Thursday, 24 June 2010

workshopaholics anonymous

"WHY NOT BE A WRITER?" demands a long-running advertisment designed to make writers feel guilty if they happen to catch sight of it with a hangover. Well, I can think of three good reasons:

1. There's no money in it.
2. It's a miserable existence and you never meet anyone.
3. Except other writers, who tend to be embittered misfits.

But if you still insist on this interesting career choice, you may feel you need some kind of training for the job. That makes sense. Any profession requires certain skills. You wouldn't think of becoming a doctor without a thorough knowledge of golf, or a lawyer without the basic computational skills to count large sums of money.           

Writers also needs skills. For example writers must learn how to develop ideas, characters, plots, and a taste for very cheap food. They must also learn how to present and pitch their work, how to conduct themselves in meetings and how to look pleased when another writer you know achieves success, and pretends he's inviting you to his launch party because you're a friend and maybe he can introduce you to some people but really he just wants you there so he can gloat, the bastard.

So, how can a writer acquire these vital competencies? The answer for many people is a workshop. No matter how many books about writing you read, the really invaluable lessons about the craft are only brought to life in an individual learning experience with a genuine failed writer.

The following is an overview of some of the types of workshop on offer. But I must declare an interest: I run writing workshops myself. Of course, I'm a highly successful professional, while most workshops are run by people who've never written anything more important than a biography for the online dating agency profile which they hoped would attract the human beings they're too dysfunctional to encounter in their non-existent social life, and who'd then give them a reason to go out once in a while instead of sitting at home every evening, obsessively analysing the story structure of the Star Wars series. But, hey, don't go running away with the idea that I'm brilliant and everyone else is total pants. That's my idea, so you can just run straight back here with it. However, my assessment of other people's workshops is completely fair and objective. And if you believe that, you possess an imagination so powerful and vivid that you don't need anyone's workshops. Otherwise, here are some of the typical courses on offer:

The Myth of the Wounded Anti-Writer's Journey.
This course uncovers the Mythic Resonance of the Hero's Journey that forms the Deep Structure of all successful films except Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Learn the Thirteen Principles of Dynamic Storytelling. Then discover the Nine Master Principles behind them. Then unearth the Six Secret Archetypes concealed underneath the Master Principles. Then discover the Wounded Heart of the Sneaky Antihero hiding in a motel owned by the Secret Archetypes. Finally, confront the most potent myth of all - that any of this stuff is a good reason not to finish the screenplay you've been writing since 1989.

The Thirty-eight Steps.
This workshop is run by a top screenwriter, or possibly a top screenwriting consultant. Basically, you spend two days sitting on a hard red plastic chair, listening to someone you've never heard of tell you how fabulous they are. Hollywood legend Bud Schlitz explains that outdated, formulaic approaches like three-act structure, or the twenty-two step analysis, are no longer valid tools to get your screenplay green-lit. The only thing that works is his unique thirty-eight block dynamic breakdown. This is illustrated by elaborate diagrams with arrows connecting overlapping circles labelled: 'Sub-genre Paradigm', 'Societal uber-context', 'Mentor Figure's Influence Sphere', and 'Free wi-fi coverage in the greater Los Angeles region.'

Dash it All.
This highly specialized workshop is subtitled: "Unleash the Hidden Power of Punctuation to Create a Sure-Fire Blockbuster."  In Module One, the tutor examines the creative use of the semicolon in the screenplay for 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. Modules 16 to 28 analyse the significance of dots, finally resolving the bitter dispute that's torn the industry apart: Hesitation - Three Dots or Four?
By Module 40 you begin defacing your course study notes, as follows:
1. When to use brackets. (Never.)
2. When to use square brackets. [Forget it, you sad little man.]
3. What about those funny curly ones? {No. Just get a life, okay?}

The Untold Hidden Secrets of Writing, Pitching and Retiring on Your Screenplay that are Completely Secret and Hidden from Everyone Except Me.
This workshop reveals the Hollywood insider secrets that are absolutely guaranteed to sell your script. The tutor is a true maverick who promises to rip aside the veil of hypocrisy surrounding the film industry, slit open its soft, quivering underbelly, and slap its hot, throbbing intestines. He teaches that success depends on actualizing your potentiality and validating your self-worth by being rude to people. Assertiveness is everything. Movie executives go for winners, he claims, so, in meetings, you must establish dominance over producers and development lackeys by insisting that the writer is a free, unfettered spirit while they are miserable salary-whores who've prostituted any integrity they may have possessed. Gradually, you realise that the tutor, who is clearly self-medicating, is an unsuccessful writer who's been driven insane by envy, and developed a cunning strategy to ensure that every other writer in the world screws up their career even more than he did so that he might finally have a chance. He is giving you the worst advice he can think of.

How to Get Ahead in the Workshop Business.
This course reveals the insider secrets to success in developing the most vital skills you will need as a professional writer: promoting and selling your workshop.

Parts of this article first appeared in Scriptwriter Maagazine (now

1 comment:

  1. Onewordtoofar/much24 June 2010 at 15:19

    Don't forget the "Isle Of Skye Weekend Travel Writing Course" £700 not inc. travel costs. Arrive no sooner than late Saturday afternoon. Discuss/moan about absurd length of journey plus any rail/road delays in 2 hour evening "workshop". Depart first thing Sunday morning sharp.