The Burlington Writers Workshop’s October schedule is now posted on Meetup. We have a lot of great workshops next month, including our new songwriting workshop and the start of our 2015 Fall Literature Reading Series, in which participants will be reading and discussing Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend as chosen by a member poll.
Well, we could not have asked for a better day—or location—for the 2015 BWW August Free Writing Retreat. Camp Abnaki proved to be a beautiful spot for relaxed writing and creative inspiration as well as a chance for members to connect over shared meals and activities. Thank you to our Retreat Committee and to everyone who participated for making it such an amazing day. The group unanimously voted that this should become an annual BWW tradition so look for more Camp Abnaki retreat information in 2016!
Read on for the results of our September Poetry Series poll, info on the next stop of the Best Of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2015 book tour, and more.
September is fast approaching, and it’s going to be a great month for getting involved in the Burlington Writers Workshop and the Burlington Book Festival. Keep reading to learn more about these and other opportunities for Vermont writers.
Opportunities to be part of the Burlington Book Festival
Represent the BWW at the Burlington Book Festival. We’re looking for BWW members to help staff our table at this year’s Burlington Book Festival, September 25-27. This is a nice opportunity to help spread the word about the BWW while also meeting other writers and editors at the festival. If you’re interested in taking a shift at the table, please contact us >
We have several opportunities for BWW members to get involved this week in ways both big and small. You can help us pick our poet for study in our September Poetry Workshop series, volunteer for a shift to help keep the BWW space at 22 Church Street open, join the staff of Mud Season Review, or submit your work to be considered for the BWW’s “Writers-in-the-Round” panel at this year’s Burlington Book Festival.
And the winner is…My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Thank you to everyone who voted in the member poll to choose the book we’ll read for the 2015 BWW Fall Literature Reading Series. Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend emerged as the winner with 53% of the vote. Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice took 2nd with 26% and Herman Mellville’s Moby Dick came in 3rd with 21%.
The literature reading series will begin in October—look for the schedule of Tuesday evening workshops on Meetup beginning next month.
We have 2 exciting opportunities for member involvement this week.
First, the lottery for our September 19th Guided Creative Nonfiction Retreat is now open! This retreat will be held at the beautiful Adamant Music School and will be guided by celebrated poet, essayist, and professor Tony Whedon. Check out the retreat page to see if you’re eligible and to enter the lottery. Enter the lottery now >
Second, given the popularity of our Infinite Summer workshop, in which participants are reading and discussing David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest over the course of 13 weeks, we’ve decided to hold another literature reading series this fall. Because really, what better way is there to become a stronger writer than to learn to read more critically? We’d like your help in choosing the book we’ll study for the Fall 2015 BWW Literature Reading Series. Please take a moment to vote in our quick, 1-question survey. Vote now >
Voting will be open until Sunday, August 2nd and I’ll share the results in new week’s Opportunities & Announcements.
by Liz Cantrell
Publishing one’s work in literary magazines and journals is a daunting process. Fear of rejection, information overload, and lack of organization can prevent any writer from pursuing publication.
The BWW is fortunate to have regular members who have successfully published their work—including Michelle Watters, assistant poetry editor for Mud Season Review—who hosted a recent workshop to advise writers on the submission process.
The latest issue of Mud Season Review is live and it’s beautiful as usual. Check out the powerful content and vivid artwork of Issue #11: The Summer Issue. This will be a double issue for July and August to allow the hardworking Mud Season staff a chance to catch up on submissions. Look for interesting interviews with the authors and artist on the site throughout July and August.
The first retreat of the 2015 BWW Retreat Season was a resounding success. Even a major logging operation across the road from the original location couldn’t stop us, as BWW member Wendy Andersen came to the rescue and hosted the retreat at her beautiful home in Jericho. BWW poets gathered together for a day of free writing time and guided instruction with our own Rebecca Starks, BWW board member and editor-in-chief of Mud Season Review.
We are very much looking forward to our next retreat at Camp Abnaki in August. Lottery winners for that retreat have been notified. If you are an active BWW member and did not get into a retreat yet this year, or if you’re interested in attending another, we encourage you to keep an eye out for the remaining 2 scheduled for September and October. The lottery for the September retreat will be opening soon.
Here are your opportunities and announcements for the week.
The BWW is offering lots of time for working on your writing this week! In addition to our Poetry Retreat on Saturday (the first in our 2015 Retreat Series), we’re offering a Writing and Discussion Workshop in Burlington on Sunday. So if you have something you’d like to work on and discuss in a relaxed environment with your fellow writers, please consider signing up.
We’d also like to let you know about some opportunities for getting your work published as well the successes of some of our BWW workshop leaders.
If you’re writing a novel, one of the easiest ways to send your character on a worthwhile journey is to eliminate possible solutions to your protagonist’s problem until the only one that remains is the riskiest, most dangerous, or most extreme.
If your reader watches your protagonist fail to solve the problem with the easy, common-sense solutions before resorting to extreme measures, it’s more likely that the reader will identify with that protagonist. That feeling of identification goes a long way toward making the reader want to keep reading.
Recently, in one part of a three-part book-length narrative planning workshop in Burlington, I used the following episode of This American Life to illuminate the concept of eliminating the “simple” options.
In the first story in this hour-long radio show, a young couple is sailing across the Pacific Ocean in their houseboat. (If you have 20 minutes, listen to the story. It’s worth it.) This houseboat is their only home. While they’re on this journey, their baby becomes sick. To solve this problem, they have a range of options:
- Treat the baby while they’re at sea.
- Keep sailing until they reach a country with a good hospital system.
- Push a button on a device that will call in help but force them to sink their boat.
Spoiler alert: Number three is a life-changer, and the one they eventually chose. But they had to try the first two and fail at those before option three could be reasonable. (Imagine sinking the boat first! Insanity!)
In short, here’s what happened: The baby had some kind of ear infection and wasn’t responding to treatment. The baby’s illness was so upsetting that they didn’t feel it was wise to wait until they found a decent hospital. The boat sustained some damage, making the luxury of extended travel more risky. And their radio had died. They agonized, but ultimately decided that option three was the best one available.
If your characters make irrevocable choices with huge consequences, you may have a good story on your hands. This couple’s choice left them homeless, which was the consequence they anticipated. What they didn’t anticipate was that, back in the United States, the media had labeled them “bad parents” because they’d brought the baby out to sea (which, as host Ira Glass points out, is not unusual for people who live in houseboats). It’s hard not to sympathize with them. They had some bad luck, did what any reasonable person in their situation would have done, and faced miserable consequences.
As I listened to this piece, I kept wondering what a novelized version of this would look like. Their struggle to make the outside world understand what they had gone through—and perhaps how their relationship survives the stress of being homeless and persecuted by a judgmental world—would serve as the basis of such a novel.
In this workshop, I advised my fellow writers to try and figure out the “simple” steps toward solving the problem facing their protagonist. What’s the problem? What are the reasonable steps that ultimately fail? What extreme measure did they choose, and what are the consequences of that measure?
Granted, there a million ways to write novels, and this exercise won’t apply to all (or perhaps even most) novels. But it’s worth trying out to see if it works for you. While some writers shun any kind of planning (“It ruins my creativity!”), I argue that it’s worth putting careful thought into this essential part of your story before you start writing it. Identifying the problem and the steps your protagonist would have to take isn’t going to sap your creativity. It’s going to save you time, and if you’re like me—a person with a 40-50 hour-a-week job—you’re going to need to make every precious hour count.
We have two deadlines for member opportunities this week.
Today is the last day to enter your name in the lottery for our August BWW Writing Retreat.The retreat will be held at Camp Abnaki in North Hero on August 22nd and will be a full day of writing followed by a potluck dinner and evening music session. Enter your name now >
And tomorrow is the deadline for the next Hotel Vermont book. Send in your submission >
This week, we celebrate the 1-year anniversary of Mud Season Review—an example of the incredible work that can come from a member-driven initiative.
In December of 2013, you, the members of the Burlington Writers Workshop, voted for launching a literary journal as your #1 goal in the annual member survey. In April of 2014, you voted to name that journal Mud Season Review. And in June of 2014, the group of members who made up our inaugural staff launched the journal’s website and opened our call for submissions.
Since then, we’ve read through 2,000+ submissions; published 10 online issues and 1 full-color, nearly 200-page print issue; drawn poets, authors, and artists from around the world; and provided BWW workshop-style responses to many writers who’ve let us know that our critical yet encouraging feedback has helped them successfully publish their work in other venues.
Along the way, we’ve also had a ton of fun. Congratulations to everyone involved on a successful first year! And check out Issue #10 for some great new content >
The lottery is now open for the second in our 2015 series of four full-day writing retreats! This retreat is a free writing retreat, with lots of time for working on your current writing project as well as communal meals and an evening music session. The retreat will be held on Saturday, August 22nd at Camp Abnaki in North Hero.
Like all of our retreats, this full-day writing retreat is free. To give everyone an equal chance to attend, we’re holding a lottery for the 20 available spots. The deadline for entries is Monday, June 29th. Enter your name now >
by Kerstin Lange
I don’t know what I love more—research or writing (and when I say “love,” I mean the whole spectrum of joy, inspiration, hard work, and pain). It doesn’t matter, of course. What I love about both endeavors is that there is both an art and a craft to them, or, you could say, an inspiration element and a nuts-and-bolts element.
Almost invariably when I open a book, I feel compelled to look at the acknowledgements page. Seeing all the names and specialties of the people the author has been in touch with conjures up an image of synapses connecting not just within one brain but across many—sort of an ecosystem of interconnected minds. Perhaps this is my favorite thing about the BWW, too: That it offers a balance between the solitary and the social aspects of writing and helps us connect with other writers.