It is now a month after one of the greatest writing experiences I’ve ever had – the Nebraska Summer Writers’ Conference. This is the first year that I’ve been able to participate in the conference. I spent three years looking into it, thinking about it, checking my schedule and cursing the conflicts that existed. This year, with the permission of my brother whose birthday was the first day of it (Thanks, Matt!), and the exception made by conference organizers to allow me to register in an already full workshop, I was able to attend!
The conference itself was made up of two parts – a weekend workshop and a weeklong workshop. Writers can register for one or both. Since it was my first year, and since I was already registered for a different writing camp during the week, I stuck with the weekend only. I selected the workshop led by Emily M. Danforth (who, in everything you’ll read does not capitalize her name, but as a 5th grade teacher, my body physically won’t let me uncapitalize a proper noun) titled A Matter of Character: Building Compelling Fiction by Starting with Compelling Characters.
Prior to the workshop, we were to submit a writer’s statement so Emily could get to know us a bit more as writers (pretty good idea I may tweak to fit my classroom). We also submitted a 5-page scene that we felt was not yet where it should be. I submitted five pages from my middle grade fiction novel, TEAM MERRYWEATHER, which I have been shopping around to agents (no bites yet).
I arrived early and parked at my college sorority, Alpha Xi Delta (check out my previous post about Alpha Xi’s amazing Centennial Celebration!). Crossing 16th and R Streets, walking in front of the Student Union, and making my way through the middle of campus brought back incredibly fond memories. I felt transported back in time to my freshman year as I approached Andrews Hall, the English building.
As a newbie, once I checked in, I sat by myself and did what I often do in new settings – I watched. I observed the conference staff talking with one another. I figured out which conference attendees had been here before and which ones were currently in the English program. I decided that one particular camper would most likely drive me crazy during the weekend should he be in my workshop (He was. And he did.).
Once it was time to move into our separate workshops, I had no idea what to expect. It was a fairly small group (that was a good thing) and once the workshop began, I figured a couple of things out immediately:
1.) Emily M. Danforth not only knows what she’s doing, she’s awesome. The first day was filled with characterization exercises that really helped me get to know Amber, my main character, much much better. The exercises were fun yet challenging, and they helped me realize how much I really do like my protagonist (and how much I really don’t like writing in second person POV – sooooo difficult!).
2.) I was not an English major. Okay, technically, I already knew this since I was there the entire time I was in college. But sitting in the workshop made me acutely aware of it. Some of the language, the literature and poetry references, and the aura of expertise that many of the attendees had, I simply didn’t. I wished that I could have had a miniature version of my good friend Pam Homan in my pocket so she could talk me through some of that high-level English stuff.
That evening, we went away with homework. We read the 5 pages written by each of the attendees and were supposed to make notes for the next day, when we would workshop each person’s writing. It was clear that some people submitted pages that had already been edited and revised heavily. These pages were the ones that made me feel a bit like an inferior writer. However, I kept reminding myself that I had submitted pages, as asked, that I felt needed work.
I was super nervous to have the group workshop my writing. My previous experience with a group critique left me holding back tears (I’m a little bit sensitive and I cry easily – as I know some of you loving readers can attest to!). I was thrilled to get some excellent feedback on my writing. In addition to very helpful suggestions (that in no way made me want to pull out my kleenex), I was told that my dialogue has an authentic 6th grade voice (my major project a couple of summer’s ago was to make this happen) and told by Emily in my one-on-one that I write lovely prose. Instead of walking away feeling like I needed to make a zillion changes, I walked away with confidence that I really am a strong writer and with feedback that will help to make it even better.
I am grateful for the experience – having the chance to talk about writing, improve my own work, and network with fellow writers who, like me, have a passion for it. And I cannot WAIT for next year.