Yes, this is supposed to be my slot, but since I’m enjoying promotion and not writing much, I’m going to attempt to bring over some of the people that mean a great deal to us. Today I’d like to welcome David B. Coe, one of my favorite writers and educators. Thank you David!
— Mindy Mymudes
We often hear people speak of the value of writers’ retreats and workshops. And much of what they say is true. New writers can learn so much from critiquing and being critiqued, from working with a more experienced professional, from spending several days, perhaps even a full week, immersed not only in workshopping, but also in the informal discussions of craft and the publishing business that permeate such get-togethers. If you have the opportunity to attend a workshop or a retreat, or even a larger writers’ conference, I recommend that you do so. You won’t be sorry.
But what is the experience like from the other side? What does a professional writer gain from these gatherings? I have instructed at workshops and conferences many times, and last summer I had the distinct pleasure of instructing at the Roaring Writers Retreat, which was attended by the authors of the Million Words blog. I can assure you that I have benefitted greatly from every one of these experiences.
Let me begin by acknowledging the obvious: These are work-intensive gigs. I read manuscripts and write up my critiques in the weeks leading up to the events. I prepare discussions and lessons. Once at the venue, I lead my students through days that can be grueling and intense. And so, at the end of the week or weekend, I am paid for my time and my effort. Often I’m paid quite well; occasionally the pay is probably less than it should be based on the hours I commit to the process.
But — and this really is the salient point — even if the pay was fantastic, I probably wouldn’t do the workshops if money was all I gained from the experience. Taking those weekends and weeks away from work and family is disruptive. At the end of a workshop I’m usually exhausted and need several days to recover. Money on its own is not enough to justify the effort, the lost time, and the dislocation that follows. Fortunately, I get far more out of the work than mere payment.
The fact is, teaching workshops and facilitating retreats is tremendously rewarding, often inspiring, and almost always a learning experience for me, just as I hope it is for my students. That last may be the most important. Certainly, it’s the one that surprises my students most. Those of us who have managed to attain some level of success in this wacky business have no monopoly on wisdom or insight. I always learn from my students as I listen to their critiques of the work of others. Invariably they see things that I have missed, or offer opinions that differ from mine, thus forcing me to rethink my initial responses to the piece in question. More, these moments often lead to epiphanies that relate back to my own work. I don’t care how advanced we might be in our careers, as artists we should constantly strive to improve our craft. And it follows that we can always learn from others and find new ways to approach our storytelling.
Just as important as these new discoveries about narrative and craft, are the emotional rewards of teaching people about writing. I love my job. I’m blessed, in that I make my living doing what I enjoy most: making up stories, shaping plot and setting and character into a world that, I hope, captures the hearts of my readers. Yet, it’s too easy to take for granted how fortunate I am, and sometimes I can’t help but become jaded by the vagaries of the business. Worries about sell-through rates and print runs, royalty statements and reviews, and all the other day-to-day concerns of publishing can make us lose sight of the joys to be found in the simple act of creation.
But all that changes when I step into a room with new authors. There’s an infectious quality to the drive, passion, and enthusiasm I sense in those I work with at retreats and workshops. Their inspiration feeds mine. Their love of the written word reminds me of why I started in this business in the first place. I can say with confidence that I have come away from every workshop I’ve attended reinvigorated and energized.
Finally, I’m happy to say that almost all the people I have met at conferences and the like — be they fellow professionals or those still striving to make that elusive first sale — have been intelligent, interesting, fun, and kind. On several occasions, connections made at teaching gigs have turned into lifelong friendships. Sure, on occasion certain personalities don’t mesh quite as well with a given group. But more often than not, the workshops I attend prove to be incredibly positive experiences.
So, that’s the view from over here. Yes, teaching is hard work. But its rewards are numerous and profound, and as long as writers think they might have something to learn from me, I will continue to offer whatever wisdom might be mine to share.
David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of nineteen fantasy novels and a number of short stories. As David B. Coe, he is the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he has just reissued, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. Most recently he has completed The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy series from Tor Books. David’s work has been translated into a dozen languages.
He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.