I’ve attended many SCBWI conferences and other writing events—including the fabulous National SCBWI Conference in Los Angeles, which was absolutely amazing—but until now I’d never been to an extended, craft-based workshop. I have writer friends who regularly attend such workshops and always come back with tons of lovely things to say about them, so this autumn I bit the bullet and headed off to the Better Book Workshop, a three-and-a-half-day craft intensive for writers of YA and middle grade.
The Better Book Workshop was held north of San Francisco, California, at a retreat center in the hills near Santa Rosa. We were a bit isolated from the rest of the world, but to me, that just increased the feeling that we were really there to focus on our work without outside distractions. It was a small group, only 21 writers, and we were joined by the wonderful faculty of editor Sara Sargent from Balzer + Bray, editor Heather Alexander from Dial, agent Victoria Wells Arms, and agent Erin Murphy.
Over the next several days, we spent lots of time talking about voice, character, scene, and plot. We explored how to approach micro-editing a manuscript at sentence-level, as well as macro-editing while focusing on the story as a whole. We watched the movie adaptation of Louis Sachar’s Holes and discussed how what we had learned about scene and plot applied to the film. A fair number of us (yes, including me) started to cry when faculty members read excerpts from Because of Winn-Dixie and The One and Only Ivan as examples of voice. (In our defense, they are very touching books.) Most exciting to me, we spent a lot of time critiquing each other’s work in small, interactive groups with faculty and other attendees.
And since our retreat center had a bit of a new-age bent to it, that meant there was a meditation hut and walking labyrinth on site (OMG—I LOVE labyrinths), as well as a flock of wild turkeys and lots and lots of deer.
So, being a new alumni of a book workshop, would I recommend attending one?
Being around other writers and immersing ourselves so thoroughly in the writing process was very illuminating. But what really made this a standout event for me was the focus on craft and the opportunity to delve into your writing at a level that usually isn’t possible at conferences. That alone was worth the price of admission to me. And, okay, the labyrinth didn’t hurt, either :)
Have you ever attended a writing workshop? Please share your thoughts and experiences.