Our guest today is Carol Dougherty, also known as Doc, director of Wake Up and Write Writer’s Retreat Workshop (an offshoot of Writers Retreat Workshop), where she teaches writing practice and much of the curriculum developed by the late Gary Provost. She is ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, and spent more than 10 years at San Francisco Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Carol worked extensively in professional theatre early in her career, culminating in a stint as Managing Director of the Berkshire Theatre Festival, where she had a chance to meet lifelong hero, Julie Andrews, and work with Marge Champion and Julie Harris, among others. Her all-time favorite book is not a novel, it is Virginia Axline’s Dibs: In Search of Self, which she first read as a Reader’s Digest Condensed book when in grade school and has re-read many times since. She is an avid reader, writer, and student, with a penchant for horse racing, Shakespeare, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Being a novelist looking for feedback puts you in a vulnerable position. And it’s the only way to find out how your work-in-progress stacks up. It helps if you know you aren’t alone in your vulnerability, that you won’t die if your work needs some work, and that you can take criticism of your writing without taking it personally.
You are attending your first writing workshop, a major investment of time and money, which you feel sure will pay off big-time. After all, you have in your work-in-progress the next Beloved, The Hunt for Red October, or Me Before You. You are certain that before dinner is over, everyone will know, without having read a word, that you will be the new David Baldacci or JK Rowling.
At the same time, you are thrilled to be at this workshop, with an opportunity to get feedback (which you are sure will be wonderful) from a writing teacher whose work you respect, and whose books have helped many an aspiring novelist. You want to bask in the opportunity to spend this time completely focused on your own work-in-progress and not have to worry about cooking your own meals and then doing the dishes. Here, you are a writer.
Without any maneuvering, the workshop leader sits next to you at dinner, and appears to be amused by your witty repartee. Everything seems to be working as planned.
A funny thing happens after dinner. The group gathers for the opening session, and lo and behold, you are the first one to share your book title and the hook you have crafted. Suddenly you discover that you don’t have a protagonist, you have a victim. To be a protagonist the main character has to act, rather than simply be acted upon. Yours doesn’t act, she reacts.
You also find out that your book title, which is your protagonist/victim’s first name (evocative, you felt), tells the reader nothing. And you realize that if all of this is true, you have to throw out everything you’ve written to date and start over. [Read more…]