Workshop Wednesday-MAD about Words
Contact: Mary Ann de Stefano
What resources and/or programs do you offer writers?
I am primarily an editor. My favorite thing to do is manuscript evaluations for writers who have completed a work but don’t know if it’s ready for prime time. I provide a comprehensive evaluation of their manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses that acts as a road map for revision. In-person or over-the-phone meetings are included in the evaluation.
Overall, my methods tend to be instructive rather than prescriptive. The pen should remain in the writer’s hand, and writers should make the final decisions about their work. My job is to provide them with a comprehensive review and advice that will enable them to make those decisions much more confidently. Having conversations about the work is an important part of the editorial process.
In those talks with clients, I learned that writers hungered for instruction about the craft of writing and the publishing process. Many of them don’t have the time or funds for college courses, and they weren’t finding the kind of environment and information they wanted at large conferences or in their critique groups. So seven years ago, I began organizing small group workshops.
What are your workshop program’s greatest strengths?
Our workshops are facilitated by a variety of published writers and experienced teachers. I believe it’s important for people to experience different points of view on writing and the writing life so they can discover what works best for them. Here are just a few of our workshop titles. I think they illustrate the diverse perspectives on writing we’ve been able to offer: Novel in a Day, Poetry for Beginners, Outline or Wing It, Travel Writing, From Memory to Story, The Poem as Journey, and Yoga and Writing. Our facilitators have walked their talk, and they share the kind of insights that can only be gained from years of writing, teaching, and publishing experience.
We create an environment where writers can feel safe, supported, and free to experiment. Every workshop offers a mix of instruction, writing practice, and interaction. Besides learning something new, attendees always leave with new work they’ve generated.
I see you sometimes partner with other organizations, can you explain to me a little more about that?
In the Orlando area we are blessed with a vibrant, diverse writing community that includes three colleges with writing programs, myriad opportunities for public reading, writers conferences, and many critique groups. I’ve met many of my workshop facilitators by attending local events for writers and networking. It makes sense to collaborate with others.
Orlando is home to the historic literary landmark, Kerouac House. The house is supported by a nonprofit, and writers can apply for the gift of time to write during a three-month stay in the cottage where Jack Kerouac wrote his novel Dharma Bums.
I partner with the organization to offer workshops facilitated by the current writer in residence. Participants have the opportunity to learn from someone new and write in Jack’s house; the facilitator, Kerouac House, and I share revenue; and more people in the community and beyond learn about the Kerouac House and the writer-in-residence program. Everyone involved benefits from the collaboration.
What purpose do you think workshops serve for authors trying to get published?
Besides the obvious benefit—skill building—small group workshops are a great opportunity to make personal connections that can support you in your writing career. Participants work closely with professionals who have already achieved publishing success as well as peers who can become writing friends and beta readers beyond the workshop.
What is your advice for writers who have never attended a workshop?
Check out the facilitator’s credentials to make sure their teaching is grounded in experience. After that, just do it! Some writers are reluctant to join in small group workshops because they are shy about sharing their work or they believe other participants will be much better writers. But I have seen many of these reluctant types leaving my workshops with smiles on their faces, feeling renewed by their experience there and so very glad they attended. So my best advice is to push past the reluctance and participate.
What do you think is the biggest struggle writers face when trying to get published?
In traditional publishing it’s a matter of getting out of the slush pile and past the gatekeepers—agents and acquisition editors. In today’s more democratic process where technologies make it possible for everyone to be their own publisher, it’s still a matter of figuring out how to stand out in the crowd.
What is the best advice you have ever received regarding the writing and/or publishing process?
That’s a funny question for me, because for more than three years now, I’ve published an e-newsletter featuring a piece of advice from a well-known writer every week. There’s so much advice out there, I don’t think I’ll ever run out of material.
Over time, what has become clear to me from sharing so many thoughts on writing, and what I think is most important for all writers to know, is that even the pros suffer with self-doubt. What separates the pro from the amateur, is pros don’t allow their doubts to inhibit them. They write on in spite of fear and uncertainty.
Mary Ann de Stefano is a writer, editor, and organizer of writing workshops with 30 years of experience in publishing and writing consulting. She does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing. She lives in Winter Park, Florida.