Meals & panels took place in this lovely old building

I just returned from a weekend writer’s workshop (Big Sur in the Rockies), in a beautiful setting (Chautauqua Park, Boulder, Colorado) with 70 other participants who were also dedicated to working and learning more about ‘the craft’ of writing. It was an experience that really stretched, and at times discouraged me.

Here are my take-aways:

– writing is wrenchingly hard

Not only are technical elements difficult to learn and master (there are so many of them!), but also delving for truth and original observations deep within yourself can be utterly exhausting.

Chautauqua View

Chautauqua view

– writing is exhilaratingly easy

If you have the “word bug,” then you can’t help yourself – what you want to do all day is write. You want to connect with others through words and stories. You want to play with those beautiful words. You want to get your hands on them. And when something comes out of you that touches even you – even beyond what you were trying for – it’s AMAZING.

– we are all at different levels of awareness about different parts of writing

Someone has good structure and plotting and flow. Someone has a great concept. Another has tight writing. Someone especially “gets it” with this certain character. A certain section of someone else’s is especially vivid or arresting imagery.

In each piece, each work, each manuscript — and in each section of those, there can be varying degrees of awareness and implementation of all of the above.

Critique sessions took place in cottages of 'faculty' members

Critique sessions took place in cottages of ‘faculty’ members

And then there’s the perceived danger of causing it all to crumble with one stroke of the pen, when we think we need to change something. (This is what “create new document” and cut-and-paste are for, I guess.)

It’s easy to get discouraged. To think it’s not worth keeping on. To think we’ll never get it, and to stop trying.

Chautauqua View

Chautauqua view

That’s why, at the end of the weekend it was so valuable to have established writers (who every single one, still defined themselves as simply writers) wax eloquent about the value of moving forward, and of continuing the effort.

Inch by inch it’s a cinch — or shall we say, word by word, you’re a nerd?! (Nerd, as defined here by John Green):


The lead agent at the workshop, Andrea Brown highlighted that persistence is key. She said that over and over again, the persistent even rose above those with more talent. (Talent is still a good thing.)

Still — encouragement, love, and positive comments help us do just that: persist.

We also plain need rest sometimes, too. I needed that after this weekend, even though I was buzzing with ideas and charged up to apply new knowledge to my own stuff.

I did a bit of both resting and absorbing more of the new information.

The morning after I got home, I picked up the book, “Women Writers at Work” (and most children’s writers are women, which brings up interesting questions), and found the following quote about writing — Margaret Atwood in the (excellent) introduction, quotes Maya Angelou:

When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for what it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and the delicacies of our existence. And then it allow us to laugh, allows us to show wit. Real wit is shown in language. We need language.

Thank you to the staff of Chautauqua, the organizers of the event, faculty members, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, my fellow attendees, and the Andrea Brown literary agency for a very rich experience with and about language.