I have two announcements today. 1. The winner of Tracy Bilen's book giveaway is... Jeanette! Tracy will be sending you a copy of 13 Little Blue Envelopes. Thanks to everyone who commented.
And 2. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!
Yes, today is my birthday, and I'd like to reminisce about one of my "big" b-days. My friends and family wanted to celebrate my 40th birthday with a big bash, but I had a different treat in mind.
For years, I had studied writing course guides from MFA programs to the Iowa Writers Workshop to Chautauqua. Then I learned about the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop.
I would need to apply and submit samples of my work; they only accepted 8 students. I would need to leave my family for an entire week. And I would need to cough up a good chunk of change in a turbulent economy. It was time to take my writing craft to the next level. Happy birthday to me!
I received an email from Carolyn Coman (Carolyn Coman! The trifecta honoree of children's book awards- Newbery Honor, Printz Honor, and National Book Award finalist!). She informed me that I had been selected for the workshop, but she wanted to make sure I was prepared to take a leap of faith. She asked me to consider a complete "re-visioning" of my novel. Was this really what I wanted? Yes, it was time to take the leap.
Carolyn read my entire manuscript and sent me a four page, single -spaced critique letter a week before the workshop. I mulled over her comments, flew to Pennsylvania, and met my fellow students. Our marked-up manuscripts were returned to us after dinner, and we retired to our private cabins to pour through our stories.
Everyone used their time in different ways. Some were ready to hit their keyboards and dive into revisions. Others attempted storyboarding to work on their plots. I had plenty to think about, the re-visioning that Carolyn had recommended. I spent a few mornings exploring wooded hiking trails along a roaring river.
Every afternoon, we met for a group workshop - critiquing each others' manuscripts, followed by a discussion on various writing topics led by Carolyn, Donna Jo Napoli (Check out her many wonderful books!) or Monika Schroder. At that time, Monika was a librarian and MFA student who had previously attended the workshop. Just recently, her second published novel won a Crystal Kite Award from SCBWI.
Carolyn likes to storyboard during the revision process to help her look at sequencing and emphasis. She identifies what happens in each chapter (briefly, in one sentence) and names the dominant emotion. Then, she thinks backward from this emotional blueprint to fill in plot. What is the character's motivation, and what do you need to emphasize in each and every chapter?
Going beyond the usual "write what you know" advice, Donna Jo introduced the topic of autobiography and its place in your book. She recited a quote by Katherine Patterson, "Write what only you can write," and asked the group what this meant to us. Essentially, everyone has their own unique worldview that's shaped by our personal experiences over time, and this is what you bring to your writing. This was our most emotional discussion of the week, cutting to the core of each of us.
Did I mention these topic discussions were followed by appetizers and wine? Then we gathered around a large table on a screened-in porch for a family-style dinner, dessert, and conversation. The gourmet chef, Marcia, used locally grown, in-season produce to create delicious, healthy meals all week. She was happy to discuss her recipes, so not only did we learn from the writing pros, we received informal cooking lessons too.
Overall, it was a challenging and inspiring week in a beautiful setting with a talented group of writers. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday present.
Last week, I learned that my completely "re-visioned" novel won first place in the Fire and Ice contest through Chicago-North RWA. I'm finalizing revisions on another manuscript, and a new story is in progress. As I write, and rewrite, I hear Carolyn's voice. Who are you talking to?, she asks when my first-person narration turns self-conscious. Which line in this paragraph best illustrates what you want to emphasize? The heart, the motivation... Cut the rest.
Have you attended a writing workshop that required a leap of faith? That helped advance your writing to the next level? Please share!