On Viable Paradise

It’s been six weeks since Viable Paradise ended. It feels like yesterday. It also feels like a lifetime ago.

Before I went to the workshop I read a bunch of blog posts from other students. One of the things I noticed was how many of the blog posts occurred weeks or months after the workshop ended. People wrote about how they needed time to process things, how they just weren’t ready to write about the things they had learned. It seemed weird to me then, in the before time. It doesn’t seem so weird now.

Moment: sitting in a critique group with my classmates, listening to people passionately discuss a story about a black woman in prison. Hearing Nisi’s feedback and seeing a glimpse of a world I didn’t realize existed.

When you step off the boat on Martha’s Vineyard, you leave behind whatever else is happening in your life. For that week all that matters is making good art. Work can wait. Family can wait. It’s like emerging from the wardrobe into Narnia where the forest is covered in ice and strange creatures are prowling just out of your sight. Only the island is covered in autumn leaves and the strange creatures make a damned fine curry.

Moment: walking along the beach with The Oracle of the Buses and discussing how trying to twist a trope can still give power to the trope.

The workshop occurs on an island that exists outside the regular flow of time. There are so many people to meet, so many stories to read, so much to learn. I arrived late on Saturday evening, and approximately one month elapsed before dinner on Tuesday . I blinked sometime after dinner, and it was already Friday afternoon, and I was scrambling to escape the nor’easter bearing down on the island.

Moment: reading novel chapters that are so good I can’t believe they aren’t published

I have notes. I always have notes. I write because it helps me order my thoughts and it helps me retain what I hear. Lord, do I have notes.

The staff remind you on day one that you deserve to be there. You were invited to attend because your work was good. There was a conversation one evening about Imposter Syndrome. Every single person in the room had it to one degree or another, including the ones with their names on the covers of best-sellers. That was strangely reassuring.

Moment: hearing critiques of those novel chapters that want to change the parts that I loved

Over the last few years I’ve read a number of books on craft. Dozens. The best books help you see things differently each time you read them. Many of the lectures at VP cover topics that exist in the craft books. There’s a difference between reading a thing a few times, hearing a thing a few times, and discussing a thing with someone that has been doing the thing professionally for decades and has incorporated it into their writing DNA.

Moment: listening to one of my writing heroes discuss the financial realities of a career in the genre.

The instructors are wonderful. There were a few that were not part of my critique groups or one on ones, and they each made a point to chat with me during the week. I don’t know the best advice I received, but I know the piece that felt most real. It had nothing to do with craft and everything to do with the realities of living in a world where obligations and art must compete for the scarcest resource of all: time. The advice was that when you get ready to be a full-time writer, see if you can reduce your hours at your day job to be part-time for a while. This will help with cash flow, but it will also help transition to a new routine without a single enormous shake-up.

It was good that the island existed for a week outside the ordinary flow of time. Not everything would have fit, otherwise.

One thought on “On Viable Paradise”

  1. That struck me too, the way that each of the instructors made a point to connect, even the ones I wasn’t assigned to for critiques or sessions. It struck me as very generous.

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