My Workshop Experience

Written by Hollye Dexter

May 20, 2010

This month I was blessed to have participated in a powerful three-week writing workshop with Hope Edelman. I’ve read her books and have great respect for her talent, so I was thrilled to have the chance to work with her.

When I pulled in to the parking lot for our first meeting in Topanga Canyon, I was flushed with excitement to meet this new group of women writers. Coming from my circle of gushing, huggy, lovey-dovey women friends, I walked in feeling all bouncy inside, like an overgrown golden retriever puppy ready to pounce on everyone with affection. But right away I could see that this was a get-down-to-business serious workshop. I reeled myself back in and did my best to prepare, but I felt so out of my element.

Hope not only got her Masters in creative writing at the University of Iowa and won a Pushcart Prize, she also teaches at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, the Shangri-La for writers. The other women in the workshop had MFA’s, one was a lawyer. And me? I’m a college dropout, shoot-from-the-hip writer with no formal training. So I got quiet and listened. Themes, arcs, forms, structures….all were discussed and I wondered, did my story have these things? I never thought about it, I just wrote. Listening to Hope, and to the feedback of all these brilliant women in the workshop, honestly I was intimidated. But I threw myself into it, sink or swim. ( yikes- a cliché! One of my bad writing habits…)

Last night was the third and final meeting, where my piece was to be discussed. We had each submitted a piece up to 20 pages in length, giving hardcopies to Hope and all the other writers. Everyone was to read them in advance, making notes that would eventually be returned to us.

The way Hope runs her workshop is all the writers discuss your work as though you weren’t in the room. They talk about what the themes are, the secondary story lines, what they loved about it, what didn’t work. You have to sit back quietly, like a fly on the wall (cliché!), listen and take notes like crazy.

Up until this year I was completely private with my writing – a “closet-writer” if you will. I never let anyone know that I was working on a book. It was for my eyes only. So it was fascinating and somewhat surreal to hear these women who I’ve only just met passionately discussing my life, my family members as “characters” (yes, they are!), and me as “the narrator”.

I was moved, and would even say changed by the experience. But aside from this, one of the things that stood out the most to me was Hope. When I first met her, of course I noticed that she was an attractive woman. But I have to say that when she was in her element last night, animated and passionate in her work, she was stunningly beautiful. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Her eyes flashed bright with fierce intelligence, her hands moved gracefully as she spoke. You could almost see her aura growing big and bright. And this was absolutely true of every woman in the workshop.

I learned so much about writing, learned about lyric essays (had never heard of or read that style before but, wow…) and so much more about myself as a writer, my silly little bad habits (ending a sentence with a preposition – duh!), learned about character motivation, secondary story lines, where the arc should peak, etc… I’m still reeling, letting it all settle in.

But overall, perhaps the greatest thing I took away from the workshop was this: When we are standing in our truth, letting our authentic selves shine, is when we are most beautiful. I learned that from Amy Ferris, and saw it in full force last night. There is no face cream, no cosmetic, no designer anything that can even come close to a woman owning her power.

So today, I am inspired, motivated, elevated….and behind. Holy cow – I’ve got so much editing to do!

Back to the old drawing board….(cliche!)

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  1. Unknown

    Great post. It made me feel excited about writing all over again. You have a way with words, my dear!! Can't wait to read more… Z

  2. Unknown

    Great post. It made me feel excited about writing all over again. You have a way with words, my dear!! Can't wait to read more… Z


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