Who Wants a Pint (or Two)?

pint01-small

A thank-you gift for your contribution. Beer not included.

Hey, how would you like to own two of these fancy-looking BWW pint glasses?

When you make a contribution of $150 or become a sustaining member of the BWW at $12/month or more, we’ll give you a pair of these as a big ol’ thank you. It’s that simple.

Why are we asking for money? Because bills. But bills are good! Because we’re investing in Vermont’s literary community. We’ve got to pay the rent on our new workshop space, where we hold as many as five free creative writing workshops each week. We’re investing in Mud Season Review to make it a world-class literary journal. We celebrate local talent with The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop. We bring established writers to our workshop table to give you feedback. We provide free writing retreats and put together panel discussions.

Also, we’re an all-volunteer workforce. No salaries. Just volunteers putting in the hours for the love of the game.

Because you’ve taken advantage of this service, we hope you’ll become a sustaining member at $12/month. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Visit our donate page using a computer (not a phone or an iPad or other tablet; the mobile site these devices use doesn’t allow monthly gifts).
  2. Click on the yellow “DONATE” button.
  3. Once you’re at this page, enter the donation amount ($12 or more) and make sure you check the “Make This Recurring (Monthly)” box (see image below).

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If you make your donation before Friday, April 29th, you can pick up your pint glasses at the launch party for The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016. We hope to see you there!

If you have any questions, please let us know. Cheers!

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of April 4, 2016

Our first week of workshops in the new space is behind us. I hope it’s been a good one for you. We’ve posted all our workshops for the month of May, so please go forth and reserve your seat at your workshop(s) of choice.

As we get settled in at our new space, please do let us know if you encounter a problem. If you’ve got an idea about how we can/should use it, send that idea, too. We’ve always been driven forward by your ideas.

Speaking of your ideas: last year, you told us in the BWW survey that you’d like us to hold more panel discussions on writing-related topics. We’re cooking up a new one for Saturday, June 18th, so mark your calendars. (We’ve even got an idea for it! But it’s a surprise–at least until we can nail down panelists.)

But that’s June, which feels so far away. This week is upon us, so here are this week’s opportunities and announcements. Continue reading

Podcast: Mud Season Review’s Brett Sigurdson on Creative Nonfiction and Truth

brett-sigurdsonIn the latest BWW podcast, Mud Season Reviews editor of creative nonfiction Brett Sigurdson discusses the nature of truth in nonfiction. He’s a journalist, teacher, father, fan of Jack Kerouac (see Kerouac’s face on Brett’s living room wall?), and, of course, writer.

Download the podcast below, or subscribe for free on iTunes (just open iTunes and search for “Burlington Writers Workshop”).

If you’re interested in sending your creative nonfiction for publication in Mud Season Review, send it via Submittable.

Podcast: The Right First Steps to Getting Published

William Notte, featured speaker at the BWW 2015 auction

William Notte, featured speaker at the BWW 2015 auction

In this podcast, we hear from William Notte. Notte spent seven years as the acquisitions editor for a publishing house. During this time he reviewed (and rejected) thousands of book proposals. His presentation will walk you through the process of pitching your book (fiction or nonfiction) and point out common mistakes even experienced writers make that could lead to a book’s rejection. You’ll learn why you shouldn’t get too excited about your idea for your book’s cover, what words you should avoid in your pitch letter, and how self-publishing primes you for traditional publishing.

Enjoy, and remember, you can subscribe to the BWW podcast with iTunes. Just search for “Burlington Writers Workshop” and you’ll see that familiar old green logo.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of October 12, 2015

I’ve been getting rejection slips lately. About a month ago, I sent out a short story that I’m pretty confident will be picked up by a reputable publication, but the earliest responses have been polite no-thank-yous.

Some say that when you receive a rejection letter for a particular story or poem, you should send it out to three more places. I haven’t done that; I’d like to take my chances with the dozen magazines now considering my piece and keep working on some other stories. The way I see it: if you aren’t getting rejected, you aren’t trying. So I’m happy to say I’m trying.

I hope you’re still trying, too. Maybe you’re revising your most recent piece or firing it out to publishers. Either way, if you’ve got a success story, send it our way!

Danielle’s away today, so I’m here to let you know about this week’s opportunities and announcements. Continue reading

We Will Miss You, Sondra

sondrasolomonOur friend and fellow writer Sondra Solomon passed away Sunday, September 13th after a battle with cancer. Sondra opened our eyes every time she opened her mouth in our Wednesday workshops. She was honest and direct; her insights were on point and constructive. While making her comments she often reminded us that growing up in the Bronx had made her tough but fair, and our workshops were better because of her contributions.

I met Sondra at the annual meeting of the League of Vermont Writers in early 2014. We happened to be seated at the same table. Shortly thereafter, Sondra started attending BWW meetings. I’m glad she did. Though she never submitted her work to the group—at least not while I was leading regular sessions—she was always present. She always read her fellow writers’ work and responded thoughtfully to it.

She was remembered fondly by her students at UVM in this recent article in the The Vermont Cynic.

Sondra was an academic and she also wrote fiction and volunteered to read fiction submissions for Mud Season Review. She was proud of her academic achievements and brought to at least one Wednesday workshop I attended her newest scholarly publication. In addition, she was the generous sponsor of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s visit to Hotel Vermont in May of 2014.

I’ve been told by Sondra’s close friend that she fought with dignity until the very end, and that we can all take comfort in our memories of her.

A memorial service for Sondra will be held on Monday, October 19, 2015 from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. at Ira Allen Chapel (26 University Place in Burlington). You can read her obituary in the Burlington Free Press here.

The World Needs Carnival Barkers, Too

At the risk of giving too much attention to a certain Huffington Post article, I really must comment on a few ideas its author shares.

The premise of the article is that you must not, under any circumstances, publish several books in a single year—that you must take your time and publish less frequently, because that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you create art.

It’s directed at self-published authors, who are allegedly being told that publishing often (up to four times a year) is a good idea.

Frankly, I don’t know if publishing so often is a good idea for you. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. It’s not a good idea for me personally because I simply don’t feel comfortable writing that quickly. It ain’t my style. (Also, I have a full-time job.) But depending on your goals and your abilities as a writer, it could be a perfect approach for you. I don’t know you, my dear writer friend, so I won’t presume to know what’s good for you.

That’s why I object to the author’s blanket prohibition on publishing often as a legitimate career path. She writes:

“No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.”

I don’t dispute that writing quickly could result in crappy prose or poetry, as the author maintains. In fact, I agree that writing too quickly is likely (though not guaranteed) to make your writing suck.

But I object to the author’s assumption that self-published authors don’t care about quality. Every single self-published author I’ve met—even the ones who choose to publish multiple titles in a year—has cared deeply about quality. The author of the article assumes that the self-published author prioritizes quantity over quality because quantity is mentioned first in Bowker’s advice to them. Based on my knowledge of self-published authors, I can only assume that quantity is mentioned first because the need to write high-quality stuff is such an obvious given that it need not be mentioned.

(For what it’s worth, Bowker sells ISBNs, so they have an incentive to tell self-published writers to publish often. It’s unclear to me how prevalent the “publish often” approach truly is, and the article does not shed light on it any meaningful, data-driven way.)

So to the author of this article, I say: Perhaps tending to your own garden would be the best approach.

Here’s why:

If you throw out edicts like, “Don’t publish four times a year,” you’re telling those writers who want to publish frequently that their approach is wrong, and there is no possible way you could know that it’s wrong if you don’t know what a given writer wants to achieve.

In your “clarification,” you write that your article isn’t a suggestion that there’s just “one way” to do things. You may believe that there are many ways to be a writer, but you are saying pretty clearly that this particular way is wrong. And that’s where you’re wrong.

Maybe it’s because I’m now living in the “Live Free or Die” state, but I feel like writers should be left to write and publish or not publish as they please, without unwarranted criticism from other members of the writing community. Such criticism creates an atmosphere of self-doubt, and self-doubt can crush a writer’s productivity. The article is the opposite of supportive, and writers need support from their peers to thrive, even if that support comes by creating an atmosphere that welcomes all comers.

So if you disapprove of someone publishing four times annually, here’s what you can and should do about it:

Nothing.

Nothing—because it doesn’t affect you if someone puts four lousy books on Amazon in a given year or over the course of a decade. Maybe those prolific and hasty folks will further damage the bad reputation that self-published books have. But maybe not. I believe discerning readers will know the difference between well- and poorly-written books and ignore the word on the street about self-publishing as a practice.

On The Bookshelf at New Hampshire Public Radio, I give self-published books and traditionally published books equal consideration. I can see through the nonsense. The quantity of books in the marketplace doesn’t make my job harder, nor does it diminish me as a writer. So it’s not for me, or anyone, to say how often self-published authors should release new work.

The truth is that not many years ago some people at elite institutions and in the publishing world issued similar commands about self-publishing in general. They argued that self-published authors wouldn’t have access to the same editorial guidance, savvy marketing professionals, or design specialists who know how to make a book a thing of beauty. And they were wrong—both in their assessment of the self-publishing world and their decision to issue “advice” when they had no authority to do so.

There are lots of different kinds of writers out there. There are writers like Donna Tartt and Anthony Doerr who each take about a decade to write their novels. There are writers like Stephen King who write at least one each year. And there are some who pump them out every three months. It’s how they work. And there’s not a damned thing wrong with that.

The author of the article writes: “You are a professional author working [on] your book your way. Be an artist, don’t be a carnival barker. Be a wordsmith, not a bean-counter. Be patient, not hysterical. Transact wisely, but don’t lose your soul in the process.” (Italics original, but I added the “on” because, well, it seems like someone was writing/editing too quickly.)

I really don’t understand what “your way” means in this context. After all, the article is slamming the very people who make it their way to write and publish often. “Your way” must mean the slower pace the author herself prefers, though I hesitate to say for sure what it means. But I digress.

Carnival Barker at the Vermont State Fair, 1941

Carnival Barker at the Vermont State Fair, 1941

In my view, it takes all kinds of writers to serve the diverse reading public. Some readers like the work of the so-called “artists.” Others like the work of “carnival barkers.” Some like both. In fact, lots of readers devour the carnival barker books while waiting for the artists to get around to publishing their latest opus. One could argue that carnival barkers keep readers in the habit of reading while they wait for their favorite “artist” to produce something new.

So carnival barkers should keep barking at their own pace, and ignore the call from artist-types to slow down. Such calls are reminiscent of that especially wonderful kind of vegetarian—the kind that has chosen not to eat meat and tells everyone else at the dinner table that they too should go veg. What’s more annoying than that?

So hurry hurry hurry, step right up, ladies and gents, because there’s something fun underneath that circus tent, and fortunately for you, there are lots and lots of tents.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of September 21, 2015

By all accounts, my good friend Tony Whedon led an excellent writing retreat this past weekend. Tony is an excellent teacher and he’s given me comments on my work a few times over the years, and each time he identified the problem and let me figure out the solution. I’m grateful for him. He’s a real Vermont treasure.

Retreats like these are so important, and not only because carving out time to write is essential to developing your skills. These free retreats level the playing field, so that writers with and without disposable income have an equal chance of attending. As far as I know, the BWW is the only organization in the country that admits people to retreats like this, and I’m glad we’re leading the way.

There’s quite a bit happening this week, so please do check out this week’s opportunities and announcements. Continue reading

Novel Exercise: Making Extreme Options Reasonable

Credit Sajan Mullappally/flickr

Credit Sajan Mullappally/flickr

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:

  1. Treat the baby while they’re at sea.
  2. Keep sailing until they reach a country with a good hospital system.
  3. 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.

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of May 25, 2015

Greenmont Farms in Underhill, the location of our July poetry retreat.

Greenmont Farms in Underhill, the location of our July poetry retreat.

It’s time to let us know if you’re interested in attending one of our free writing retreats. We’re holding one for poets on Saturday, July 11th at Greenmont Farms in Underhill. If you’re interested, learn more about how to put your name in the hat here.

Our writing retreats are different. They’re free. But space is limited, so we’re holding a lottery. This ensures that all writers, regardless of income, have an equal chance to attend these learning opportunities.

These opportunities are made possible by people like you, who make contributions to help the BWW cover costs. We have put money in the budget to rent places like Greenmont Farms. We’ve also got rent payments and website maintenance costs (they add up!) so please do make a contribution in any amount. When you do, we’ll thank you with a pair of BWW bumper stickers. Thanks!

This is my final Opportunities and Announcement email. Next week, your new organizer, Danielle Thierry, will be sending you these announcements. Continue reading

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of May 18, 2015

Quick fundraising update: We’re doing really well! We’ve raised $2,787 of our overall goal of $3,100. Thanks to everyone who has helped us get to this point. When we reach our goal, we’ll be able to achieve all the things we set out to achieve this year (paying rent, holding writing retreats, bringing authors to workshops, etc.).

Please make your $50, $100, or $200 contribution today and help us reach our goal.

Forgive my late posting of these; Monday was a busy day. But here they are, your weekly opportunities and announcements. Continue reading

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of May 11, 2015

Fundraising update: So far this month we’ve raised $542 of the $3,100 we need to continue doing what we do. We have rent payments due, plus we just renewed our hosting/management of both burlingtonwritersworkshop.com and mudseasonreview.com to the tune of $167.76. We’ll have to renew with Submittable, too, and that’s about $300. In short: we’ve got some expenses to cover. We rely on folks like you to help out, so please make your $100 gift today. Thanks!

Your donation pays for these opportunities, too, so please do check them out! Continue reading

Opportunities and Announcements: Week of May 4, 2015

Our May fundraising campaign is underway, and so far we’ve raised $300 toward our overall goal of $3,100. We’re on track! If you’ve benefited from the feedback you’ve received at these workshops, and if you enjoy having the opportunities the BWW affords you, please make a contribution in any amount to help keep this going. Thanks!

We’ve got more opportunities for you to check out this week, so please do read on! Continue reading

Podcast: Mud Season Review’s Print Issue Launch Party

Kari Giroux read her story "Tuffy" at the Mud Season Review launch party on Saturday, May 2, 2015.

Kari Giroux read her story “Tuffy” at the Mud Season Review launch party on Saturday, May 2, 2015.

If you couldn’t make it to Saturday night’s party at Hotel Vermont for Mud Season Review’s print issue launch party, check out the podcast!

We heard great stories, poems, and a bit of an essay published in the first-ever print issue of this Vermont-made literary journal.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, act now, because they’re selling steadily online and supplies, as they say, are limited.

Enjoy the podcast!

Podcast: Mud Season Review’s Managing Editors Tell All!

A few months ago, I spoke with Rebecca Starks and Danielle Thierry, the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor of Mud Season ReviewMud Season Review’s first print issue launches this Saturday at Hotel Vermont, and we hope you can make it. It’s free to attend, and we’ll have free food, readings, and a cash bar.

Rebecca, Danielle, and I spoke about all manner of things, including what kind of work Mud Season Review is looking for, as well as the challenges and joys of running a literary publication in general, and running one supported by the community and created by an all-volunteer army of talented editors in particular.

Please enjoy this podcast, and if you like it, subscribe to it on iTunes. Just go to the iTunes store and search for “Burlington Writers Workshop.”