Monday, July 21, 2008

If You're Jonesin' for a Summer Conference

I didn't schedule any summer conferences this year, and I wish I had! Luckily, some attendees are reporting back:


Cliff Garstang has been blogging from Sewanee, where he is workshopping with Tim O'Brien. A conference veteran, he opted out of several sessions and managed to get some writing done. Go Cliff!


Ryan Call also blogs from Sewanee, where he re-learned how to do the rope-swing-swimming-hole thing. The key is you have to let go. Also reports back from his workshop with Christine Schutt.

Donna Trussell, another conference veteran (and convert from fiction to poetry), compares her experience at Sewanee with her memories of Breadloaf.

Incredible faculty at Sewanee this year. I'm kicking myself for not applying.

From Tin House, the anonymous Lit Scribbler reports back from Steve Almond's workshop, with some story tips. Almond's advice is still about putting characters in danger because you love them, which still rings true to me. Great teacher.

Poet Sharon Hurlbut, also reporting from Tin House, captures well that reeling feeling you get at a writer's conference. The overstimulation is like a drug. She seems to have done what I did, attend everything. She studied with Mary Jo Bang.

And lest you think the summer conference experience is all fun and explosions of the positive, Anatomy of a Dress reports back on bad chemistry with poetry workshop leader Nick Flynn. Sounds like a workshop I would have loved to take, but I tend to prefer the touchy-feely bewilderment stuff. Some people want to be taken more seriously.

My feeling on writing workshops in general is you're paying the instructor to give you their shtick. You might connect with it. You might not. You might feel targeted in class. You might feel ignored. Regardless, you are buying an experience, one of many experiences you can use when you sit down to write and revise. You are not buying a critique for your manuscript, IMO. It's not really about you. It's about IT. Like I said, touchy feely. My favorite workshop ever was Lynda Barry who gave no feedback whatsoever (didn't even learn NAMES), but gave memorable shtick and helped me generate several fresh pieces (some of which have been published).

And if you want to just feel good, from SLC, Utah, it's fun to read the buzz around the Writers at Work Conference's fiction fellowship winner, Ben Roberts, who rocked the house with a Mormon story, selected by non-Mormon Steve Almond. Something tells me Ben loves his characters and therefore lets them behave badly. Go Ben!

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6 Comments:

Blogger farren said...

An interesting point, madam. And of course it's worth noting that this is my first conference. However I studied creative writing in undergrad with a cabal of incredibly insightful, supportive professors who helped develop us as writers, no matter where our tastes led.

I love touchy-feely cosmic get-in-touch-with-yourself type exercises, and if it had been executed well I think I could have taken a lot from the workshop. As it was, Nick tried to kill a third of each workshop shuffling through papers and telling rambling stories about Allen Ginsberg hitting on him. We workshoppers wound up discussing manuscripts outside of class in order to take something from it. I write alone all year long--I intended to get into a community of readers who might pull something wrong or right out of my psychic shorthand.

To pay for an experience: yes. To pay for an ego-driven writer to preen for me: absolutely not.

Essentially, I think you are marvelously wise. What I wound up inadvertently paying for, this year, was a reality check: my poems floundering in a vast and different contemporary aesthetic, a writer who did not want to be teaching, and a lot of conviction the whole uncomfortable experience forged.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

Well Farren, thanks for responding, and I must admit that is a very expensive reality check, and it would have been better for you to have good chemistry with your workshop leader. Or pay less money for the shtick you got.

"To pay for an experience: yes. To pay for an ego-driven writer to preen for me: absolutely not." Hilarious, and pretty damn wise there yourself. (And if he thinks he's so damn special, Ginsberg hit on everyone, I hear, even the girls.)

I do hope you found some contacts among the other participants that you can correspond with going forward. THAT will be your real takeaway from the conference. IMO, the teacher-student thing is a one-to-many relationship that starts to fade over time. The peer relationships do not.

I've actually been enjoying your blog posts all week, hope you don't mind my linking here. I wanted to put in a little counterpoint to the other conferencers' experiences.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Mary Akers said...

I'm wishing I had, too, Anne!! See you at one next year!

4:56 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

Mary, wouldn't that be fun! I think I'll apply to several next year, maybe increase my chances.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Linera Lucas said...

I was in Aimee Bender's workshop at Tin House, and have posted about my experience (see Wednesday, July 30.) Aimee is a fine teacher, and I had a great time.

blog

10:12 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

Linera, thanks for the link. Nice post. Sorry I missed the conference this year! Aimee sounds like the kind of teacher I groove on. Maybe I'll try to get into her class next summer.

2:26 PM  

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