How to Contribute
Sometimes enthusiastic writers get together to learn from experts and each other. This can be at places as diverse as a bookstore, community centre, or a hotel convention space. You will find that a writer’s seminar, workshop, panel discussion or coffee klatch… may be taught by one teacher or led by a chairman or a panel of experts at the front of the room. The crowd may be small or big. The chairs maybe set up classroom style, or in a circle, or around a table. Always there is time set aside for audience participation. While it can be scary to contribute in a big group, it can help your confidence to be aware of a few things.
Awareness allows choice
As writers, especially when we do a nonfiction piece, especially an essay, it is important to be aware of the length of our average paragraph, because if you have something you wish to emphasize, then you can signal this emphasis to the reader by making a paragraph much longer or shorter than the average. The paragraph will stand out.
At a writer’s seminar, when people are contributing comments, it is important to become aware of the length of the average comment you are hearing, because if you have a comment longer than average it will be emphasized, and people will think it is important, important enough for you to take extra time to speak. If you enter a seminar late, then it’s best to take the time to listen and gain awareness of the average contribution-length, so you do not emphasize by accident. With awareness you may emphasize by choice.
Length is Related to Energy and Pacing
There is a story I found in a magazine article on communication. A man wanted to get a laugh, so he found a very good joke by the famous comedian, Bob Hope. Then he waited for his chance. One day, he was standing with some people and, after a few people had told jokes, and the group was laughing, he contributed his Bob Hope one—No laughter! The joke just plopped, fell flat. Why? What happened was: He had not been aware of how all the other jokes were short with fast energy. His contribution was not funny because, being long and s-s-l-l-o-o-w-w, it did not match. (Although it had matched Bob Hope's set of jokes)
Needless to say, a happy gathering of intellectual writers may talk in long thoughtful paragraphs with each other. I can appreciate that.
Meanwhile, if my fellow writers are getting really excited about popular culture, or Star Trek television writing, and making their contributions short and energetic, then while I may not share their excitement and energy, I find that if I can be equally short it will be OK for them.
If I enter a seminar room late then I will listen, taking time to raise my group awareness, before I contribute.
A Large Group is like a Radio Net:
Think Before You Speak
As you know, the radio call sign for the Calgary International Airport is YCC. There is only one airport. In contrast, an army battalion of 450 men may have scores of call signs, all on the same radio frequency, where only one person may talk at a time. How do they handle all that radio traffic? Easy: It does not take very long to learn to follow the slogan “Think Before You Speak.”
Soldiers, glorious and proud, are advised it is OK to humbly write out what you need to say on a piece of paper, if that is what you need to do, before you start to transmit. (I will mentally rehearse) Another skill for soldiers, and for civilians too, is learning to be brief and concise. We civilians may learn how to leave someone a brief phone message, or a brief e-mail. Once you are aware of the need to be concise, you quickly get the hang of it. It's fun. Soldiers are taught how, before they press the button on the transceiver, they should think of the acronym BASS, standing for Brevity, Accuracy, Speed and military Security. I guess for us civilians Security could mean considering: would any absent person's feelings be hurt if they were present and listening? The whole group benefits when we show r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
At a writer’s seminar there may be scores of people in the room; it can be scary to contribute in such a big group. Remember to breath, and “think before you speak.”
I dug this up because I am not writing new essays just now; my attention is on my manuscript which is close to deadline.
As you can probably tell, I wrote this not for the eye but for the ear, and not so much for the page as for explaining in person, because I have found, to quote Strunk and White on using abbreviations, "there are new babies being born every minute" who don't know (abbreviations) how to contribute in groups.
What do you think? Any contributors you hate?
Should I do a part two on contributing?