Fans of Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing” podcast divided into two camps after she introduced the “Good Cop, Bad Cop” segment of her show. “Good Cop, Bad Cop,” designed to answer listeners’ questions in both a supportive and brutally honest way, struck fans as either amusing, or demeaning (it was usually both). The Bad Cop, author/screenwriter Matt Wallace, offered almost as much good advice as sarcasm and must have decided the only way to reduce the amount of bad writing in the world was to do something about it. He announced his plan to run an online workshop entitled “The Loose Cannon” and, despite his reputation for harsh assessments, people signed up.
I was one of them. Participants submitted short stories or single novel chapters (under 4,000 words) for a critique, and also gathered ’round their computers on a Saturday afternoon to watch Matt via U-Stream and revise and share their work using the program’s chat feature. He would identify something the group in general had done poorly (for example, opening sentences) and how to make improvements. Writers then had 10 minutes to make changes and then offer up their original and revised work. This process, while a tad nerve-wracking, proved enlightening. Without the opportunity to procrastinate, writers can churn out the same thing (good, or bad) in a few minutes that they might otherwise waste a day on. (Whether or not this lesson gets applied later is beside the point. It was still enlightening.) People then saw each other’s work, heard Matt’s reaction to the new-if-not-improved writing, and had the chance to learn from each other’s successes and failures.
No one got singled out, Matt was able to find plenty of things most writers do wrong. While other writing workshops pander to the participants and deliver what they want to hear, Matt Wallace gets right to what doesn’t work and what to do instead. It might not be as warm and fuzzy, but it’s a hell of a lot more useful. For brand-new beginners “The Loose Cannon” may be overwhelming, but for writers who feel ready to find and conquer their weaknesses, this is a great place to start. Be advised – if your computer is in the family room and you have small children, Matt’s language is a little too colorful for youngsters. Also, if you’re technologically challenged, you should either explore U-Stream until you’re comfortable using it, or at the very least until you know for sure it will work with your browser. Some people found Firefox worked better than Internet Explorer, others had the opposite scenario. I found the latter would display the video, but not allow me to use the chat window.
For writers who are brand-new beginners, or who don’t feel really confident about blunt remarks, stick with “I Should Be Writing” and keep working, and sharing your work with supportive friends and family. Writers who want to improve their craft, who don’t quite know what’s going wrong or where to start – “The Loose Cannon” is like a short-cut through the woods. Fast-paced, a little rougher than the designated trail, but, if you’re not faint of heart, well worth the effort if you want to get that much closer to being published.