You’ve booked your ticket. You’ve got the confirmation email through. Now what?
Signing up for an online writing workshop shows a commitment to your writing. It sends a clear sign to your characters, the people around you, and yourself that you’re serious about your writing.
They’re one of my favourite ways to improve my writing (outside of in-person writing workshops), because they’re focused on a specific, writing-related problem. That means you’ll come away with a whole heap of solutions to solve something that might’ve been bugging you for aaaaaaages.
Writing workshops of any kind are also great for meeting other, like-minded writers. They can help you to find new editors, beta readers, and friends. These are all helpful for improving your craft, building your confidence, and helping you stick with it when things get tough!
(Psst, want to join me for an online writing workshop? Check out the replay of my How to Write Realistic Characters workshop.)
But, if you want to make the most out of an online writing workshop, there are things you can do to really get the most out of it.
Turn off notifications
On an average day, my phone says I get 330 notifications. Now, I probably get more than most because a lot of how I communicate is through social media, not email. However, that doesn’t mean that notifications are always a good thing.
There are times when you need to turn them off: when you’re asleep, when you need to disconnect, and when you need to concentrate.
Notifications immediately pull you out of whatever you’re doing. They’re a flashing neon light when you need to concentrate.
So, put your phone and laptop and any other devices you own on to Do Not Disturb.
It’s unlikely you’re going to miss anything in two hours. If you are waiting on something important, turn off notifications for everyone except your important contacts. You can set this up on individual profiles on an iPhone, meaning that if someone rings you several times in a row, it’ll come through.
Close the door
This sends a clear signal to anyone you live with, particularly if you’re the kind of person who usually has the door open.
If the people in your house are bad at taking hints, put a sign on.
It may also help to talk to them beforehand, particularly if they’re children and not used to you disconnecting for a while. Explain to them that this time is really important to you, and it’s helping you improve your skills in the same way that school helps them. Those new skills will help you in your future career, much like school helps them with that, too.
If they do disturb you, kick them out. It sounds harsh. You may feel cruel. But it’s up to you to put those boundaries in place, regardless of someone’s age.
Reinforcing boundaries takes time, but it’s the best way to make it clear to people what lines they can—and cannot—cross.
Close all those browser tabs! Just me?
Ellie once told me off for having something like twenty browsers open at once; just seeing them on my screenshare stressed her out ? (Sorry, Ellie!)
The fewer distractions you have, the more likely you are to absorb what’s been said. You’ll then get more out of the workshop.
Let the dog out
Almost every time my boyfriend and I have calls at the same time, Millie wants to go out. Or she wants to play. Avoid this by pre-empting it—take the dog for a walk in advance. That way, they get to burn off some energy and go to the toilet.
If you have a puppy, you may need to give them a little extra time, as they’ll want to sniff all the things before remembering they need the loo.
Get a drink/some munchies
In every three-house university lecture (where we didn’t get a braek), my stomach would rumble.
In the middle of jury duty, in a fairly quiet and echoey room…my stomach would rumble.
And I’d get so distracted by hunger, I couldn’t concentrate. I was too busy trying to get my stomach to not make embarrassing noises.
While it’s unlikely your stomach gurgling will be picked up by the mic, the distraction of thirst and hunger still stands. Make sure you’ve eaten beforehand, or that you’ve got some (healthy) munchies beside you.
Have a drink or two as well.
When I’m teaching workshops, I usually have two or three: water, tea or coffee, and herbal tea. My mouth gets pretty dry from all the talking, so this ensures that my throat doesn’t go so hoarse I sound like Kermit.
Find a pen and paper, or open a document
If it’s a great workshop, you’ll need to take notes. So make sure you’ve got something to take notes in.
More importantly, MAKE SURE YOU CAN FIND IT AGAIN!
If you’re the kind of person with a large collection of notebooks and you never know what’s where, use different notebooks for different things so that what you’re looking for is easy to find.
If you’re typing, compartmentalise your writing into folders for different purposes. It helps to have easy to remember file names, too. The most obvious one is to name it after the workshop, but you could also include the date, the tutor, or any other information you may use to search for the file in future.
You can also download an app like Alfred to make your searches much easier and more sophisticated.
If you’re using pen and paper, and you may want to colour code things, underline lines, or otherwise make things super pretty and organised, have all that stuff by your side before you start, too. That way you don’t risk missing something because you couldn’t find the right colour highlighter.
Block out your calendar
The last thing you want is two things overlapping. I did that once for Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and Mamma Mia! ?♀️ Two things I really wanted to see, with expensive tickets, and I’d double-booked myself on the same weekend. What an idiot.
If the workshop you’re watching is live, clear your calendar! It’s unlikely to be any longer than a couple of hours, so give yourself that time to really focus.
If you have any regular commitments that fall during the workshop’s time, see if you can reschedule them. Most people are pretty flexible if you ask nicely.
If rescheduling isn’t an option, see if there’s someone else who can help out. Usually a friend or family member is more than happy to back you up when you need it. It’s what they’re there for, after all!
Writing workshops help you to get tailored advice to a specific writing-related problem. They’ve helped me with everything from plotting to torturing my characters. They’re great fun, and can be a fab way to network with other writers, too.
You’ll only get the most out of them if you take the time to prioritise yourself and your writing, though. Nobody can give you that permission but yourself.
If you’d like to improve your character writing, join me for my workshop on How to Write Realistic Characters. Available to watch now.