A Week of Writing in the Woods

I attended my first life-changing writing workshop.  I say first because I already suspect there will be more in my future.  Writing Excuses 2013

The Out of Excuses Writing Retreat was everything it promised to be and more.  You can read about it here.

What did they promise?  They promised writing workshops from authors Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Dan Wells, as well as cartoonist Howard Tayler.  The four of them make up the Writing Excuses cast.  Together they create a 15 minute podcast to help aspiring writers.  I have been a fan of the podcast since I first read Brandon Sanderson’s books.  I expected to learn about writing and to make time to write, but I got a whole lot more.

I can’t say enough about these authors as teachers.  Plenty of people can do things, but that doesn’t really say much about their ability to teach on the subject.  I love to crochet and can sit down and whip out a cute little beanie or a scarf or baby blanket.  When I attempted to teach it to my child?  Disaster.  Pure disaster.  “You wrap the yarn this way, and you thread it through your fingers and you just loop and scoop here and then pull.  Got it, kid?”  Um, no.  Not at all.  What’s the matter kid?  You don’t understand my clear instructions and demonstration??

The ability to teach about something you know is an entirely different skill.  Knowing what you do when you write and understanding your own process are a far cry from being able to teach it to another person.  And these four are fantastic at it.  Not only can they write, they can also really teach it.  Here’s a look at some of the topics we covered:

  • Characters
  • Humor
  • Exposition
  • Magic Systems
  • Outlining
  • Publishing
  • Short Fiction
  • Suspense and How to Scare People
  • Worldbuilding Politics

On top of the fantastic group sessions, each author also held a small group session with 8 participants.

  • Mary: Critique Group
  • Brandon: Blue Pencil Session
  • Howard: Cartooning
  • Dan: Outlining

The small groups were very intimate and it really helped us to focus on working on something specific.  My only regret is that I had to choose one and could not do them all!

Beyond the amazing and accessible authors, beyond the setting and the material, I also connected to the rest of the writers that came to the retreat.  Talking “shop” the whole week, listening to other people’s stories (both their lives and their fiction), touched me in a way that changed me.  This workshop has become part of my story.   In everything I write, I look for that great change.  Every story is a character story.  Every story is about character growth and change and this workshop has become a catalyst for my personal story, my personal journey.

A lot was promised for this retreat.  But a whole lot more was delivered.   I came away from this retreat ready to charge down the world, one word at a time.