[Robert J. Sawyer]  Science Fiction Writer
 ROBERT J. SAWYER
 Hugo and Nebula Award Winner

SFWRITER.COM > How To Write > Quotes From Rob's Students

  Quotes from Rob’s  
  Writing Workshop Students  

Robert J. Sawyer has taught writing at University of Toronto, Ryerson University, and Humber College's famed School for Writers. He's also been Visiting Faculty for the University of South Florida / National University of Ireland Summer School in Contemporary Writing, and has frequently led intensive writing workshops at The Banff Centre in Alberta.

Rob has served as writer-in-residence at the Richmond Hill Public Library; the Kitchener Public Library; the Toronto Public Library’s Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy; the Canadian Light Source: Canada's National Synchrotron; and at the Odyssey Workshop, held at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. He has participated in the national Writers in Electronic Residence program affiliated with York University, and been writer-in-residence for the Maclean’s website.

Said one writer-in-residence patron:

“I have never had so much thoughtful, detailed, positive feedback. Rob has no agenda but to improve you and your work. He has an amazing eye for both the micro- and the macroscopic aspects of your manuscript. From commas to concept, he had looked and thought about everything.”

Below are quotes from other students and library patrons about Rob’s skill as a writing teacher.

E-mail Rob to be notified — with no obligation, of course! — when new information is available about workshops with Rob; current workshop information is usually here.


Jump to: Testimonials | Banff Centre | University of Toronto | Odyssey | Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers | IFWA | Wired Writers | Humber School | SiWC | Merril Collection | Kitchener Public Library | Canadian Light Source | Bakka Phoenix

Testimonials: General

  • “Sawyer is very generous to young writers.” —Tor Books Senior Editor David G. Hartwell, quoted in Publishers Weekly

  • “It seems like everywhere I go, people are talking about what an incredible friend Sawyer is to young SF writers, how much he gives back to the community. And from what I saw from the fringes of the [Bundoran Press book lauch] party [at the Montreal World Science Fiction Convention], he’s a friendly, humble guy who seemed to always have his attention on someone else’s needs, whether it was lugging a box of books for a younger writer or giving a big hug to a former student.” —The Ottawa Citizen

  • “Sawyer is a generous mentor to other writers.” —Quill and Quire, the Canadian publishing trade journal

  • “Robert J. Sawyer is one truly amazing gentleman — a mentor to the entire Canadian sf/f world.” —author Craig Russell

  • “In addition to being smart, approachable, courteous, and affable, Sawyer has always extended a willing, helpful hand to aspiring writers.” —author Gene Wilburn

  • “At the Oscars, the winners thank God. At the Auroras, they thank Robert J. Sawyer.” —TV personality Liana K, hosting the 2010 Aurora Awards ceremony, Canada's highest honour in science-fiction writing


Testimonials: Banff Centre

“I’ve twice taken part in the ‘Writing with style’ programme at the Banff Centre, specifically the science fiction section with Rob as the group leader.

“Its worth was beyond measure. Not only are you in the heart of the Rockies for a week, but your accommodation is excellent (like a dorm, but spacious and clean, with a full bathroom), your meals are taken care of (three buffet meals a day with excellent food), and the curriculum is as good as the group and leader makes it. Both times I participated, the group was excellent, and Rob’s comments and direction were insightful, genuine, clear and to the point, and most importantly — helpful.

“Your mornings are devoted to working with the group, critiquing short stories, doing exercises and pumping your group leader for information. The afternoons are yours to use as you please — and really, you should be writing. :) There are evening events and readings which are also great.

“But mostly, it’s the rare opportunity to spend time with a very articulate, very business-savvy, very clever instructor. Not only will your writing improve, but you have the chance to see Rob in action, and see how a generous pro gives back to his profession.

“If you’re wondering whether or not it’s worth it, take my word for it: it absolutely is.”

Robyn M. Herrington


“I took Robert Sawyer’s Banff workshop a couple of years ago and came away a better writer. Rob gives generously to his classes in information, advice and hand-on critiquing.

“Rob is an excellent teacher and perceptive critiquer. The Banff week-long workshop format is effective at identifying writing weaknesses and strengths, making contact with other genre writers and recharging your writing batteries. I recommend it. Oh, and the setting doesn’t hurt, either.

“Something to keep in mind: the smaller the group, the more you get out of it. We were only four. I felt as if I’d died and gone to heaven ...

“The workshop is open to Americans, as well. The accommodations are great: huge rooms with lots of space in which to write, your own full, private bathroom, etc. Meals are included and were delicious at the time I attended.

“The format is: workshop in the morning (ours revolved around critiquing each other’s work) and free time in the afternoon. Rob was also available for a private interview with each of the participants. Evenings featured readings and discussions with each of the teaching staff.”

Marcelle Dubé


“Not only is Robert J. Sawyer a fabulous writer, but I have to also give him a recommendation as a profoundly influential mentor. I trained under Rob in fall 2005 at the Banff Centre for the Arts’ Writing with Style workshop, where he mentored a group of authors through a week-long intensive writing workshop. I’ve been studying writing and science fiction for 15 years, but learned more in that one week than in all those years put together. The story that came out of that workshop sold to a respectable, award-winning science fiction market.”

Andrew Zimmerman Jones


“Rob’s workshop at Banff was a truly fabulous experience. While the food, the setting, and the community were all great, it was the writing group itself that really made it worth the trip.

“Rob really took his job as writing group ’mentor’ seriously. He made sure all of us, with our diverse styles and interests, got something really useful out of the experience. In my case I really feel he went above and beyond ... He really is a great group leader.

“And yes, the group of fellow writers were incredible — I learned a lot from each of them. Actually, reading those other writers was one of the highlights of the trip.”

Julie C. Day


“I attended Rob’s session at the Banff Centre in 2000 and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re a writer, I encourage you to attend — Rob is a very giving and dynamic instructor who provides great feedback on participants’ writing. And he gives the straight goods on how the publishing world works (unlike many authors at workshops and festivals who seem to want to keep the whole business as mysterious as possible).”

Bonnie Jean Mah


“The week with Rob Sawyer at the Writing With Style program in Banff was inspiring, informative, and fun! Rob is a superb workshop leader with a talent for encouraging every member of the group.”

Karleen Bradford

(The Acknowledgements in her HarperCollins YA novel Dragonmaster begin, “I would especially like to thank Robert Sawyer, whose workshop at the Banff Centre for the Arts set me on the right track.”)

“Don’t let the unbelievably low price fool you — Rob’s science fiction workshop is invaluable for any aspiring science fiction author. Not only does this program offer students a tremendous learning experience for improving their writing skills, but it also provides them with the information they need to gain an in-depth understanding of the business of science fiction publishing. This course is an absolute must for any wishing to pursue a career as an SF writer!”

James S. Fell


“I took Rob’s week-long writing workshop in 2005 and it had a profoundly positive impact on my writing career. Although I did not end up pursuing science fiction, Rob’s excellent advice on engaging readers and not being afraid to ‘pick a side’ helped create my writing style. His statement of ‘If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one,’ became my writing mantra, and it has served me well. In addition, Rob’s exceptional business sense and ongoing encouragement were significant contributors to me achieving my dream of making a living as a full-time writer.”

James S. Fell (again, five years after taking my course)
Freelance fitness columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Chatelaine.com and AskMen.com


“Why did the workshop exceed my expectations? Because Robert Sawyer is a gifted teacher who willingly shares his knowledge and expertise. His style of critiquing and presenting writing techniques is straightforward, thus providing participants with practical skill-building strategies. He encourages and supports throughout, leaving the novice with a belief in his or her abilities and the desire to continue writing. Thank you, Rob!”

Darlene Jones

(The Acknowledgements in her novel Embattled begin, “Thank you to: a most generous man, who also happens to be a natural teacher — Robert J. Sawyer.”)

“I recently had the opportunity to spend an amazing week at the Banff Centre ‘Writing With Style’ program. I came away with so much more than I ever expected and that was due mainly to our facilitator, Rob Sawyer.

“As a teacher, he was dynamic and informative. From tips to improve our writing style to an in-depth view of the business end of writing, Rob was a valuable resource. He generously gave his time during and after the week to support and encourage us. He embodies what I perceive to be an excellent mentor.

“And, at last, a critiquer who would give me what I needed to move to the next level of my writing career! Rob was straightforward, he neither coddled nor tore down. His insights were invaluable, accurate and appreciated.

“I came away from this week with many gifts that I will treasure; friendships, a support network, renewed enthusiasm, improved writing skills, and motivation. The most fundamental gift I was given by Rob and this program was the ability to say without reservation, ‘I am a writer.’ Thank you always, Rob.”

Bev Geddes


“Rob is an excellent teacher. His insights into storytelling were unsurpassed by anyone I had workshopped with before. He brought a very personable, humorous, and common-sense approach to the entire workshopping process, and I left feeling that I had gotten more than my money’s worth. I would take another workshop from him in a second, and would encourage anyone who is looking to improve their skills and knowledge base to do the same. Thank you for a fantastic week, Rob!”

Jordan Hemsley


“Rob, you can inspire, relate and inform in a way that few teachers, let alone authors, have the capacity to do. You made the genre of science fiction, for me, feel just as important, if not more so, than any other path I might ever take in my life. Indeed, you and everyone else made me feel, rightly so, as if I was a part of something much bigger than myself, while still making me feel as though I were accomplishing something for myself. It was amazing, and no matter what happens, I’ll never forget what you and the program did for me.”

Tyler Harding


“Rob is not merely a successful, award winning author, he is also an outstanding teacher. His workshop enabled me not only to see where my work was failing but, in a constructive and supportive manner, also gave clear advice on how to overcome these problems. I left energized and with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.”

Brendan Fowlston, Costa Rica


“Yes, I know, you’re probably getting sick of me saying thanks so much. But I just can’t believe the type of experience we went through. I thought it was just going to be another critique group where I go through the motions without ever getting to the heart of the matter. By the end, it seemed more like you were the only one in our careers who cared enough to tell us the truth.

“Again, I can’t express how grateful I am for the whole experience. Thanks for everything.”

Ryan McFadden
(subsequent Aurora Award-winner)


“Pleased to see that Robert J. Sawyer will be receiving the lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. This guy is like the godfather of Canadian SF&F (errr ... I mean that in a good way ... not a horse-in-your-bed way). Not only has his career been hugely successful, but his assistance and guidance has helped countless writers hone their craft and navigate the tricky waters of publishing. I owe a lot to Robert J. Sawyer. Congratulations, my friend!”

Ryan McFadden (on Facebook, seven years after taking Rob's course)


“Rob’s workshop was a profound experience for me. I have attended other workshops before, but none of them were like this. Not even close.

“The surroundings didn’t hurt — the Banff Centre, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, is great, with good food, good accomodations, and helpful friendly staff — but the workshop and Rob were what made this such a ground-shaking experience for me.

“Each minute with the man was a learning experience. He covered everything, from writing excellent prose to handling the business. I quickly realized that missing a meal meant missing another opportunity to learn something, because people were constantly peppering him with questions — some I hadn’t even realized I needed to ask — which he answered fully.

“I came away from this workshop with a much better understanding of what I need to do in order to have a career in this field. And I realized that if having a career in this field means getting to hang around with people like Rob and the other people in the workshop — that is exactly what I want to do!”

Eileen Bell
(subsequent Aurora Award-winner)


“Finally, of course, I have to mention Robert J. Sawyer, who is not only Canada’s best-known SF writer and one of the best writers in the field, period, but a tremendous teacher and booster of other writers’ works.

“I took his excellent class in writing science fiction at the Banff Centre twice (twice, because the first time I was up against a deadline for a children’s biography of the Ayatollah Khomeini, of all things, and couldn’t devote myself to SF like I wanted to), and it was the second time, in 2005, that a writing exercise he gave us one morning, to write, cold, in about five minutes, the opening of a story, gave birth to what eventually became my novel Marseguro. Which is why a geological formation that plays an important role in Marseguro is called Sawyer’s Point, as is a shuttle craft in my novel Terra Insegura!

—DAW Books author Edward Willett,
in an interview for Canadian bookstore chain McNally Robinson
(subsequent Aurora Award-winner)


“Thank you very much for coming to Banff and enhancing the Writing with Style program. You were/are wonderful. As you could tell, your group loved you. By now they have probably moved in with you. It was a great pleasure to meet you and to have a chance to talk to you. It won’t be my program next year but I’ll strongly endorse your return.”

Rachel Wyatt
“Writing with Style” Workshop Director
Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta


Testimonials: University of Toronto

“Outstanding. I’ve attended 10 professional SF workshops, which were all good. But Rob’s enthusiasm, experience, and expertise were greater than all 10 previous instructors put together. Will I recommend this course to others? I’ll demand my aspiring SF-writer friends take this course.”

Pat Forde
Hugo-nominated Analog author
Student, 2002

“Rob Sawyer is by far the most enthusiastic teacher I have ever come across. A great sense of humor and as smart as a whip — kind and understanding, words of encouragement and constructive, helpful advice. He was fantastic. Thank you, and don’t let Rob go. He’s an excellent teacher for the mind and soul of a wanna-be published author.”

Shar O’Brien
Editor, NFG
Student, 2001

“Rob’s course at the University of Toronto was an overwhelmingly inspirational experience. Rob was unfailingly generous with his time, patient with our total lack of knowledge, gracious, and an all-out wonderful teacher. I learned as much about professionalism as I did about writing. Highly recommended, if you’re looking for a general workshop on writing SF and Fantasy. Rob’s a great speaker, approachable, personable, helpful, and full of great information and advice on professionalism and career-building.”

Naomi Bilodeau
Student, 2001

“Hi, Rob. Great news! My story ‘The Stone Cipher’ came in second place in the first quarter 2006 of the Writers of the Future Contest! Thanks for all your help in the past, once again! I don’t think I could have come so far without your excellent class and advice.”

Tony Pi
Student, 2001
(subsequent Writers of the Future winner and Campbell and Aurora nominee)

“Thank you so very much for your wonderful work at the Writers’ Workshop. It was great to have you aboard and your classes, workshops and one-on-one sessions received outstanding feedback from the students. Your energy, spirit and generosity of mind did much to bring a positive and creative atmosphere to the workshop. Thanks for joining us.”

Dr. Bruce Meyer
Director, Creative Writing Program
University of Toronto


“Rob Sawyer knows the field, communicates well, is clearly enthusiastic, courteous, considerate, yet able to control outbursts and digressions, and interested in each student’s work and progress. Well done!”

“Rob Sawyer was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, gentle, positive, very worthwhile to take a class from.”

“Landing one of the foremost writers in this genre of writing was a good decision. Luckily, Robert Sawyer teaches as well as he writes.”

“Great course and a great instructor.”

—Student Comments on Instructor-Evaluation Forms
University of Toronto Writers Workshop 2005


“Excellent in every possible way.”

Amazing — helpful, personable, knowledgeable, practical, enthusiastic, etc. Will I recommend this course to others? Most definitely!”

“Excellent. More cogent, useful and practical than any other writing experience I’ve ever had. I definitely would recommend this to any serious aspiring writer.”

“A+, 11/10, near-perfect. I have already recommended this course to others.”

“Excellent.”

“Excellent.”

—Student Comments on Instructor-Evaluation Forms
University of Toronto Writers Workshop 2002


“Excellent.”

“Excellent — top notch — superb. I really appreciated that Rob went with each of the participants for a lengthy one-on-one session.”

“Excellent.”

“Rob Sawyer is excellent. I will recommend this course.”

“Excellent.”

“Very, very excellent.”

“Excellent.”

—Student Comments on Instructor-Evaluation Forms
University of Toronto Writers Workshop 2001


Instructor Evaluations: University of Toronto

The University of Toronto has all students fill out anonymous evaluations of their instructors. Here’s how Rob’s thirteen students from the Summer of 2005 rated him:

Rate the Performance of the Instructor: Outstanding Very Good Good Adequate Poor Very Poor
Meeting the course objectives 10 3 0 0 0 0
Communicating enthusiasm 12 1 0 0 0 0
Demonstrating current and thorough
knowledge of the subject
13 0 0 0 0 0
Demonstrating a positive, supportive
attitude for learning
11 2 0 0 0 0
Being organized and prepared to teach each class 10 3 0 0 0 0
Communicating the course material clearly 9 4 0 0 0 0
Using interesting, relevant and appropriate
teaching methods
11 2 0 0 0 0
Responding to student questions and comments 12 1 0 0 0 0
Encouraging students to be involved in the class 10 3 0 0 0 0
Using scheduled class time fully and productively 12 1 0 0 0 0
Giving helpful feedback 12 1 0 0 0 0
His or her performance overall 12 1 0 0 0 0


Testimonial: Odyssey

Robert J. Sawyer was Special Writer-in-Residence at the Odyssey Workshop in 2006.
“Thank you very much for being a part of Odyssey this year. Your lectures were fascinating to listen to: focused, energetic, and filled with insights. And the students really appreciated your feedback on their manuscripts and the individual attention and advice you gave them. Many commented how much they enjoyed the time you spent with them outside of class and how much they learned from you.

“Your passion for teaching and your skill at teaching were very apparent. Thank you for all the time and energy you devoted to the class. It was a pleasure having you at Odyssey; thanks for helping to make the workshop a great success.”

Jeanne Cavelos
Director
Odyssey: The Fantasy Writing Workshop


Testimonial: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Robert J. Sawyer led a day-long workshop on “The Craft and Commerce of Commercial Fiction” for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in Denver on May 19, 2007.
“Many thanks for the wonderful workshop you conducted for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. It was an ideal blend of topics on the craft of writing and the business of publishing from an insider who has succeeded in both.

“From our speakers we seek information and inspiration, and you provided both with intelligence, passion and conviction. Thanks for making this event such a major success.”

Scott Brendel
Education Chair
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers


Testimonial: IFWA

“The effort and thought you put into the story critiques both in preparing for and conducting the workshop was remarkable. I speak for all ten participants when I say your comments were both insightful and helpful. As well, we all appreciated the professional approach you took to running the workshop, while, at the same time, sustaining a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. Many of the participants have expressed to me the sense of encouragement they felt at the end of the workshop. We would not hesitate to recommend you to others planning a writing workshop.”

Hayden Trenholm
Workshop Coordinator
Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, Calgary, Alberta
(subsequent Aurora Award-winner)

[Note: IFWA has been holding annual workshops since 1996; in all that time, Robert J. Sawyer is the only person ever asked to return to facilitate a second workshop for them, which he did in 2003 — and he was asked back yet again in 2009, facilitating a totally unprecedented third workshop for them.]


Testimonial: Wired Writers

“A million thanks for the great seminar this afternoon. We rarely see presenters respond with the passion you brought to the discussion, and you can be sure the subscribers from all over your country are going to remember what you said for a long, long time. You addressed so many core issues, and you addressed them with such passion (that word again) and intellect — our subscribers very rarely, if ever, get a chance to hear such free-flowing, knowledgeable discussion.”

Donald E. McQuinn
Seminar Coordinator
Wired Writers Online Workshops


Evaluations: Humber School for Writers

“Thank you barely covers it. I will always remember you and this ‘watershed’ week in my life. See you on the Best Sellers List.”

“I deeply appreciate the care and attention you gave us. You are an inspiration for writers and your encouragement for our group should help produce some excellent new published authors.”

“Ultimately you have taught me that writing is a human process, that the magic is in the doing, and that I am capable. Thank you for the generosity of your advice and for your kindness and humanity. I owe you an inscription.”

“It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with you! I’ve been challenged, inspired and my writing has improved thanks to your generous teaching.”

—Student Comments
Humber School for Writers 2002
Humber College, Toronto, Canada


Evaluations: Surrey International Writers Conference

“It was such a treat to meet you and work with you on the 2006 conference. I’ve been reading through the evaluation forms, and thought that you might like to hear some of the feedback from conference-goers:

  • “The personal highlight of the conference for me was Robert J. Sawyer’s keynote.”
  • “The personal highlight for me were all of Robert Sawyer’s presentations.”
  • “Terrific keynote.” (This was mentioned several times.)
  • “Robert Sawyer was excellent, inspirational.”
  • “Highlight was Robert Sawyer’s Science fiction workshop.”
  • “Meeting Robert J. Sawyer.”
  • “Robert Sawyer was by far the best!”
  • “Highlight was talking to Robert Sawyer.”
  • “Robert Sawyer is a good teacher as well as writer. His seminar stood out.”
  • “Robert Sawyer — no doubt at all, he’s a star. I learned things about subjects I thought I knew all about.”

Lisa Mason
Coordinator
Surrey International Writers’ Conference
Surrey, British Columbia

And in 2008, Robert J. Sawyer gave the Friday-night keynote address at SiWC, prompting these evaluation-form comments:

  • “Rob Sawyer was a passionate and inspiring keynote.”
  • “Robert Sawyer on Friday evening — excellent! Inspiring, motivational, well-organized, well-presented.”
  • “Loved Rob Sawyer’s keynote!”
  • “Robert Sawyer keynote was excellent, inspiring to writers.”
  • “Can’t speak highly enough of Robert Sawyer as a motivational speaker!”
  • “RJ Sawyer’s keynote speech was my personal highlight of the conference.”

Evaluations: Writer-in-Residence at Merril Collection

In 2003, Robert J. Sawyer was writer-in-residence at the Toronto Public Library’s Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, meeting one-on-one with aspirant writers. Here’s what they had to say on the confidential evaluation forms they were provided with, in response to the question, “Was your consultation with Rob helpful?”

Robert Sawyer was helpful, encouraging, and gave direct insightful info on editing and getting published.

Yes — very helpful comments. Good attention paid to specific things I did right and wrong in the ms.

Yes, it was very helpful. It opened my eyes to things I had not considered. Definitely. Mr. Sawyer was very nice and easy to talk to. He also provided some sample outlines and a list of markets. I am very happy that I was able to submit my work. Thank you very much for the opportunity.

It has been quite useful to me. Yes! Yes! I love the fact that anyone can get help from an author when needed.

Very much so. Specific feedback on story — as an editor might see it. Encouragement. Industry tips.

Yes. I liked getting comments from a published author who understands the type of writing I’m attempting.

It was excellent. I found Mr. Sawyer’s comments regarding my manuscript. to be very helpful. I have no negative comments. I am very grateful for the experience.

Very helpful: Writer-in-residence well informed, helpful, encouraging, objective.

It was excellent.

Very much so. Robert Sawyer had a lot of very useful advice and information.

Very useful. It is useful for aspiring writers to gain direction in their writing.

Very good feedback, positive attitude from Rob, motivational. Thank you to Rob for scheduling Saturday workshops.

Very much — excellent feedback Great constructive feedback — thoughtful observations — GREAT overall advice!

Yes. Good insight. No dislikes. One on one is very effective for the beginner; able to ask questions and get feedback.

Yes it was very informative and interesting. I found it very helpful.

Very. Definitely. I found Robert’s advice and encouragement very helpful.

Yes, very much so. Convenient scheduling, excellent commentary, very encouraging!

Very! Yes!

Extremely! Yes! I wouldn’t change a thing. Rob covers a lot of productive ground in an hour! Wow!

Yes. Thank you very much for making this program available — going over my story with Robert Sawyer has clarified what I need to do next to develop as a writer.

Yes! Very useful. You should offer this more often. I liked the personal attention and clear exposition of what needs improvement in the manuscript.

Yes. Rob was very positive and encouraging.

Honest criticism from an author who I respect.

It was very useful. Definitely. I liked how there was a well established and well known writer who could answer all my questions in a fairly definite manner.

Extremely useful. Mr. Sawyer was very helpful. I liked the friendly atmosphere and excellent feedback from Mr. Sawyer.

Very much so. Absolutely. Friendly, nonconfrontational, good location and privacy.

Extremely — professional advice — warm person — encouraging. Informal yet instructive. Robert Sawyer should be congratulated!

Yes, extremely. Mr. Sawyer gave me very useful advice and feedback. I liked the choice of writer — prominent T.O. figure. I liked that Sawyer is a scifi writer.

Yes. Valuable feedback on the practical aspects of sf writing as a career, markets, how to approach writing a story, etc.

Yes — extremely useful. Absolutely. I appreciate this programme and found Robert Sawyer’s feedback tremendously helpful and encouraging. Thank you!

Oh, yes. Yes.

Absolutely! Gave me an inside view by a published author which is very helpful to we who aspire to such a career. Absolutely! I’m disappointed that this program with an F&SF writer at the helm is not offered more often! The intervening decade and a half between Judith Merril and Rob Sawyer doing this program was far too long! We want more! [happy face]

Absolutely. The session with Rob was very helpful. Loved the critique session, it was outstanding.

Quite a bit. Yes. Good feedback about the story I had written and useful information about markets.

I was given excellent advice. I was nervous when I came in but Mr. Sawyer made me feel very comfortable.

This is the most useful idea for aspiring writers since the workshop. Absolutely.

Very good feedback, with insightful direct comments. Definitely. No faults at all.

Yes. Yes. Public lectures and the manuscript overview very useful. Very much. Excellent feedback. Great constructive feedback. Insightful observations — GREAT overall advice!


Evaluations: Writer-in-Residence at KPL

Robert J. Sawyer was the Edna Staebler Writer-in-Residence at the Kitchener (Ontario) Public Library in October and November 2006, hosting five public events (three seminars and two sets of readings), and meeting in hour-long one-on-one sessions with 37 aspirant writers. Thirty-five of those writers filled out anonymous evaluation forms. Everything they had to say is below (and you can download a PDF file containing a scan of all 35 actual evaluation forms here):


Rate your overall experience (where 1 is poor and 10 is excellent)

  • Twenty-three ratings of “10”
  • Nine ratings of “9”
  • One of “7”
  • One “11” from a particularly satisfied patron who added that number to the scale
  • One left blank

for an average rating of 9.7 out of 10.


Was your consultation with Rob helpful?

Absolutely

Most helpful! He very generously answered my questions with information that will take me to a new level with my writing.

Absolutely! No holds barred critique. Rob saw many issues I wouldn’t have seen in revising/editing my own.

Yes / Very

All I had hoped for. Constructive, helpful and to the point.

Extremely. Identified weaknesses I had not contemplated in a tactful way.

Yes, he opened my eyes to what I need to do.

Extremely. I felt like I got some great feedback. It was appreciated that his comments were tendered with kindness and to the point. He was very thorough in his experience.

It was helpful on every point. Very clear, very thorough. Nothing left unturned. Rob explained everything I wanted to understand, and more. He spotted everything that needed improvement.

Absolutely

Very. He was very knowledgeable and had plenty of clear suggestions for improvement.

Very helpful. Rob is an excellent teacher who provided invaluable information and critique about my submitted work and the industry in general.

Very helpful. the explanations were very clear and thought provoking. I like Rob’s openness and willingness to answer any questions I had.

Extremely

Yes. To hear the comments from someone who knows was great. He was unbiased and honest.

Very much so

Yes!

Yes

Very!

Excellent & Beyond!

Very much so. In addition to critiquing my story, he helped provide me with a structured approach to furthering my writing career.

I think it was very helpful to talk to someone who knew the industry & how it worked. Also he had some interesting tips and ideas on how to edit your work yourself. The suggestions weren’t bad either.

Yes. His insights were excellent & his attention to detail was extremely helpful. I will be taking his comments to heart as I continue working on the novel.

He’s a very nice man. Absolutely. He offered constructive criticism, ideas and encouragement. I’ll go back to my writing with renewed vigour.

Yes. Good level of feedback (not too much in the details). Some good hints & tips.

Yes — it was great to go over my writing with someone who really knew what they were talking about.

Very! I learned a lot in the time allotted. Lots of good, sound and applicable advice.

Extremely — he offered concrete feedback & valid suggestions.

Yes. Lots of constructive criticism

Yes, very informative, relaxed. Rob was very open and willing to answer even personal questions.

Yes — solid recommendations

Yes. Very motivating, prompting me to continue on with my work. Interesting to see an objective evaluation from an author of another genre.

Extraordinarily. His experience shines through every comment and editorial mark. Especially about Point of view.

Very helpful! His interest in my ideas, suggestions for improvement and comments about form/structure/voice motivated my thoughts for further writing.

I have never had so much thoughtful, detailed, positive feedback. He has no agenda but to improve you and your work. He has an amazing eye for both the micro- and the macroscopic aspects of your manuscript. From commas to concept, he had looked and thought about everything.


What did you like about the experience?

Time to talk with a professional and get his views on the industry and my writing.

The expertise he shared / the encouragement he gave

Rob was very precise and accurate in his critique.

Encouragement / concise approach

The one on one contact / the ability to ask and receive answers from questions.

Thorough critique; suggestions for publication, tips on research

Gave me some direction. It was nice to talk to a published writer.

Timing. I had just finished writing my first novel. It was great in editing tips, sales tip from the seminars. I enjoyed the WHOLE experience. Thank you so much.

It gave me a focus I never had before. I saw the weaknesses in my manuscript with a lot of clarity because Rob is a very animated speaker, and that made everything he said leave a deeper impression.

Extremely detailed critique of my work and Rob’s extensive industry knowledge.

Rob explained problems in my story and offered ideas about how to change them — way more constructive than just saying “this needs to be changed.”

Honest and direct.

I found the experience motivating and enlightening. I found new direction for my work. I have a greater understanding of ideas that need to be work on with my work.

Thorough, insightful, balanced, encouraging, realistic

The comfort level. Robert was very down to earth.

Very good useful feedback / with one on one time

Rob’s affable, positive approach & demeanour. Attention to detail, his interest & the opportunity to discuss detailed & specific concerns with a professional of his ability & calibre.

Rob & his wife Carolyn went over quite a few different ways of looking at the life of a poet. Ideas in my head I will now change concerning exactly what I was going to do with this. Thanks Rob & Carolyn.

He was very positive in his suggestions — a lot of good ones. Made me see my story in a new light. I am very excited about going at it again.

His generous spirit. His vast knowledge & expertise. His clarity when expressing himself.

I very much enjoyed that Rob is a science fiction author. As he has experience writing in my genre. It was very informative and there were some excellent critiques.

I liked that he was positive & gave constructive criticism which would help you improve.

Rob’s enthusiasm and his focus on both the positive & what needs changing sent me away ready to dig into my manuscript & keep working.

The opportunity to have feedback from a professional writer, free of charge, in Kitchener.

Nice to have some feedback, to understand where I’m needing to improve and to get some information on how to proceed.

It was a good experience because it helped me figure out how to improve my writing.

Personable, kind, encouraging while still giving honest feedback. He pointed out technical advice that I know will be useful in future submissions. Very frank.

Inspirational — offered suggestions re: rewriting.

Unique experience.

The critique was helpful, thorough, encouraging.

Concrete ways to improve the book

#1 — conversation with an author I truly admire. #2 — insight into the writing process

Meeting an author whose work I’ve enjoyed. Getting a non-partisan affirmation of my skill.

It was open, engaging, supportive and above all, encouraging. You included my wife as well! Thanks.

Straightforward advice delivered by a total professional. He was encouraging in a realistic fashion. Never pandered nor patronized. I left with much to think about, buoyed up and encouraged.


What should we change?

It was great! Thank you very much.

Not a thing / Thanks!

No need to change any of it.

Don’t know. No basis for comparison.

I have no suggestions. What I experienced was complete.

Nothing

Nothing.

I really don’t know what would be a better choice. I felt the program went smoothly. Maybe an editing class would help? I was happy with my experience. Again my thanks!!!

Maybe a secondary stage of reviewing the revised manuscripts, to point out potential confusion in applying the advice. But this is a matter of time constraints, not anything that needs improving with the evaluation itself.

Nothing. Get him back again next year!

Great program! Thanks!

A longer residency perhaps? Was a great experience as is.

Nothing except maybe add 2 more workshops.

“It ain’t broke.”

Nothing.

More lectures!

Nothing that I’m aware of.

[blank]

Nothing.

It would be wonderful if students at the high school level could be made aware of Robert Sawyer’s talent ... possibly workshops at the schools?

Genre specific authors are very helpful to people writing in that genre. As much as I would love to see another sci-fi author next year, however, a different genre would be more appropriate for others.

Seems pretty good as is.

[blank]

Nothing, in my opinion.

No comment at this time.

I think that it was fine the way it was. [happy face]

Nothing! [happy face] I’m so grateful for the opportunity. Thanks for supporting K-W writers.

Continue offering this service — much appreciated.

Nothing

Don’t see a need for any changes to be made.

nothing

Nothing. High marks all around.

Comfort level of meeting room.

[changed question to “What should I change?”] First of all, my self doubt about the effectiveness of my writing. With new confidence I shall move on with more writing and even directing my dramas.

Robert J. Sawyer should be at my side every day while I’m writing ... okay that’s a bit unrealistic. But after today, I feel he will be. Change nothing! I also want to thank Rob for scheduling a special appointment for me after a death in the family prevented me from attending my original appointment. What a Pro!!!


In addition to formal survey comments, Rob received five thank-you letters from KPL patrons:

“I had the privilege of coming to hear you speak last week at KPL. Your points on point of view were precise and clear to understand. The audience participation part was extremely effective in emphasizing the point of view errors and applying corrections. The most pleasurable part was just listening to you speak. You have a fabulous voice and a personable way of communicating. The time just flew by. Thank you for offering your expertise. I look forward to implementing your suggestions in my own writing.”

“I just wanted to say thanks again for reviewing my manuscript. I was inspired by your advice — I’m attempting to write a page a day. I’m a long-hand-first-draft kinda girl, so it feels good to putting pen to paper every morning. Thank you for all your honest, down-to-earth suggestions!”

“Robert & Carolyn, your love of reading, writing, selling and all things to do with books was generously and graciously shared with us here in Kitchener-Waterloo. Thank you both for being here. I learned a lot. Have a great day!”

“Thanks so much for your evaluation of my manuscript when you were at the KPL. I read your note of encouragement every time I sit down to write.”

“I want to thank you for the suggestions and kind comments you gave during my manuscript appraisal and for the generosity of advice you offered. You’ve truly given me new horizons in my writing.”


Evaluations: Canadian Light Source

Robert J. Sawyer was the first-ever Writer-in-Residence at the Canadian Light Source, Canada’s national synchrotron, in June and July 2009, giving eight weekly lectures to the staff, two public lectures, three public readings, talks at the University of Saskatchewan and Centennial Collegiate, and the banquet address at CLS’s annual User Meeting, at which researchers from around the world congregated in Saskatchewan.

In addition, he met in hour-long one-on-one sessions with 32 aspirant writers, 29 of whom filled out confidential evaluation forms (the other three did not submit manuscripts for critiquing, but rather simply wanted to talk about writing); everything they had to say is below.


Rate your overall experience (where 1 is poor and 10 is excellent)

  • Twenty-three ratings of “10”
  • One rating of “9.5” (both “9” and “10” circled)
  • Five ratings of “9” (one of which added the comment, “Less a reflection on Robert than on my reluctance to grade anything perfectly”)

for an average rating of 9.8 out of 10.


Was your consultation with Rob helpful?

Extremely

Extremely

[blank — but rating given was 10 out of 10]

Extremely helpful — he was to the point and gave good, specific examples and questions re my work.

Extremely helpful!

Extremely helpful! Courteous. Straightforward.

Extremely helpful.

Extremely helpful.

Extremely helpful. (I could have sat and listened to him for hours, but I know he’s busy!)

Extremely! Rob was encouraging and taught me many things that I can use to help me become a better writer.

It was extremely helpful. He gave a very detailed critique of my story, and straightforward advice on how to improve it.

It was very helpful. He was able to point out exactly my issues & things I needed to improve upon in my writing.

Very helpful & encouraging. Highly informative.

Very helpful.

Very helpful. Lots of good advice on the “business” & also on the manuscript. Very focused. Very friendly.

Very helpful. The feedback on the content and style has identified several areas I can improve upon.

Very much so. It is hard to find a W-I-R knowledgeable about sci-fi writing. It’s good to find out what is working as well as what isn’t in a piece of writing.

Very. He is such an interesting fellow to talk with. He pointed out various ways to improve my writing abilities and the different aspects I need to make use of for thinking my plots and characters throughout the story.

Very. Several key suggestions that will make a big difference.

Why so many lines for a binary question? :) YES

Yes, extremely — it is/was an important experience in my process as a new writer to get feedback and also suggestions from someone who has been through the process many times.

Yes, he is sharp and stays on track. He gave me more information in an hour than I could get in a week’s reading of “how to” books.

Yes, I was very pleased. Good recommendations.

Yes, very. Rob was enthusiastic and helpful.

Yes — he gave me plenty of ideas on how to start, focus on what needs to get done.

Yes very much, it was a great balance between creative aspects and practical.

Yes; even though he had few comments on the mechanics of my article, he was more than happy to answer a list of various writing-related questions.

Yes. It improved my confidence in my writing and gave some useful perspective from publishing world.

Yes. It was useful to get an objective professional opinion of my writing.


What did you like about the experience?

Clear effective advice.

Feedback was very constructive. Rob was very technically and professionally knowledgeable.

All the advice was quite sensible and well thought out.

Getting to ask questions to someone who is on the inside of the business.

Grammar pointers.

Having the chance to sit down with a successful, famous writer who I admire greatly. Getting specific answers to writing questions.

He greatly boosted my ego!! He went through a couple of vastly different projects of mine, and his insight is quite valuable to me.

He made the best use of our time and allowed me time that remained to ask questions I was concerned about.

He obviously put time and effort into assessing my work. I thought that his suggestions were very helpful and consistent.

He was very generous with his rich knowledge of the publishing industry and the process of writing. I feel very motivated about my writing after talking to Rob about it.

Highly focused critique telling me exactly what I need to know to improve my writing. No extra fluff or things that I already knew. Very Helpful!

I appreciated the opportunity to have time with a professional author. The time spent was invaluable to me. Rob put in a great effort looking at my manuscript. I will gain from this opportunity immeasurably.

I enjoyed talking with someone who was honest and informative. The comments I received were constructive and appreciated.

I left encouraged & motivated to do the heavy-lifting required to complete projects underway. It’s always daunting to have someone review creative work. Rob was tactful w/o being vague.

I liked hearing positive remarks about my work and advice.

I liked Robert’s straightforward manner and the way he gave me writing exercises to work on and consider to improve the way I construct my story.

In no particular order: comments and critiques of existing work, learning the fascinating details of making a “real” character, the ability to pick Rob’s brain and learn.

It’s great to have access to a top Canadian SF writer & one with lots of experience in the publishing world.

Just meeting him was a pleasure but having someone with significant experience provide a “tutorial”, it was like having a Nobel Prize winner as a supervisor.

Meeting Rob and getting constructive feedback on my writing. It’s also an inspiring atmosphere as one walks to Rob’s office.

One-on-one interaction.

Quick and to the point. Easy to understand.

Rob is very open and factual and modest and a straight talker. He is friendly and positive. He is generous with advice.

Rob’s comments, and his whole attitude, seemed very positive and encouraging. Even when he was picking at small details, I did not feel I was being talked down to.

Rob’s first-hand insight about the publishing world. Very astute regarding formatting of manuscripts.

Speaking with someone who is so accomplished & hearing their opinions on my work.

Thanks so much for taking the time to critique my MS. Your help and encouragement mean a great deal to me. When I started writing it was your essays on the craft that I used to grow what had been until then just a hobby into a passion and hopefully, a career.

The locale is very exciting so I am interested about it to writing about it. I also liked working with Robert as he understands the industry & the technology.

The overall experience of having this opportunity is the biggest thing. Having useful references provided such as “The Elements of Style” was nice. Having a sample manuscript is a nice touch.


What should we change?

As far as these critique sessions go, I would not change anything at all. If Rob would consider some workshops — style group sessions, I would certainly welcome the chance to participate in them.

Can’t think of anything despite the fact I only rated 9 out of 10. That is less a reflection on Robert than on my reluctance to grade anything perfectly.

[blank, but rating given was 10 out of 10]

Can’t think of anything. Other than not being able to attend the last 2 talks due to scheduling conflicts, which can hardly be helped.

Expand the program by offering more appointments. Rob indicated that he didn’t get as much writing done so improvements to work load or duration will attract more writers.

Get his office closer to the entrance!! In actuality, it was good to tour the facility again. I had done it last year. I hope you have him come again. Or at least continue this program.

Get more comfortable chairs.

Honestly, nothing. Thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I can’t think of anything. Thanks very much!

I couldn’t think of a thing!

I don’t know if anything needs to be changed, but I hope CLS will continue this program in the future. CLS could also consider having other writers come for shorter visits, with a reading, maybe an evening of discussion about SF’s relevance to society.

I only wish there was more time.

I wish the session could have been longer.

It was a very positive experience — perhaps a follow up would be nice, though I suspect unfeasible.

It would’ve been nice if he had time to read more of my manuscript. (He read 5,000 words — my manuscript is at 14,000.)

Longer term — so we could have 2 visits — giving time to implement Rob’s advice & get a second reading of the material.

Make people aware of the manuscript reading and the on site web resources.

Nothing!

Nothing! Should have writers in on a regular basis & keep the program strong.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing. Great job. Thanks a ton.

Nothing. It was fabulous.

Nothing. Thank you for the opportunity to meet with someone of Rob’s calibre.

Opportunity for longer sessions perhaps. But really, everything was great.

Please continue to have a writer in residence program.

Terrific — nothing to change.

You and your wife both met me when I arrived early & were very helpful and pleasant. Thank you very much.


In addition to formal survey comments, Rob received seven thank-you letters from CLS patrons:

“Thanks again for agreeing to meet me today and critiquing my story. I think I learned more in an hour than I would figure out for myself in a year. I was impressed by your great attention to detail. I’m a little inclined to skip over details. Maybe I’m just lazy. But I’m beginning to get an appreciation for how much little things contribute to a reader’s experience of the story, or an editor’s impression of the writer. I’ll try to cultivate a more professional attitude from now on! I hope the rest of your tenure at the CLS is a great success. I’m sure it will be. I’m also sure you will be a big help to a whole lot of wannabes like me.”

“I had the honour of being of the few people who was able to get an appointment to meet Rob and discuss my manuscript on Saturday. I was excited all last week just waiting for the meeting, and I was not disappointed. We had a very nice and constructive meeting. I only wish his term was longer than two months, as that would allow me time to finish my work and give Rob a chance to re-read it. In any case, it was an uplifting and unforgettable experience. Thanks Rob.”

“Thank you so much for taking the time to see me this past Sunday. I really appreciated what you had to say. Sometimes you wonder if you are crazy for thinking that you can write, your words of encouragement meant a lot.”

“I really enjoyed meeting with you this week. We’re lucky to have someone of your calibre here and your advice & encouragement was very helpful. Thank you so much!”

“I just want to thank you again for sitting down and talking with my son. You really inspired him. He is usually a pretty laid-back kid, who doesn’t seem to get excited about much and he has definitely been excited about your conversation. I cannot begin to count the number of times this week he has mentioned things that the two of you talked about. I know that he has spent an hour every night this week writing. He even has spent time cleaning his room, which he never does, so that he can work at his desk. From a mother’s point of view anything that gets a kid to clean his room is a good thing. I wanted you to know the impact that you have made on my son and taking the time to talk to him about something that he thinks is important. Again, thank you.”

“Thank you! You made my day! Heck, you made my whole year! Your assistance and encouragement meant a great deal to me. Thank-you!”

“You have been an inspiration, and I can honestly say I will complete my novel (even if it takes 100 words at a time). Yesterday, I was riding high on your compliment that I am an excellent writer. All I have to do now is live up to this level, and exceed, which in part will be due to the constructive criticism you provided on my manuscript. I guarantee that when I get my novel published I will definitely acknowledge Robert J. Sawyer!”


Instructor Comments: Bakka Phoenix

On September 30, 2012, Robert J. Sawyer gave a master class entitled "A Thematic Approach to Science Fiction Writing" as the inaugural Chiaroscuro Workshop at Toronto's Bakka Phoenix Books. Afterwards, participants wrote to Rob, blogged and tweeted about the class, and posted on Facebook:

“I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your workshop today. Thanks very much.”

“Thank you very much for an excellent workshop! I learnt so much from you today and I will fine tune my novel with your advice and many fabulous suggestions in mind. I really enjoyed your reading in Orlando but I did not really know what an outstanding lecturer and teacher you were (are!) until today! Thank you, again, for a delightful lecture.”

Thank you Robert! It was terrific, I enjoyed it very much. I would definitely participate in it again!”

“Sunday, I took an awesome class with Toronto sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer. The topic was: A thematic approach to writing science fiction. It was held at local sci-fi bookstore Bakka-Phoenix. I'd seen Rob on panels at conventions before and expected a good class because I knew he would be prepared, interesting, well-spoken and provide me with good material. He did all those things. But nobody told me Rob is funny. I haven't laughed and learned simultaneously like that in forever. When he's on panels, of course his time to speak is limited and it just isn't the same as having four hours to provide serious information and interject a few fun things. I'm now totally hooked on writing from theme.”

“Thanks to @RobertJSawyer and @BakkaPhoenix for the great workshop A Thematic Approach to Science Fiction. I had a great afternoon today!”

“I just wanted to send you a quick email to thank you so very much for the workshop that you hosted yesterday in Toronto. Although I am not a published writer (yet!), I love attending workshops and conferences to expand my mind and open it to new possibilities. You absolutely opened my mind and got me hooked on something I have always been interested in but can now see it in a different light. Thank you also for all the recommendations — I have a lot of catching up to do! I look forward to the next time that you host a talk in Toronto. Thanks again.”

“Typing up my 9+ pages of Moleskin notes from @RobertJSawyer's workshop at @BakkaPhoenix (before I forget what all my shorthand means :-) )”

“As one who was lucky to attend your course today — you did great!”

“It was an awesome workshop! Had a great time!”

“The workshop was great. It has gotten me motivated to write again. Thanks!”

“Thanks for the great class Robert! You really helped clarify the steps needed to get from topic to theme, which was something I was struggling with. Hopefully this will get me back on track with my story. Cheers!”


And finally, Steve Vernon of Halifax, Nova Scotia, writes:

“For anyone who is thinking about taking Robert’s workshop — I learned more from him at a Halifax science-fiction convention years ago than I learned from several years in university. The man has got the goods and he knows how to deliver it!”


  More Good Reading  

Upcoming Workshops
Rob’s upcoming appearances
History of The Fledglings, a writers’ workshop Rob founded

Quotes about Rob from writing conference and workshop organizers
Quotes about Rob from libraries and schools
Quotes about Rob from SF convention attendees
Quotes about Rob from keynote clients

Letter to Beginning Writers
Rob’s "On Writing" advice columns
Manuscript-format checklist
Notes for the copyeditor

Essay: WordStar — A Writer’s Word Processor


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