Monday, September 15, 2008

Be Jealous: I Went on a Weekend Writing Retreat

Tip of the Day: It's a math thing about attending writing conferences. (Time spent at conference) x (current volume of "To Be Read" pile) = (new, increased volume of TBR pile).

I just got back from the Western NY SCBWI Novel Revision Retreat weekend and boy is my brain tired. 13 talented writers and one talented editor spent the weekend together, finding strategies to revise our novels. Yes, it was super cool! Feel free to be jealous of me for a second (pause for your envy).

OK, maybe you'd be more jealous if I filled you in on some details. This was a small, intensive weekend retreat for writers with completed novels. We took turns sharing our summaries and reading a chapter or section we felt needed work. We presented a question or two on the passage, and our colleagues gave us phenomenally constructive critiques in a group discussion setting.

[Look at how happy we are! Talk about a great retreat. Thanks everyone!]

Our critiques went to the logic of plots, the wording of emotional turning points, the level of tension. It seemed like even when we approached an issue from different angles, we were able to get to the heart of why a particular point came up for discussion. I was so impressed by everyone's intelligence and helping spirit. I'm still processing everything I learned, but I came away with some insights I can share right now:

  • Obstacles and conflict are not the same thing. True tension is created when an obstacle is fully integrated into the entire story; otherwise, it might just be an inconvenience.

  • There can be such a thing as a shared vision for a story. I want to communicate my vision for my story, and I want an editor with a vision for my story.

  • Plain language can be extremely effective, especially in conveying emotion, and every story needs to integrate the main character's emotional journey at every point, in almost every passage. The POV doesn't get to lapse into "observer mode."

  • What you enjoy writing makes a difference. Play to your strengths. Yes, definitely stretch and try new things, but I could tell when listening to early drafts of a novel which parts the author had the most fun writing.

  • Revising a novel is challenging mental work. There's no guidebook. We each have to approach it differently--and support each other on the way.

I especially want to thank Amy Emm, my SCBWI Regional Coordinator, for putting together a useful, valuable conference that went without a hitch. And I'd also like to give her a shout out for being a fun person to talk craft with (and play Taboo with).

There. Now you may be appropriately jealous.

-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer


Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

This sounds fabulous, Kate! Thanks for sharing your insights!

DeenaML said...

I'm so glad I was there so I don't have to be jealous. :)

I'll post more retreat notes on Wed!

Emily Marshall said...

Yes, I am definitely jealous. Thanks for the tips on what you learned. Very helpful.

iSchoolDude said...

One of the great things about the retreat was the opportunity to get extensive time interacting with a successful, active editor. My previous experience with critiques at conferences was that they were always a bit rushed. This was relaxed and we really got to absorb the feedback and think about it. Hearing the group's responses to other participant's manuscripts was also valuable.

Kristina Springer said...

Soooooooooo jealous!!!!!

It sounds like a great time and you guys are so adorable and happy in the pic! Yay for a good weekend!

Kate Fall said...

ischool dude, thanks for checking out the blog! We love having more friends in the blogosphere. You're right, it was great not to have to rush through a critique, frantically wondering what pieces of it you missed in the flurry.

Frank Santos said...

Hi all. This is Shawn, writing to say thanks for welcoming me into the WNY/CNY writer's community. I enjoyed the weekend retreat and was impressed with the quality of everyone's work and their attention to giving the most useful feedback during critiques. I hope to see you all again at the next conference. And maybe I'll start seeing some of your books on the shelves.

- shawn

Anonymous said...

I was one of the lucky ones at Casowasco, too. I just finished typing the comments made by the other dozen participants. Well, I should say I transcribed the ones I could read...and added a bit here and there of what I remembered but didn't have time to record. Now I am eager to revise that last chapter...tomorrow. With so many good suggestions, HANNAH AND POPPY is bound to get better!

DeenaML said...

Thanks, Casowascos, for posting! Jeff -- YES! It was so great to have Julie just chilling with us for the weekend. She was so generous with her responses.

Shawn, the Rochester faction of SCBWI is planning on being at the con in Syracuse this Jan! Hope to see you there!

Hope, I know you can polish HANNAH to make her shine!

Anonymous said...

I'm jealous too but I won't be for long. I signed up last week for a week-long retreat in ... get this.. sunny Jamaica. It's setting me back about $1000 but it looks to be very wonderful. A friend of mine recommended this group Peace In Portland tours and I checked them out. This will be my fifth retreat and I'm hoping to get a lot accomplished.. when I'm not sipping on red stripes :)I'll brag when I'm back.