The BWW Book-Length Narrative Workshop

We’ve come up with a way to workshop a whole book. If you have a novel or memoir and need someone to read the whole thing, you’re going to love this. Here are the details in Q&A form.

What are you doing, exactly? We will read one writer’s book length narrative over the course of three workshops.

How can I participate in these workshops? I’ll open the three workshops up to 10 participants. To ensure continuity, these ten participants must commit to attending all three workshops.

When will these take place? These workshops will be two weeks apart and take place sometime in October and/or November. I’ll schedule them this weekend, so watch your email box and RSVP at when the notices arrive.

I want this workshop to discuss my book. How can I make that happen? Please send a synopsis of your book to Your synopsis should be a one-page description of the events of Acts 1, 2, and 3. Because we can only choose one book, and because I don’t want to make that decision all by myself, the ten participants will decide, based on this synopsis, which book to read.

What’s the deadline to send the synopsis? September 1st

How long must my book be? There is no length limit for this book length narrative. It just needs to be something with the three act structure.

A comprehensive description of the Three-Act Narrative structure, courtesy of Kate Forsyth

A comprehensive description of the Three-Act Narrative structure, courtesy of Kate Forsyth

Does my work have to be neatly carved into three acts? In general, no. Your art takes whatever shape it needs to take. But for this workshop, we need to keep this three act structure firmly in place. If this pilot workshop runs smoothly, we can work with more experimental stuff in the future.

Does my book-length narrative have to be polished? It must be your best effort. We don’t want to waste time pointing out things that you could’ve found on your own, had you put in the effort.

Who is responsible for printing my book for the workshop? The ten participants will decide whether they want a printed copy of your pages. Some may want to read it electronically, but others may want a paper copy, and you’ll be in charge of printing a copy for them. This will require some investment, but the returns will be worth it. Ten people will read your book and provide feedback essentially for free. This is a rare service and worth the cost of printing.

When do I have to post my book or deliver a paper copy? Two weeks before the first meeting. You must post the whole thing.

My whole book has to be finished? Really? Yes. You must have a full draft with a beginning, middle, and end.

Can I at least single-space my manuscript to save paper? No way. Total rookie mistake.

Why are you doing this? We’ve seen lots of pieces of novels and memoirs in the Burlington Writers Workshop, and we’ve found that it’s difficult to talk about the middle sections of longer pieces. This new workshop will allow us to maintain continuity and provide more comprehensive feedback to folks working on longer pieces.

I’m excited that we’re finally branching out into this new territory. Please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions on how we could make this work well.

On the Value of Encouragement

After having my story discussed at the workshop on July 10th, I left the workshop with a stack of copies of my story, each one of them marked with helpful comments. I made it halfway up Church Street before sitting underneath a streetlight and reading what my fellow writers so generously wrote for me.

The consensus: The story needs work. All my stories usually do. But the nice thing about these comments was the balance readers struck between what worked well and what worked less well.

This is a critical point for me, and for other writers in the workshop (I suspect). Now’s the time to decide: Given what people have said, is it worth putting more time into this piece?


Encouragement helps diminish the “self-loathing” part.

My desire to revise is a function of how good I’m feeling about myself and my abilities as a writer. If I think I’m capable, perhaps even a bit narcissistic, I’m more likely to revise a story until it actually does work. But if I’m stuck in one of my bouts of self-loathing and too busy hating myself for all the mistakes I made in the early drafts, I’d rather just clean my kitchen.

Right now, though, my kitchen’s a mess, and I’m writing.

That’s because I’ve received some very encouraging remarks on this new story. Lots of folks have told me it’s almost ready, it’s entertaining, it should end up in print. You have work to do, they said, but please do it, because the story inside this messy draft is worth cleaning up and sharing with the world.

I’m naturally skeptical of my own abilities—a classic imposter syndrome tendency—but because of the encouragement I’ve received, I feel inspired to revise this one.

For some of us, encouragement is the fuel that compels revisions. When self-doubt is all you have, one kind comment can be enough to keep you going.

I know that if the BWW writers who read my story had picked this apart without bringing up the strong parts, I would have given up on it. After all, if a workshop leads you to believe that what you’ve written is 100% garbage, then why continue? But if the workshop points out the 50% that works really well, then why not cut the half that doesn’t work and keep trying?

At our regular workshops, I make sure we talk about “what works well” before we talk about “what works less well.” When that guideline comes back around to help me, I’m reminded of how important it really is.

Words In Essex: “The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013” On Tour

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The Burlington Writers Workshop continued it’s book tour on Tuesday at the Essex Library. I’ve posted the audio of the readings that Caitlin Corless, Niels Rinehart, Patrick Dodge, and Lizzy Fox gave to a nearly-full library.

We’ll hold more readings this year, including at the Burlington Book Festival (details TBA). So please do join us at a meeting before then, and enjoy this podcast.

Seven Days: “The BWW Has Ballooned, and Published”

Lizzy Fox, performing her poetry on July 10, 2013.

Lizzy Fox, performing her poetry on July 10, 2013.

Seven Days has published a wonderful article about what The Burlington Writers Workshop has been doing. On the night of the interview, reporter Margot Harrison had originally planned to leave before 8 o’clock, but ended up staying beyond that time. If I had to guess why she decided to stay late, I’d say it’s because you’re all so awesome. Who wouldn’t want to stay late and chat with you?

To prepare for the buzz that this article will likely create, I’m launching some new meetings, which you can join for free at I want to make sure that if you want to attend a meeting, you can.

To that end, if you have suggestions on how I should go about scheduling meetings, please let me know: In fact, suggestions on ANYTHING are welcome! This is your workshop, so help me make it work better for you.

I’ve also got an idea for a three-part book-length workshop for folks who have finished manuscripts ready for review. This will probably be in October or November. More on that later.

And finally, one quick update on last night’s reading at the Essex Library. Success! I’ll post the audio and photos in the next few days. Stay tuned, and thank you for your continued dedication to reviewing each other’s work.

Write For The Flynn Center Blog!

flynncenterA few months ago, John Killacky, the Executive Director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, asked me to find members of the Burlington Writers Workshop who could write for the Flynn Center Blog in exchange for free tickets to shows. Members responded enthusiastically, because who doesn’t want to see a free show AND have a reason to create a conversation about it?

The Flynn has recently released its line-up for the Flynn Center’s 2013-2014 season. Now we need your help.
Here’s how this works: Burlington Writers Workshop members will request one of these events (send request to me at First-come-first-served. Anyone who signs up for an event and hasn’t attended a BWW meeting will be encouraged to do so. You gotta give feedback to your fellow writers at a meeting before you can get anything here!

Adams FamilySo let’s say you’ve chosen to see “The Addams Family” on October 28th. You’ll write something about or inspired by “The Addams Family” at least a week (preferably two weeks) before the performance. Then you’ll send it to me. Then I’ll work with you on edits, then I’ll send it to the Flynn!

Once you’ve written that first piece, you’ll be free to pick up your tickets at the box office. And after the show, you’ll write another piece about or inspired by what you’ve seen. The link to the performance you’ve seen must be clear, of course.

This joint effort is an attempt to (1) provide BWW members with another place to showcase their work and (2) generate conversations about meaningful art and performances in our very artsy Vermont community.

So please do send me a note if you’re interested in participating! And sign up to become a member of The Burlington Writers Workshop at Our workshops, events, and membership itself are free and they always will be.

Chekhov’s Six Short Story Principles


Anton Chekhov’s six aspects of fiction make for good revision guidelines.

I’ve been working on short stories lately, and every time I sit down to revise one, I’m reminded of how difficult they are. In my MFA workshops, my short stories were shot so full of holes that revising them seemed pointless. Once a teacher told me, “This story, in my view, can’t be fixed.” When you get a comment like that, you remember it well enough to put it in firm quotes.

Still, even with stories that “can’t be fixed,” I revise for a couple of months, then take my lessons from the failed story and start a newer, better story. Progress on my overall skill level was (and is) like watching an enormous file download very slowly.

In my novel and memoir workshops at UNCW, however, the feedback was much better, which makes me wonder why I’m even trying to write short stories when I should be playing to my strengths.

Because short stories are damned awesome, that’s why. I’ve read quite a few good ones lately and have a few well-reviewed collections on my shortlist now, including Tenth of December by George Saunders and Bobcat by Rebecca Lee (who was on my thesis committee at UNCW).

When I’m wrestling with a new short story, I tend to pick up my copy of Anton Chekhov’s stories (the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation). The stories seem so pure that I can’t help but find myself going back to basics, scanning my own stories once for character, once for plot, once for dialogue, once for setting, etc. But perhaps the most helpful part of this book is the introduction, in which Chekhov’s writing advice is quoted.

According to Chekhov, there are six aspects of a good story: “1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature; 2. total objectivity; 3. truthful descriptions of persons and objects; 4. extreme brevity; 5. audacity and originality: flee the stereotype; 6. compassion.”

These are helpful guidelines for revision. Perhaps my favorite of these is the last, “compassion.” That’s because it’s the most complex rule here. It asks us to avoid needlessly heaping pain and suffering on our characters. We can make them suffer, sure, but there’s got to be a clear reason for it. So I ask: Are my characters victims of my imagination? Or are they heroic in their suffering?

I’ll have one of my own stories reviewed by the BWW on Wednesday. I will admit that it’s an odd story, but after hearing so many good things about “Break and Enter” at the Book Launch Party last April, I’m wondering if I’ve turned the corner on short stories, or if I’m still writing stuff that “can’t be fixed.” Either way, I’ll wrestle with it for a few months, take my lessons, and move on.

For July, It’s 99 Cents!

bww2013coversmallThe whole point of publishing The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2013 is to launch BWW stories, essays, and poems into the world.

To that end, I’ve made it even more accessible by lowering the price of the Amazon ebook to $0.99!

I’ll boost the price again at the end of July, so take advantage of this deal now. In addition to acquiring these powerful pieces of locally-made literature, you’ll also help us produce next year’s edition. All proceeds are put back into The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2014.

Don’t have a Kindle? Fear not! You can download the Kindle app to your desktop computer, iPhone, or Android.

Check it out here. And thanks!