Despite the fact that I have a writing tag on this blog, and the fact that a good 90% of my free time is spent writing something in some form or another, I get weirdly self-conscious posting about, you know, writing. But a couple of weeks ago, I attended the Big Sur Writing Workshop (which focuses on children’s and YA writing), and I wanted to get this out before the memories vanish, a) because it was a cool experience; and b) because not a heck of a lot of information showed up when I googled, so hey, wayward searchers, here you go. A month late, but what can you do? There’s a reason this isn’t called Becky Allen’s Timely Blog of Frequent Updates.

What happened was, way back in November or so, I saw a link to the writing workshop on kidlit.com, and had a moment of, “Hey, that looks cool, someday when I have a finished manuscript, a few days of PTO left for the year, and enough advance warning to set aside the money, I should think about going to that.” Then I did a doubletake, because 1) I was only about 25,000 words from the end of my major rewrite of my WIP; 2) I was pretty sure I’d have at least five days off rolling over to the 2012, plus all of that year’s PTO; 3) the application wasn’t due until February, which was plenty of time to save, plan, request dates off, and finish the darned rewrite. Which… whoa. I emailed a bunch of my friends asking if I would be totally crazy to apply, because it seemed like a pretty huge step. You know, the one between “I am writing this novel type thing for fun in my free time,” and “I’m actually polishing this in an attempt to get it published.” And my wonderful, supportive friends said, essentially, “Apply or we’ll beat you up,” and so I did.

During the brief orientation, Andrea Brown summed up the weekend like this: It’s bootcamp for people who are writing for kids and teens. Everyone is assigned to two critique groups, each led by an awesome member of the awesome faculty, and sorted roughly by genre (I was working on YA high fantasy, and the other pieces in my group ranged from YA and MG urban fantasy to mystery to scifi). The groups meet twice each, with time to work on revisions between them. (Okay, a lot of that “time to work on revisions” could also be called “time you would normally use for sleeping,” but hey. Bootcamp.) Aside from crit groups and working time, there are additional panel-type sessions, some over meals. These included agents discussing queries; editors doing a Q&A that covered, er, covers, as well as e-books and the future of publishing; a general Q&A with agents (which also delved into e-books and the future of publishing, come to think of it); and a fascinating panel on book-to-film/TV rights.

So, what did I get out of it? This is my list. Your results may vary, consult an expert, this is not an infomercial, etc.

1) I got over some of my “ack am I good enough what am I doing why do I think I’m good enough (etc etc)” anxiety. Because the thing is, while I’ve been writing for fun for just about as long as I can remember, I’ve never taken a single creative writing class, I’ve never been part of an official crit group, and I have yet to actually, y’know, submit anything. My ability to judge my own writing has always been all over the place; some days I am ridiculously, supremely overconfident, and other days I’m convinced I’ve been fooling everyone who supports me, and especially fooling myself, because why did I ever think I could do this? So after a weekend spent letting strangers read my stuff for basically the first time ever, I feel like I’ve got a bit more of a grip on things and a more realistic sense of where I am, writing-wise.

2) I got to meet awesome people. I am not exactly known for my excellent social skills when dealing with crowds of strangers, but it turns out talking to other writers is easy. When in doubt, say, “So, what are you writing?” Works like a charm, every time.

3) I got a solid reminder that this is an industry, and that people who write books are not some kind of magic fantasy species, and the people who work in publishing are, in fact, actual human beings. In fact, they seem to be generally nice, passionate, awesome ones. And while this entire point may make you go “duh,” because, um, duh, but I suspect that I’m secretly not alone in needing that reminder. Even though the internet has gone a long way towards demystifying the whole how-a-book-becomes-a-book process, it has also made it very easy to stop thinking of the people involved as people and instead think of them as mystical guardians of some sort, and to look at people who’ve been published as special chosen ones rather than as writers who worked hard. But interacting with actual humans goes a long way towards overcoming that, and makes the whole thing seem like an actual attainable goal rather than an impossible dream.

4) And finally, of course, there’s what it’s done for my novel. Which… whoa. Because here’s the thing: I have amazingly creative, analytical, brilliant friends who’ve been brainstorming and beta reading and cheering me on for years, and I honestly don’t think that I would have finished my rough draft, let alone my revised draft, without them. But by virtue of being my friends, and being involved with the process, they’re also somewhat invested in it. Having a group of people with fresh eyes, who don’t know me or where I’m coming from or what I think I’m writing about, look at my first two chapters was eye-opening.

It was enough to make me look at my own novel in a whole different way. The “But why?”s and “I don’t quite get it”s were intimidating, but but also answered a whole lot of questions I never thought to ask. And it wasn’t just a matter of sorting out what’s on the page from what’s in my head: it was about figuring out why what’s on the page was there. Figuring out how to make people connect with it in new ways. Figuring out which pieces work and which don’t. And by thinking about those things in the first two chapters, I also ended up with a bunch of revelations about the novel as a whole. That, of course, is the good news.

The bad news is that by suddenly seeing my novel in a different way, by asking whys that hadn’t occurred to me before, by seeing ways that shift in focus and a different perspective could make the whole darned thing stronger, I now have to put in the work. Restructure, rewrite, revise. Will draft #3 be a ground-up rewrite (again)? A revision with a strong basis in what I’ve already got? A matter of shifting some scenes and simplifying some needless complications? I don’t know yet. It’s been a month and I’m still trying to work it all out. I just know there’s a lot left for me to do.

But that’s the thing: the bad news is actually good news. I’m writing this novel because I love writing, and I love this story — and I love what it’s evolving into. So while I may groan about all the work I have to do, it’s work I love doing. And that’s pretty awesome.

So back to the greater point: the writing conference. Was it worth it? Definitely. It was fun, it was invigorating, and it’s given me a heck of a lot to think about. It was an incredibly intense weekend, and I’m so glad I went.

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