A few weeks ago, I was immersed. Totally submerged. Out of my depth. Drowning in a sea of visceral responses. Diving for a fresh metaphor. And loving it!
The occasion was a writing immersion course run by the inimitable Margie Lawson (pronounced Marj-ie, as in Marge Simpson only without the blue hair). Over three full days and two half days, we lapped up fabulous instruction, applied lessons to our manuscripts, discussed examples, and worked one-on-one with Margie to make our words dance off the page.
So who is Margie Lawson? She's a former psychologist who now helps authors use psychological techniques and other insights to empower their writing. Through her own analysis of hundreds of top-selling novels, she's developed a deep-editing system to help you analyse your own manuscript and lift the prose from mediocre to stellar. Many of her immersion graduates have secured publishing contracts and some have even gone on to write New York Times bestsellers.
As the name 'immersion' suggests, it was pretty intense. The full days went from 8:30 am until 8:30 or 9:00 at night and we also discussed work over lunch and dinner. But there was a lot of variety, laughter, and M & M's to keep us going. (Thanks to hosts Sheila and Shane for the never-ending supply of snacks!)
The preparation was also intense. In order to do the immersion class, we had to first complete three of Margie's 'lecture packets' that are available online: Empowering Characters' Emotions; Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues; and Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices and More. The 700 or so pages of lecture notes are filled with tools and exercises to help you take your writing to the next level. If you feel daunted at that volume of lecture notes, don't be. They're easy to read, packed with examples from best-selling novels, and laced with Margie's sense of humour and encouragement. She cheers you along and helps you believe that you can write a page-turner.
I wanted to do the immersion course because I knew there were areas of my writing that needed improvement. I can write clearly and accurately, but readers rarely say, 'Oh you must read so-and-so's new novel. It's really clear and doesn't have any typos.' Readers want an engaging plot, well-developed characters, and prose that leaps off the page. I still have a lot of work to do, but the immersion class gave me strategies to help me write fresher and empower my manuscript with body language, rhetorical devices and subtext.
The more polished and original our writing, the greater chance we'll have of landing an agent or publisher. However, that's not the whole story. If we're called to write and have a God-given ability or talent in that area, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of that gift. Why would we want to send a mediocre manuscript out into the world? We owe it to ourselves and our readers to produce the best work we can.
Margie is based in Colorado, but will be back in Australia in February/March to run more immersion classes in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Hopefully there will also be a one-day workshop in Toowoomba. I'll post a message when the dates are finalised. In the meantime, why not download one of the lecture packets from Margie's website and try it out for yourself? I'd suggest starting with 'Empowering Characters' Emotions'.
Writing a bestseller isn't guaranteed. However, if you have a teachable spirit and are prepared to work hard to hone your craft, your writing will shimmy and shine in ways you never thought possible.
Nola Passmore's short fiction, poetry, true stories, articles and devotions have been published in magazines, journals and anthologies in Australia and overseas. She and her husband Tim operate a freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish. She is currently polishing and revising her debut novel. Based on Margie's advice, she's still working out how to 'Save Essie!'