I went to my first, conference-style writers’ workshop earlier last month.
Overall, it was a good experience. But whenever a large group gathers, you just know you’re going to get dumb questions. It’s best to go in prepared. I know I did.
Upon arrival, I perused the room for a couple moments, feeling a bit like Forest Gump on the bus. So many people said, “This seat’s taken” with their eyes, and completed the brush off with a book handily placed on the adjacent empty seat.
I had to just laugh to myself because, despite that, it’s always pretty cool to go to an event where you immediately have something in common with everyone else in the room. This is great for an introvert, like me, who hates small talk. We don’t have to pretend to care about each other as people. I don’t have to ask about their kids or their job. I don’t really even need to ask their name. (Thank you, name tags.) We can jump straight into, “So, what are you writing?” and both parties are giddy with the potential of the conversation. Sure, I may meet some extremely interesting people who could be potential friends, but I don’t have to start any conversation with the pretense of that even being a possibility.
I ended up finding a seat next to a gentleman who looked the part of the quintessential writer—complete with goatee, suspenders, and a black fedora resting on the window ledge beside him. Jackpot. I knew there would be some interesting and entertaining conversation there. I was not disappointed.
Whenever I am in a large room full of people like that I am just fascinated. I always wish I could dig through the experiences of my fellow attendees. Some, obviously, more than others. I also can’t help making general observations. As the day went on, I noticed that there was a familiarity about the experience. It took me a moment to recognize, but when I did, I was, again entertained. This group of people was just just like high school, and college, and every other time a large number of people congregated for a lecture setting. I recognized the familiarity as the presence of the dumb question.
The keynote speaker, Chuck Sambuchino, author of Guide to Literary Agents and How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, among others, was definitely entertaining. Actually, he was downright funny. We were an audience ready to laugh. Even Chuck’s tester jokes—the ones you could tell hadn’t quite been vetted yet—got a chuckle out of most.
I always draw a long breath, though, when a speaker opens the day to questions. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be talked at for hours, but you know as well as I do that there actually IS a such thing as a dumb question. And large groups, like this, tend to draw out a few.
Of course, there are those in attendance who “get it.” They ask thoughtful, pertinent questions that could apply to many people. Bravo, People Who Get it!
Then there are those who stumble upon a great question. The asker isn’t sure if it had already been answered. It sort of had been, but not really. Luckily she asked it, though, because about 10 other people are kind of wondering the same thing and about 25 others weren’t, but now that the question was asked, they are really interested in the answer.
Next there is the premature interrogation—where someone asks a good question, but it will be answered in another section of the lecture. All of these are good questions so far.
Now we have the “but what if” questions. Not necessarily fundamentally bad questions, but they have no general application for anyone else in the room except the asker. During these questions a hefty chunk of the audience starts assessing their appetite level and wondering if they remembered to program the DVR to record the Hoarders marathon to have for that rainy day when they are hating themselves and need to know that there are people in the world who are more pathetic than they.
Finally, we have the last category of question. It is the bottom of the barrel. These are the truly dumb questions. These questions make everyone in the room die a little inside because faith in the state of humanity gets bumped down a notch.
These horrible questions are the ones asked by those who just want to feel like they planted a flag at the workshop by asking a question. This is the question asked by He Who Just Wants To Hear Himself Talk. Chuck actually did a great job answering these dumb questions in a humorous and less pejorative way than saying, You’re an idiot, but the sentiment was similar. And thus he was able to keep everyone’s attention and keep things moving.
The number of bad questions on this day was relatively low. The main topics that Chuck Sambuchino, the panel, and the other speakers covered were helpful and interesting. I would suggest all of you to find a conference or workshop to attend in something that interests you. I think it’s a great experience. And if you do, let me know if you have the same experience when it’s time for questions.
I bet you will. It’s inevitable.