Sally Koslow explains how she found every writer’s secret weapon.
Writing my first novel ten years ago was almost an accident. As I was starting to plan the 125th anniversary of a prominent magazine, a celebrity abruptly replaced me as editor-in-chief. There’s no optimal time to be canned, but my firing was not auspicious: my youngest son was in college, thus terminating the statute of limitation on fulltime motherhood, and due to the internet magazine readership had begun to drop.
Every job offered to me involved relocation, and I love where I live. Knowing it would take months — maybe a year – to land the right position, friends urged me to indulge in a hobby while I job-hunted. That’s when I realized I’d been a wife/mother/worker bee who’d ferried home manuscripts night after night and had no hobbies. This is why, by default, I joined a writing workshop. Writing was why I’d majored in English and worked in magazines, though as I climbed mastheads, I wrote hardly at all.
I missed it.
In the workshop I joined, the first time my writing was discussed one participant seemed aghast that the “chapter” of the “novel” I’d submitted had the breeze of “beach book” and a writer who’d been retelling her history of medical horror, hissed about why she was “trying to roll her boulder up a hill” when slacker-me was submitting this. Week after week, though, I kept going, and it did not take long to learn the value of a workshop.
Overwhelmingly, the atmosphere leaned more toward bonhomie than indifference or spite. Even better, I discovered that novice writers could be close readers. When you critique another writer’s work, you become invested in her intentions. If you’re a mensch, you try to help her succeed and the payoff on your investment of time and energy is that your own work improves, almost by osmosis. You learn to spot mistakes people make that fly under the radar in your own writing – that the essay begins after the four paragraphs it took you to clear your throat, or that you use the word really in every third sentence. Really. You get a line on which members offer the most astute criticism as well as participants’ special talents.
One person may suggest clever ways to tweak dialogue or metaphors while another is a grammar diva. There may be a writer to remind you that in an earlier draft, you called the cousin Arthur, not Alec; an engineer of splendid sentences; a person with the gift of sensing what’s missing from your pages or a kindred spirit who simply cheers you on because he likes your work. Invariably, the whole of a workshop will be far greater than the sum of its parts.
Once I became engaged in a workshop, I selectively responded to the excellent feedback I got and rewrote, endlessly. After polishing a hundred pages, an agent I approached offered to represent me. A year later, she sold my completed novel.
I never expected to stop job-hunting and write three more novels, a nonfiction book, piles of magazine articles, essays and blog posts and now, the beginning of a fifth novel. Nor did I anticipate that many of my colleague writers would become friends who are refreshingly different from my magazine cohorts — equally smart, minus the stilettoes and attitude – or that I’d soon be leading workshops myself.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from being a magazine editor, it’s that everyone needs deadlines. If for no other reason than this, joining a workshop is gold. Knowing that it’s your turn to submit a manuscript may be the exact incentive you need to actually produce twelve pages, double-spaced. At least it was for me.
Georgia Waltz has much of what most people only dream of — two healthy and bright daughters and a husband with whom she’s madly in love, even after decades of marriage; a plush Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park; a Hamptons beach house; a driver; club memberships; fine art,. It’s only when Ben suddenly drops dead from a massive coronary while training for the New York City Marathon that Georgia discovers that her husband — a lawyer who always provided well for his family — has left them exactly nothing. Their idyllic life together, it turns out, was built on lies.
As the family attorney attempts to trace the missing money and explain the mortgaged property, and worthless insurance policies, Georgia has to come to grips with her new reality. Not only must she learn how to manage her household finances with what little income she has left, she needs to face the revelation that Ben was not the perfect husband he appeared to be. Between her efforts to protect his legacy for the sake of their daughters and coping with her critical brother and dementia-afflicted mother, Georgia is fighting to keep her spirits intact.
Meanwhile, her two daughters, now living at home, must also reevaluate their plans in the wake of their father’s death — Nicola’s globetrotting search for a career and Luey’s education at Stanford are now untenable. With no trust funds to fall back on, both young women confront the challenges of adult responsibility even as they come of age and navigate complicated romantic relationships…
Sally Koslow is the author of three previous novels, The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, a Target Book Pick; With Friends Like These; and Little Pink Slips, inspired by her time as the editor-in-chief of McCall’s. She is also the author of Slouching Toward Adulthood, an amusing and insightful report from the parenting trenches. It is currently in development as a sitcom for NBC-TV.