 15, 2011 7:50 pm

      I’ll join you at your lakeside retreat. That sounds so inspiring and relaxing! And I will take you up on your writing buddy offer. I really appreciate your offer!

  5. June 14, 2011 5:37 am

    Thanks for sharing Leah! I have not attended any workshops yet, but I read few books on it and everyone of them stressing “caring a notebook” habit, and also every day writing practice for 10-15 minutes, even if you have nothing to write about, all the books I read suggested to sit down open you note book and write, write, write….

    • June 15, 2011 7:51 pm

      Yes, that’s what I’ve read to. The writing prompts are good for just getting words on paper, even if it’s for 10 minutes. It’s amazing how fast the 10 minutes goes too.

  6. June 14, 2011 5:55 am

    Very interesting! I am a cook! I also happen to blog about my coking adventures and I keep a notebook with me all the time full of recipes, ideas, my menus and shopping lists….I can only imagine how much more important it is for a writer to keep one!

    • June 15, 2011 7:52 pm

      I love the idea of a notebook for cooking and recipes! Whenever you’re inspired at a restaurant or in a store, you can just jot something down. Hmmm, may need to have a section in my notebook for food inspiration!

  7. June 14, 2011 6:27 am

    Thanks for sharing these tips Leah. I really like No. 2 regarding writing your memoirs is like writing fiction. I would never have thought of it that way either, but it makes sense. I was actually looking up creative writing classes the other day just out of curiosity, but as you said, I have always felt I don’t have the creativity for that. So since it appears I already do it in some form or fashion, I will check it off the list! 😉

    • June 15, 2011 7:53 pm

      Yeah, wasn’t that an eye-opening idea? And it makes total sense. Maybe we can both write some of our “fiction” pieces and have each other critique them.

  8. June 14, 2011 6:51 am

    I LOVE this post! Amazing, I want to go into journalism and I love reading books and writing. This was brilliant and perfect read.

    By the way, I have a new post up about the slang that people use today, it’s funny and satirical and I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on it.

    Thanks, Muzzy

    • June 15, 2011 8:47 pm

      Thank you so much for your nice words. I’m heading over to your blog now. Looking forward to reading your post.

      • June 16, 2011 5:23 am

        Thanks a lot for your comment and it’s my pleasure to deliver great words to you, it was a brilliant post!

  9. June 14, 2011 8:08 am

    Thanks for sharing what you learned. Memory as fiction is a new idea for me. In the past, when I wrote about a memory, I found myself making things up to fill in the forgotten details. I thought I was cheating. But maybe everyone is as forgetful as I am and we all have to invent a little. I’d much rather think of my fabrications as fiction.

    I love Judy’s book and workshops. She makes me feel like a “real writer.” Do you know what I mean?

    • June 15, 2011 8:49 pm

      Sounds like everyone is “cheating” by supplementing their memory with forgotten details. I think as long as we call it a novel and not a true memoir, it’s not really cheating ( a la James Frey). And yes, I totally know what you mean about Judy. She’s awesome!

  10. June 14, 2011 9:09 am

    I really do need to get out and attend more of these events. Thank you for letting me learn through your experience.

    Stopping by from She Writes.

    • June 15, 2011 8:54 pm

      Thanks so much for coming by my blog. It sounds odd, but I was nervous to attend this workshop since I hadn’t done this before. But it was well worth it.

  11. June 14, 2011 10:00 am

    I’m so excited to attend my first SD Writers Ink workshop next month. Judy’s not hosting this particular one (So You Want to Write a Novel?), but it will be my introduction to the group.

    In regards to your tip on carrying a notebook (which I agree is essential), another useful tool that was brought to may attention is It’s a tool you can use on your mobile phone, your laptop, and on the web to save notes of every sort: voice memos, photos, website clippings, and of course, your own written note. I find myself using it a lot these days. 🙂

    Thanks for the great post!

    • June 15, 2011 8:55 pm

      I think all those classes are great. I’m actually trying a different class in a few weeks. Let me know how it goes! I’ve heard of EverNote. I think Bryan has it on his phone. I’ll be sure to check into it too. Thanks!

  12. June 14, 2011 10:05 am

    Thank you Leah for these great reminders. The tips and tools of others who practice our craft can be like adding the perfect new spice to a well used recipe. They can elevate us and our art. I take art classes to freshen up my skills and workshops for other work I do, I have yet to plunge into seminars for writing. It is about time. San Diego Writers Ink sounds like a great resource. I’ll have to take the plunge!

    • June 15, 2011 8:56 pm

      Let me know if you end up taking a class there. That’s so great about your art classes. I feel like since my mind opened up more with writing, I’ve had more of the urge to do more with art and creativity too. Amazing how that happens!

  13. June 14, 2011 10:31 am

    Hi Leah,
    These are all really great. I love #1 because I carry one all of the time, even if it’s just a small notepad. It helps to jot down ideas anytime, anywhere. I had never heard #2 before. So interesting to think that because we all see things differently it’s essentially the foundation for writing fiction. Thanks for sharing!

    She Writes

    • June 15, 2011 8:57 pm

      Thanks so much for coming by! #2 was a complete eye-opener for me too. I feel like I can actually try my hand at fiction afterall.

  14. June 14, 2011 11:52 am

    Great tips!! I’ve always wanted to sit down and start putting a story down, one that I’ve had in my head for years. I just need to make the time/sacrifice to do it!

    • June 15, 2011 9:02 pm

      You can do it! I can totally see you writing some awesome story about dogs. Which to me, are the best kind!

  15. June 14, 2011 4:02 pm

    Leah, thanks for sharing these wonderful tips with us! I wholeheartedly agree with the tip about the notebook. There have been many times when I’ve had an idea, my muse has paid a visit, and I haven’t had anything to write it on. Nowadays, I carry a small notebook with me all the time! The other day my sister suggested I carry one of those voice activated recorders. I’m sure those come in handy as well!

    • June 15, 2011 9:03 pm

      I’ve had a few people suggest the voice recorders too. Or even an app for my phone. Anything to get our ideas recorded, right?

  16. June 14, 2011 5:12 pm

    thanks for sharing bits and pieces from my workshop, Leah. It was such a pleasure to have you as part of our group that day. And many thanks for the big and beautiful picture of my book. I’m proud to say it won “Best Nonfiction Book” of the year at the San Diego Book Awards last weekend. (that was pretty shameless, wasn’t it.) Hope to see you at another workshop soon, meantime, let’s all keep writing and keep telling our stories, fiction or otherwise.

    • June 15, 2011 9:03 pm

      Thank you so much for commenting, Judy. Congratulations on your book award; it’s well-deserved!

  17. June 14, 2011 6:39 pm

    Oh this sounds like it was a good one, Leah. And I agree with all three tips. I have a busy life (who doesn’t) and can’t always go into my study and close the door everytime I get an idea, so the notebook is essential. Number three is easy, as long as I do it first thing in the morning; if I don’t write then, I may not all day. That’s my way of dealing with #3. You have special challenge having a small child, but you can do it. Maybe not as often or for as long as you will when she’s older and more independant. But a little everyday adds up and keeps the writing muscles limber.
    Lucky you to get to have this time to fill up with writerly enthusiasm. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • June 15, 2011 9:20 pm

      You’re very right that the time does add up and it’s really amazing how much writing one can do in just 20 minutes. Do you find if you don’t write in the morning, you feel “off” all day?

  18. June 15, 2011 6:17 am

    I write non-fiction, but where memory leaves off (as it often does when I’m writing about something that happened twenty years ago)I have to fill in with what I think was actally said. I’m pretty good at that, but still, you’re right, there is overlap between non-fiction and fiction. And yes, writing takes sacrifices. I’m finding it true now more than ever.
    Thanks for your post.

    • June 15, 2011 9:21 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I’m looking forward to trying my hand at more creative non-fiction as you describe. That’s probably a better way to approach memory anyway.

  19. June 15, 2011 3:19 pm

    So glad you had the epiphany you had, Leah, that “writing our memories is essentially fiction writing.” Yes! You can do it. As Julia and I have discussed before, the other alternative to the notebook is the smartphone recorder app (for those times when you’re in the car and an idea strikes. I use it A LOT, but also have my pen/paper! When I’m running/jogging, the voice memo recorder is AWESOME.)

    • June 15, 2011 9:22 pm

      The voice recorder is a great idea. A few people have mentioned that. I also seem to get many ideas in the car or when I’m walking from my car to the office. So I may have to look into that app. Thanks for your encouragement!

  20. June 15, 2011 7:46 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation of Sunshine- powerful film.


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