Writers’ Workshop — SwanCon 17 July Progress Report

pages 16 & 17 of the SwanCon 17 July 1991 progress report are headed ‘Writers’ Workshop’. They contain 4 paragraphs of information from presenter Philippa Maddern, then three about the practicalities of getting to attend the workshop. At the bottom of page 17 is a ‘special note’. In order:

“Writing fiction is a strange business. One person, generally alone, spends hours of time, thought and emotional energy on producing a whole lot of information about people and places and events that never existed, and in some cases could never exist. If s/he does this well enough, other people – unknown to the writer, related to her/him only through the frail link of ink and paper – will spend hours of time, thought, and emotional energy on reading it. And probably, after all that, the writer and readers will never meet. The readers may never know the difficulties that go in to making a story, and the writer will never know exactly how the readers read what s/he has made.

Writers’ workshops (or at least the sort I plan to run) are designed to overcome this injunction. We, as writers, may never meet the whole of our audience. But we can turn ourselves into critical readers of our own works–internalise the readership, as it were. This is not an easy process. It means learning not just to write, but to read our own works as if they were written by someone else; to see not only the bad points of them (that’s always terrifyingly easy), but also their good qualities. Ernest Hemingway is alleged to have said once that an essential quality of a good writer was “an inbuilt shit detector”. I want this workshop to help writers develop both shit- and gold-detectors in themselves.

To do this, I plan to organise the workshop around the famous Clarion model. Everyone brings a piece of fiction to the workshop; everyone reads everyone else’s fiction; everyone gets an equal chance to comment on any aspect at all of everyone else work; and everyone gets to comment on the comments that have been made on their own writing. The convener (that’s me) chairs the sessions, joins in with the comments, points out virtues in the stories that may have been missed by the other commentators, and sums up important points. The whole aim is for all of us to reach some self-knowledge about our own work, and to recognise some of the pitfalls into which a science fiction writer may most easily disappear.

Why do I feel so strongly about the merits of this approach? It’s because my own writing stems directly from this sort of workshop. In 1975, when the Worldcon was held in Melbourne, Ursula Le Guin ran a Clarion-style workshop for the week before the convention. Of those of us who attended this and subsequent workshops, several have kept publishing science fiction. I know myself that “The Pastseer”, “Confusion Day”, “Things Fall Apart”, “The Subconscious Computer”, and all the other stories that I have spent time, thought and emotional energy on, alone in my study, owe what quality they have to the Reader within me, which those workshops developed.”

Philippa Maddern

The Perth SF&F Writers’ Workshop will be held on the weekend of 18th & 19th of January 1992 at St. Columba’s College, Stirling Highway, Crawley. Our plans have changed, and the workshop will now be a “sleep-over” event, and as such a fee of $20 to $30 will be charged for accommodation and hire of the venue. The Workshop Convener will be Philippa Maddern, and it is likely that Terry Dowling will participate in some or all of the workshop.

Applicants to the Workshop will have to submit an example of written work to the Workshop Convenor and have a second piece ready to be “workshopped”. It’s important to remember that this Writers’ Workshop is not the same as, and will not replace, the very successful “mini-workshop” (or, more properly, writers’ discussion group) which has taken place at SwanCon over the past two years and will feature as part of the Conference at SwanCon 17 next year. Workshop results may be discussed at that session, but otherwise the events are quite separate and distinct.

Please remember that attendance at the Workshop will be based on submission of a recent manuscript to the Workshop Convenor (Ms. Maddern, via the committee) for appraisal, and that numbers will be strictly limited. Interested persons should write to the Festival (PO Box XXX, North Perth, WA, 6005) for further and more up-to-date information.

Special Note
A Science Fiction and Fantasy writers’ group is currently operating in Perth involving a number of people who are associated with the “convention scene”. Meeting are held once every month (usually on the last Saturday in each month), at the private homes of the group members. Anyone interested can write for more information via the Festival at the above address.

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