Confessions of Big Sur

I have a confession.

I wasn’t honest in last week’s blog post.

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In truth, I’d been dreading the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop all November. The total I’m going to puke, may I please hide in the swimming pool type of dread. I didn’t want to go. If getting a refund had been an option, it’s likely I would have jumped on it.

And while what I wrote in terms of AFOT and FIY was 100% true (I really am content with dropping AFOT for good and am so enthused to continue chugging forward with FIY), I was in a sort of extreme writer hibernation mode funk thing. I didn’t want to be associated as a writer for fear that this was no longer true, yet I never closed Word document. I was always “working”, staring at my blinking cursor for hours on end, tinkering with a verb here and then, insisting to myself that my lack of sentence production was REALLY TRULY I SWEAR I’M BRILLIANT part of my craft. I was writing, yes. Working, definitely, but in a miserable masochistic boohoo I fail sort of sense.

I didn’t want to network. I didn’t want to make friends. I didn’t want to have my work read out loud by my dream agents. I certainly didn’t want to be forced to write, expected to revise on the spot in a specific time slot. I mean, the horror! These people actually planned to have me, a writer attending a writing workshop, WRITE?

I was very flustered by this concept.

But I went. I went because I’m stubborn. Because I knew that underneath all of my fear and angst, I did indeed want to attend. I went because I couldn’t get my money back and, typically, the things I resist the most are the things I truly need to do. So, away to Big Sur I went.

And naturally I’m so beyond thankful I did.

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Like I wrote on Monday, the workshop was intense. I was blown away by how many critical moments were packed into those three days, blown away by the generosity and passion that flooded the Big Sur Lodge. I was worried it’d be a competitive environment — everyone sprinting for attention, wanting to be the next big thing, dying to prove themselves — but that totally wasn’t the case. The workshop became a community. A sleep deprived word obsessed group of friends all connected by this absurd vigor for writing.

Each attendee of the workshop was placed into two critique groups. These groups met twice over the course of the weekend. During the first session we read (~)ten pages from our manuscripts (typically the first chapter) and then received feedback. We were expected to revise based off of that feedback in our spare chunk of free time before the second session, where we shared our revised work and again received critique. The second group mirrored this set up — though we had the flexibility to read from different parts of our book(s).

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While I’d heard about the “magic” that occurs at Big Sur, the monumental changes that these two critique groups may bring, I’d never honestly thought it could be all thatimpacting. And it so was. I always forget the importance of critique groups, of receiving feedback from a variety of writers (who you have no personal ties with) who can see the frays of your writing that you become blind to. It’s huge. For me — the girl who likes to hide under her desk with her manuscript for months at a time and make ridiculous claims about how she should give up and go into finance — critique groups are especially essential. For my sanity and my writing.

(I obviously need a critique group for my blog-writing. They seem to be getting messier and more ramble-driven every week.)

Maybe this is what makes the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop so special. Rather then like past conferences I’ve attended, where it was all networking and business talk, the focus was REALLY on writing. (I know, what a concept!) Feedback was given. Inspiration and talk of craft throttled the lodge’s dining room at meal time. The critique groups were unfathomably helpful. I don’t believe I’ve ever received greater insight on my writing then I did this past weekend.

So what did I get out of the workshop?

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Critical feedback that will fuel my FIY revisions. Certainty and closure in my decision to abandon AFOT. An online critique group that I’m super pumped about. Friendships that I hope to hold onto and friendships that will never last beyond today but I’m grateful for anyway. A collection of photographs I captured on Highway 1. A weekend nestled in the Redwoods. Massive sleep deprivation. Inspiration of the highest quality. The honor of working closely with two fantastic agents. A horrifically nauseating seven hour drive home in torrential rain…

The weekend taught me how to breathe, gave me the skills and motivation to press forward, let go of my doubts and just write. Fuck my insecurities. My failures and setbacks, they mean nothing. I just need to write. The weekend reminded me that this IS indeed what I am — a writer — and it’s what I’ll always be.

The words always rise again.

With that said, I’m off to do some writing!