Viable Paradise: Leveling Up













When I visited a wring class at a local college last December (write-up here ) I was asked about intensive writing workshops at a professional level. Many had heard of Clarion and Clarion West, but a number of the students pointed out that few of them could afford either the cost or the time for several weeks.

Were there any shorter ones? Especially workshops that aren’t just about writing short stories, but genre novels or even series?

I gave them the same data I give writers who approach me online, by email, or in person at cons, which I’ll get to, but first a reflection on the patterns of writers who approach me.

I realize it’s always dangerous to assume the elephant is shaped like the part in your reach: if all you ever seem to encounter is its ear, for example, you’d be ready to swear that elephants are land sting rays.

Still, it seemed worthwhile to mention that a lot of the people asking me about pro level writing workshops are not young college-age beginners, but older writers, many getting back to writing after career, after kids, after putting in time doing a different type of writing.

Some, indeed, are already published indie or small press, but want to up their game.

I’ve been steering these toward Viable Paradise , which is a week long, very intensive workshop. Many find that way more doable than several weeks—and a lot more in-depth than one or two hour seminars at a college or a con. Especially as your submission project can be chapters of a book, and not confined to short work only.

What you get are collegiums, formal lectures, break-out group critiques, and one on one critiques with the instructors as well as with one another. And some of the most important conversations can happen while just hanging out.

This is not writer “boot camp” in the sense of being on the hot seat, or “being cruel to toughen the writer up.” Much of that sort of mindset, at least I find, is nastily competitive at the substrate level–and goodness knows, there is already enough competition out there. Writers, for the most part I have come to believe, are gregarious in spurts–at best. Most are solitary by nature, or they’d probably be something else that puts them in the public through the working day.

A workshop atmosphere in which the writer comes to feel that that everyone–instructors, staff (Viable Paradise has an amazing staff) and fellow students <i>have your back</i>, I think anyway, is far more conducive of in-depth learning, especially as one of the most important things many of us need to learn is overcoming imposter syndrome.

That’s not to say that the occasional prima donna doesn’t show up, clearly expecting only praise and worship. They are fairly certain to get a reality check, but even that doesn’t have to be cruel.

In fact, one of the aspects that former students find the most valuable is the network they form among themselves when they leave.

This was really brought to mind last October at the twentieth reunion: there were core groups from early years, still networking with one another, trading agent news, market news, and insider learning as well as beta reads.

Here at the right you see Patrick Nielsen Hayden, managing editor at Tor Books, and Steven Brust, making music. (That happens most nights, actually.) Music making relaxes and bonds everyone, which in turn leads to more conversation about writing.

This emphasis on indies wanting to level up their game is an interesting wrinkle. Many have had small success, figure something is going on with their work that needs pro attention.

So many pre-published writers I talk to assume that such workshops are only for the very beginners. Perhaps that was once true, but now I think it’s tougher for the very beginning writer to get into the workshop–there are only 24 slots.

And sometimes that can be for the best: in a week of very intensive talk, a whole lot of marketing and high level critique can be overwhelming, especially for someone who is a very early learner.

As it is, many of the writers I talk to later say it can take months, as much as a year, to unpack, after going over lecture recordings and notes.

Some sell bang out the gate. Fran Wilde did. Other take longer. Everyone is different, we know that, but it’s good to reinforce it: everyone has their own rhythm.

This year, the instructor staff is joined by writer Max Gladstone, and Scholastic editor Erin Black, as James D. Macdonald and Debra Doyle  join the emeritus instructors. (Debra still edits for indies—I highly recommend her for those who can’t manage a workshop, or want intensive focus on their entire book.)

Anyway, this reflection is out there, with data, if anyone wants to discuss it.



Viable Paradise: Leveling Up — 4 Comments

  1. I would have to say that Viable Paradise was the highlight of my writing education. I had admired it from afar for many years before I summoned the courage to apply. I wish all writers wanting to learn could share that type of opportunity.