If You're Jonesin' for a Summer Conference
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!